I Asked, They Didn't Answer: Lessons from a Terrible Online Research Experience

Katie Pritchard

Director of Client Services, 8+ Years of Client-Facing Project Management & Digital Marketing Expertise

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I Asked, They Didn't Answer: Lessons from a Terrible Online Research Experience Blog Feature

Published on April 19th, 2019

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Educating consumers is something we, as business leaders, do every day. Whether it’s in the sales process, customer service calls, or on your website, customers’ questions are being answered.

Frankly, some businesses do this better than others, especially on their websites. The biggest problem with a lack of educational content on your website is that it frustrates visitors. Your website has the potential to be your best salesperson, working 24/7 and spending endless time with visitors.

With the increasing popularity of content marketing, a lot of businesses believe they’re “doing it right” by writing blog articles from high search volume keywords and topics they’ve researched.

But, in reality, a lot of businesses are missing the mark by not listening to their customers and dodging questions customers need answered.

In They Ask, You Answer, by Marcus Sheridan, the principles of good content are simple -- answer the questions that your customers are asking in an honest and unbiased way. At IMPACT, this is something we’ve become obsessed with helping businesses do.

With this simple principle, there are five main categories that cover the majority of questions customers ask. They are:

  1. Cost
  2. Problems
  3. Comparisons
  4. "Best of" Lists
  5. Reviews

After reading that list you might be thinking to yourself, “There’s no way we can write about those things for my business, it’s different for my industry.”

The truth is, our businesses are no different from each other.

Across the board, consumer buying patterns have shifted over the past 10 years, and on average, 70% of the buying decision is made before a consumer even talks to a company, regardless of what industry you’re in. In the simplest terms, the one thing we are all trying to gain is trust from potential customers. Trust in a company makes the purchase.

If you’re the one to actually answer questions that consumers have, trust will be built, and when they’re ready, they’ll reach out to you.

Even if you can’t answer the question “how much does x cost” for your business because “it depends,” then tell me that! Tell me what makes the cost go up or down, provide a price range, or give me the reason there’s no exact set price. Not only will this benefit the consumer, but your sales team will be spending less time answering the same questions over and over -- and will spend their time doing what they do best -- selling.

Now, I’m aware that thousands of businesses across all industries need to improve on answering their customers’ questions. But recently, I felt the first-hand effects of this, and it hit me hard.

Up until this point in my life, I haven’t made too many major purchases, so while I certainly have felt the pain of companies not being clear on their sites or answering my questions, it’s never caused too much pain.

That is, until I started planning my wedding.

Over the past two months, I realized how frustrating it can be when there’s a lack of honesty and transparency when comparing multiple businesses. So frustrating, in fact, it’s been hard putting it into words in this article.

Two months ago, I got engaged and started the wedding planning process -- something I (probably like most people) have been thinking about for a very long time. “My future wedding” was the first board I put together on Pinterest about 8 years go.

I knew the first tasks I needed to do were to look for venues, choose a caterer, and start researching things like dress shops, photographers, DJs, etc.

So, I took to Google, and very quickly, my frustration grew. The wedding industry is probably one of the worst industries at answering their consumer’s questions. And they are getting away with it.

According to IBISworld, “Over the past five years, the Wedding Services in the US industry has grown by 2.1% to reach revenue of $81bn in 2019.”

Being a fairly organized person, I started my research as best as I could and documented it all.

As I continued, I thought about how other industries could benefit from hearing about what I was going through, how these frustrations might be similar to those of your customers, and how to fix it so this doesn’t keep happening.

I Asked, They Didn’t Answer. Here’s How That Made Me Feel.

While talking to others who are currently planning a wedding, or those who’ve been through it, the one thing I heard constantly was that “it’s stressful.”

Just to be clear, when I’m talking about wedding planning, I’m specifically talking about the researching and decision process for what the wedding day will actually look like. I’m not talking about the wedding itself, which can be stressful for other reasons (family, having it be “perfect,” etc.)

I felt the stress too -- which was very interesting to me. So I asked myself why? What caused my stress? Aside from preparing to spend a lot of money, I realized it was because I knew I needed to shop around and make sure I was making the best decision, but I honestly couldn’t tell what the “best decision” was.

Being hyper-organized, I’m used to laying out all of my options -- and I like to do it on my own.

Instead, I had to call or fill out forms for every single venue, caterer, and vendor (which put about 25 people in my inbox “just following up”). Even after all of that outreach, it was hard to know what the best decision was.

