Whether you call this our “new normal” or “next normal,” things definitely aren’t the same as they were back in January. Your business is different, and your customer also has different concerns and needs now.

The question isn’t what needs to change. It’s what do you change first?”

Marshall Atkinson, Owner of Atkinson Consulting

“It’s time to revamp what’s not working—back in Q1, you could live with it because you were busy,” says Marshall Atkinson, decorated-apparel expert and owner of Atkinson Consulting. “But now, the river has receded with the drought and exposed the flaws in your system. The question isn’t what needs to change. It’s what do you change first?”

Now is the time to take a closer look at how customers are experiencing your business during consultations, while shopping online or browsing social media. Here are five expert-recommended ways you can start adjusting and improving your customers’ overall experience with your company.

1. Rev up your online engagement and presence.

If you’re wondering how often you should communicate with your customers, less definitely isn’t more right now. In fact, 80% of consumers want brands to show empathy and concern, according to Ipsos.

“Your customers want to know you’re surviving and taking steps to protect both your employees and them,” says Kristine Shreve, a decorated-apparel industry expert. “Your social media accounts and groups are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reach your customers.”

Many times, a customer’s experience with your brand begins online, so this is a great place to start showing them some of the changes you’ve made. Putting together a few posts that visually show your followers how you’ve made your shop safe to visit and safe for your employees to work in will go a long way in generating more business and support from them. 

And while you’re at it, start producing more images and videos that show prospects how to brand themselves with decorated-apparel solutions. “Your average buyer is fascinated by how we create custom apparel,” says Marcia Derryberry, Director of Marketing and Sales at Action Engineering. “Great images and videos hit home with how we put their important message on that t-shirt or hat.”

“Your average buyer is fascinated by how we create custom apparel,”

– Marcia Derryberry, Director of Marketing/Sales at Action Engineering

Shreve also recommends using digital ads to reach new markets, but don’t just quickly put one together. Your ad should lead with a compelling message and link to a landing page with a strong call to action. “Many decorators waste money running ads that aren’t well-thought-out, so they don’t get results,” she says.

Tap into your email list, as well. “At a time like this, your messaging shouldn’t always be sales-related,” Derryberry says. “Pop in to see how your customers are doing and how you can help.”

Consider crafting sales campaigns from a place of empathy and provide a specific solution to your customers’ biggest challenges. “Don’t just say, ‘Here’s my solution—buy it,” Derryberry says. “Real solutions are the best way to wake up existing customers and attract new ones.”

Integrating texts and instant messenger chats into the mix, is another important part of digital communication. “Texts or Facebook messaging speed up communication and integrate with basic CRM or order platforms,” says Ryan Moor, CEO of Ryonet and ROQ.us.

2. Update your website.

If you’re supposed to be a decorated-apparel and graphics professional, why does your website look like it’s from 1987?”

Marshall Atkinson, Owner of Atkinson Consulting

This year, lots of companies have used this time to invest in new tech like site/mobile chat (56%) and mobile app functionality. “When was the last time you really reviewed your website?” Atkinson says. “Your site needs to focus on how you solve your target customers’ biggest problems.”

Here’s Atkinson’s useful cheat-sheet list on how to initially audit your site:

  • Is your website design current? Yes, buyers completely judge your site by how it looks. “If you’re supposed to be a decorated-apparel and graphics professional, why does your website look like it’s from 1987?” Atkinson says.
  • What’s your compelling call to action? “What should a potential customer do on your site?” Atkinson says. “Get a quote? Schedule a call with a rep? Download something in exchange for their info so you can add them to your drip marketing? Buy something from your e-store?”
  • Do you need better selling tools? Add an abandoned cart reminder tool to help connect and convert shoppers who never finished the checkout process.
  • Do you share all the client love? Featuring customer testimonials or how you helped clients solve their problems builds trust. “This relieves some of the anxiety of the selling process,” Atkinson says. “Stories are powerful.”
  • Do you use SEO? “How are you driving more eyeballs to your site?” Atkinson says. “Long-tail keywords? Are you creating and updating content on the site consistently? Do you blog? Have you added FAQs?” 
  • Do you measure sales success? At the very least, set up your Google Analytics dashboard to review and track your website’s performance.

