December 23, 2009
Case Study

Product Q&A Emails Get 7.5% Conversion Rate: 5 Steps to Turn Visitors into Buyers

SUMMARY: Any time a visitor leaves your ecommerce site to research a product, your odds of converting them decline. It’s important to provide information to keep visitors on your site – or bring them back to complete a purchase.

Read how an online electronics retailer launched a Q&A feature that let visitors post product questions on the site, and then sent notification emails when other customers had provided answers. The notification emails were strong performers, delivering a conversion rate 114% higher than their email newsletters.

Sarah Mishan, Director, Marketing, Abe’s of Maine, needed to add more product information to her team’s website. The number of inquiries pouring into the electronics retailer’s customer service department showed that product pages weren’t giving customers what they needed.

"We’d always be fielding these calls and we’d have customer service doing research all day long," Mishan says.

Besides taking an inordinate amount of team’s time, customer questions also lengthened the buying process and made visitors less likely to complete a transaction. Once users left the site to conduct more research, it was tough to get them back.

Mishan and her team wanted a better way to provide customers information, while easing the burden on their customer service team.


The team set up a system for shoppers to post questions onto product pages. There, members of the customer service team or other customers could provide their answers. And the visitor who posted the question could receive a notification email containing a link back to the product page to read the answers.

Here are the five steps they followed to create the system.

Step #1. Establish a process to screen and route questions

The team needed a Q&A system that would screen questions and route them to an appropriate resource. In some cases, the best recipient would still be the customer service team. In others, fellow Web visitors would be able to answer the question.

Here’s the process they developed:

- Inquirer selects category

When users clicked to ask a question, they had to select one of two categories:
o Customer service, delivery or policy questions
o Product questions

Those who selected the first category were asked to contact customer service via telephone, email or website form. Those who selected the second category were asked to type in a question.

- Top level moderation

Submitted questions went through an automated moderation system that screened them for inappropriate content and spam.

- Second level moderation

The questions then went through manual moderation that screened for questions already answered and customer service-related questions that required immediate attention.

The team sent customer service questions to relevant reps to deal with in a timely fashion. The moderation process meant that it could take 3-5 business days to post a question to the website -- which was far too long to keep customers waiting.

- Keyword delegation

The team asked product buyers and other team members to answer questions each day. After a question passed through moderation, it was scanned for keywords, such as camera, television or computer, and then sent to an appropriate resource.

- Part-time help

The team also hired a part-time customer service rep for 10 to 15 hours per week answering questions the team could not get to, or did not have time to research. This person answered questions in order of receipt.

Step #2. Add Q&A section to product pages

The team had a series of tabs on their product pages, including features, accessories and reviews. For this effort, they added a Q&A tab to every product page.

Clicking the tab revealed the published questions and answers for that item. Visitors could click to answer a posted question -- even if an answer was already provided -- or they could ask a question.

After clicking the "Ask a question" button, visitors were taken to another page that requested the type of question: customer service-, or product-related. Customer service inquiries were asked to contact the team, and product questions could be posted to the Q&A page.

The instructions asked visitors to not include personal information, should the question be published. The page only required visitors to submit a nickname and a location -- no personal or login information.

Step #3. Publish product-related questions on site

The team only published questions related to products, such as questions on performance and features compared to similar models. Doing so kept the information relevant to visitors.

Questions that were specific to a customer’s order were answered without being published. Also, if a customer supplied too much personal information in their question, the customer service team would answer the question without publishing.

Step #4. Send a notifying email

Customers who submitted a question to post on the website could supply an email address to receive an answer-notification email. However, submitting an email address was not required to post a question (see Creative Samples below).

Once an answer had been approved by the team and added to the site, the system automatically generated a notification email for the visitor who asked the question. The email featured:
o A product picture
o Links to the product page
o The question asked
o The answer received
o Links to opt-out of the alerts

Step #5. Change site according to Q&A trends

Monitoring the questions submitted to the customer service team and posted to the website revealed areas where the team could improve product information.

For example:

- After three months, the team noticed that visitors frequently asked which parts and accessories were included with many products. Aiming to reduce question volume, they added this information to product pages.

They created a new "What’s in the box?" tab that listed all items that arrive with a product.

- The team also noticed that many questions pointed out typos on the product pages.

"Once these questions started coming in, I realized how easy it is for us to miss a typographical error," Mishan says. "The customers were very quick to point those out, which was great..."

"When we first started, we didn’t really expect it to take off the way it did," Mishan says.

Within the first seven months, the team approved more than 5,200 questions to their site, 97% of which were answered. The team has seen a significant decline in customer service inquiries since the effort launched in March.

The notification email messages were strong performers:

- Answer emails average about a 70% CTR.

"For every 100 questions that I answer [for which I] have email addresses, I get 70 people back to my site," says Mishan. "And that’s 70 customers that I would have otherwise not gotten."

- 7.5% of questioners who receive an emailed answer made a purchase.

This is compared to the team’s email newsletter campaigns, which see about a 25% open rate and a 3.5% conversion rate.

Also, the team calculates an average cost-per-acquisition of customers through the answer notification emails at $23.81. That’s better than the team’s approximately $40 CPA and 2.5% to 2% conversion rate on shopping engines, although shopping engines deliver more volume, Mishan says.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Abe’s of Maine’s customer service Q&A system

Boost Consumer Reviews to Weather Recession: 5 Steps to 17% Conversion Lift
PowerReviews: Powered the team’s question and answer service

Abe’s of Maine

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