I Was Overwhelmed, Because I Had No Idea What A Realistic Budget Was

My Experience

Barely any venue, caterer, or wedding dress store lists their prices. What I usually found instead was the option to call for inquiries or fill out a form for more information.

This meant that not only did I not know if a venue was out of my price range, I had no idea what a realistic price range was for what I wanted.

Sure, there are websites like Wedding Wire that help provide ranges based on information that they know, but of the venues I was looking at, I found Wedding Wire’s information to be a bit too broad for what I was looking for. Because let’s be honest, a few thousand dollars matter.

I had no idea who was in my price range, so I had to reach out to them all. And, when they did get back to me about their venue or catering costs being extremely out of my budget range, I realized it was a complete waste of my time (and theirs!).

In the end, I had to find out the hard way (by spending many hours researching and talking with venues) that I needed to increase my budget a bit for what I wanted.

Of course, I did find a few websites that were willing to list prices, and they helped me configure my budget (I am grateful to you!):

  • The Webb Barn in Wethersfield, CT: Though the site design is dated, it had everything I could ever ask for, including price and a calendar of unavailable dates.
  • David’s Bridal: Though they have the benefit of being a national brand that has an ecommerce platform, they list the price of every dress -- so I could be prepared before coming in for an appointment.
  • Mariella Creations in Rocky Hill, CT: Note: this page was a bit hidden in the footer, but I still found it quickly. They did a great job at answering their prices in a range format.

Relating to All Businesses

It would have been so fantastic to read articles from venues, or look at their pricing on websites to compare, to realize that what I wanted was going to be a little bit more expensive, instead of spending hours finding it out.

This is a real example of how education could actually make a larger sale than what the buyer’s initial range is. There’s one thing we all need to understand: this is the opposite of getting someone on the phone and selling them on a higher price. If your option is truly out of a consumer’s price range, there is no way you will ever sell them on your product without being dishonest and manipulative.

I’m not saying that every purchasing decision can be handled this way, but I needed to be educated on how much my preferences cost, and if these businesses had taken the time to educate me online, I may have appreciated them more and trusted them with my big day.

Yes, by listing your prices, your competitors will know what you charge, but don’t they already know or at least have an estimate? Don’t you know what they charge? So why can’t you be upfront with your customers (who are the ones actually paying you) rather than hide from your competitors?

People want to self qualify and do the research, so let them. They’ll be more willing to trust you and do business with you when you give them exactly what they’re looking for.

I Was Annoyed Because I Didn’t Have All of the Information I Needed Upfront

My Experience

After I found the range of prices for a handful of venues, I started to realize that even in my initial conversations with people, I wasn’t given all of the information I needed up front.

Every site had pretty photos but barely any detail on what was included/excluded from their pricing options.

Even when I got onsite for a visit, I immediately felt like I was being cheated. For example, the chairs in the photos sent to me were not the chairs that they offer with their packaged pricing (listen, it’s ridiculous but chairs are a big deal to me).

One of my more frustrating incidents was with a wedding group that manages multiple venues. After submitting the form with my price range and selecting the venues I was interested in, I received a response.

The following 8 emails back and forth with this individual lacked so much detail and were specifically focused on only one of the venues (which was significantly out of my price range.) I had to ask at least two more times for pricing information on the other venues before getting an answer. The short lesson here: ditch your own agenda and just answer my question.

Relating to All Businesses

By not being upfront about your services, you may get people into your sales process who get the feeling of regret or disappointment. No one wants their customers to feel that way, so providing them with everything up front will avoid those feelings altogether.

As marketers and business owners, our job should be focused on helping people. We need to create content on our websites that helps consumers feel like they can make an informed decision, and not trick them into buying something they won’t be happy with just so that you can make a sale.

If it feels like a business is trying to hide something, consumers will ultimately be less likely to purchase from them.

In the End, All of My Concerns Could Have Been Solved or Addressed with Website Content

My story is about wedding planning, but my feelings were real, and ones that other consumers in other industries feel every day.

Is it possible that your prospects are feeling this way in your industry? On your website? In your sales process?

By making a few simple changes to your content strategy, like those in They Ask, You Answer, you’ll undeniably gain more trust from every visitor on your site.

My final message for businesses out there, from me and all the other consumers I represent:

Please, just answer my questions on your website.

Sincerely,

A tired consumer

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