For more tips on how to revamp your website, listen to Episode 2 of the Success Stories podcast, with guest speaker Shelby Craig, of Rocket Shirts.

3. Revamp your ordering capabilities.

“Bottom line, if your customers have issues ordering online, they’ll go elsewhere,”

– Kristine Shreve, Decorating Industry Expert

You know ordering a custom garment online isn’t easy for customers, especially when you add in choosing a t-shirt, uploading a printable design, deciding where the artwork should go on the garment and more.

Here’s three things to turn your shop’s online ordering into a competitive advantage:

  • Choose the right platform. “Companies like InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear and DecoNetwork offer great software solutions for decorators that make ordering a breeze,” Derryberry says.
  • Automate the process. Moor points to Houston, TX-based Printed Threads as one shop that’s done a great job of making the online ordering process super-intuitive for customers.
  • Offer a white-glove experience. Even though Printed Threads automates their ordering process, the shop also has customer service experts or graphic designers ready to troubleshoot issues in real time. “When a customer has a question about coming up with a design, mocking it up, approving it, facilitating the order and even delivery, it’s easy to train a person on how to focus on the customer service and experience of solving these issues,” Moor says.

Finally, offer to build online stores for your clients. “This is your chance to create and fulfill an online store for your customers’ employees or clients,” Moor says. “You’ll solve a big problem for them and increase your shop’s margins.” Online stores are also a great vehicle for fundraising, which appeals to a lot of businesses, organizations, groups and teams now.

4. Set up contactless drop-off and pickup.

You already know how important it is to keep your business clean in this new normal, with regular top-down sanitizing, mask wearing, plexiglass barriers and social distancing, according to CDC recommendations. But through the lens of your customers’ experience, it takes on even more importance.

Do you have a contactless drop-off and pickup system in place? “Limiting contact protects both your customers and your employees, so it’s the sensible thing to do,” Shreve says.

Designate a place in front of your business where customers can pick up their finished goods in a safe, efficient manner. “They can call when they arrive, so the order is waiting for them when they drive up,” Derryberry says.

She also recommends offering a discount on shipping. “Be sure your shipping department is as clean and safe as possible, with as few people as possible touching finished and ready-to-ship goods,” she says.

5. Help clients make people feel special.

“Companies can’t rely on face-to-face contact with their employees and customers,” Shreve says. “That’s why decorated apparel and branded swag may have more impact than ever before.”

Now’s the time to make a splash: Experiment with new techniques, multimedia decorating, personalization or unique artwork placement. “Vinyl’s very popular right now—it’s one of the cleanest and easiest ways to personalize customized apparel and accessories,” Derryberry says. “Try placements along sleeves, pant legs, the bottoms of shorts or even inside a hoodie.”

“Creatively branded boxes and packaging is your big opportunity, since so many printers simply deliver their orders in the box it came in.”

Ryan Moor, CEO of Ryonet

Branded boxes and packaging can also be a big opportunity. “Do you know how many printers deliver their orders in the box it came in?” Moor says. “So how can you stand out by creating an amazing unboxing experience for your customers?” Explore attractive outside packaging options and pack a low-cost item like a branded promo product or candy inside.

Then, offer this service on behalf of your clients, to wow their employees and customers. “It’s easy to upsell the unboxing experience with tagging, labeling and folding,” Moor says. “You’ll increase the value of an order, but also jazz up the end-user’s experience. It’s a win all around.”

Your Bottom Line

Ultimately, Derryberry expects the decorated-apparel industry to roar back sooner rather than later. “Being ready starts with communication,” she says. “Stay in that conversation and make real-time changes to your customer experience.”

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