“Reputation comes not just from the quality of the product but helping people make the right choice. If companies put the effort in at the beginning, and their websites have to enable that to happen, then they are more likely to make the customer happy.
If they just apply digital communication techniques simply because they are available, then it’s process-driven rather than meeting the requirements of the company and the customer.”
Chris Hares is managing director of Darglow Marine Engineers, manufacturers of the FeatherStream propeller for sail boats which minimises drag and improves average speed by as much as 20%.
“We’re quite lucky that ours is such a niche market that the search terms a prospective purchaser puts in mean we will come up,” he says.
“Which made us realise that these days, magazine advertising isn’t as effective because it isn’t able to target people who are actually looking to buy what we have to offer.”
The company also sells other manufacturers’ products at different price points. “It means that we can identify what is best for the customer, for them to make the right decision, and if that happens not to be our own product, we haven’t necessarily lost a sale,” explains Hares.
The main market for Darglow is the bespoke boatbuilder and the private owner (usually directly but often via a marine engineer or re-fit centre) who is making upgrades to an existing yacht.
Their website embraces the worldwide bit of www. Customers in any of Darglow’s four main markets outside the UK click on their flag and are routed to information in their own language.
The challenge for Darglow is being able to harness the internet when the actual sale is consultative.
“About 50% of our customers will spend probably forty-five minutes on the phone talking through their requirements with us,” says Hares, “but people are becoming more used to migrating from a website by filling in an electronic form.
They don’t want to give out their phone number because they don’t want to be bombarded with calls as well as emails. Before the internet they had to speak to someone.
“Now there’s a belief that it’s possible to browse your way to becoming an expert. But if the prospective customer doesn’t feel the need to ask for any advice then it’s going to become more of a commodity sale based on price comparison.”
Hares isn’t entirely convinced that the internet will enable a customer to become self-informed. “They will look at on-line reviews,” he says by way of example, “but boats and their propellers come in different shapes and sizes, so how can the internet enable the customer to equate them? It’s not like having a list of tyres to compare for a Ford Mondeo.”
Certainly the internet is having a profound effect on the company’s functionality. “We never used to have someone who spent all day writing letters to people, but we do have to apply the equivalent resource to reply to emails,” observes Hares.
“But the internet has put us in a different league in terms of visibility.” And it’s changed the way the company operates as well. “We would have a van going out all week just to fit propellers,” recalls Hares.
“Now we have video on our website to show the customer how it is done.”