Merchant Circle needs some help, and even though they’re one of my least favorite companies, I’m gonna step up to the plate and offer it.
Last week, Merchant Circle employee Jennifer Roberts kindly left a comment on this blog, announcing their new “Contact Us” page. This is a Big Step for Merchant Circle because, in addition to their marketing tactics, Merchant Circle’s customer service (or lack thereof) has also angered small business owners. Here’s a selection from the 150+ comments on that original article:
- One: “…there is no phone number, e-mail address or contact information posted anywhere on the site”
- Two: “…no way to talk to a live person, and didn’t give a phone number to contact”
- Three: “…no e-mail, office or address much less a phone”
- Four: “They are impossible to get a hold of.”
- Five: “…it is not easy to find any contact info on Merchantcircle website”
In her comment last week, Ms. Roberts touted Merchant Circle’s “free live chat” and “free self-service options,” and explained that there are also paid support options as well. But while the new Contact Us page is a step in the right direction, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s take a look at this, shall we? And then I’ll offer some unsolicited advice to make things better.
Free Live Chat: The free live chat is available a total of three hours per week. Three. (And it’s after normal business hours for east coast businesses.)
Self-Service Options: There’s a mailing address below three links. The first link is only for existing members. The second link invites you to become a member. And the third link, which looks more promising, leads to a page with … oh, snap … a login for existing members or a “Join” link for non-members. “Self-Service” is a euphemism for “Join Merchant Circle.”
Smack dab in the center of the contact page is what you see in the screenshot at right. “Priority Support” and “Expedited Review Removal” — that sounds promising. People are coming to this page, often desperate to find a phone number or some way to contact Merchant Circle. And look, there’s a 900-number that I’d think a lot of business owners will call without bothering to click on the “Learn More” link. That’s a shame because that Learn More link has some very important information:
Yep, as soon as you place that call, there’s a $35 charge automatically added to your telephone bill. No credit card required. The 900 exchange is auto-billed.
Now, Merchant Circle would like us to believe that this is the best they can do. On that original “Contact Us” page, they say, “Just like you, we’re a small business as well.” Jennifer Roberts echoed that theme in her comment on this blog: “As a fast-growing startup with just 17 employees, we are working hard to support our 720,000 members while keeping most of our services free.”
It’s almost a guilt trip, isn’t it? We’re small like you. We face the same struggles you do with customer service. Except not many small businesses have received $10 million in funding from venture capitalists and Barry Diller’s IAC. And not many small businesses have followed links from the home pages of Citysearch.com (PR9), Bloglines.com (PR9), and InsiderPages.com (PR7).
With all that money and support, you’d think a little better customer service would be possible. And since I try to be helpful around here, here’s how I’d do it.
How to Improve Merchant Circle’s Customer Support
1.) Mix in an email address and/or contact form. No matter how busy you are, it’s unforgivable not to let people contact you easily by email. Small business owners are busy (as you should know, since you’re a small business, too). Many of them don’t have time during the day to worry about their Merchant Circle listing or that negative review on their profile. They’re dealing with this stuff at 10:00 p.m. They don’t expect to call you or use live chat at that hour, but they do expect to be able to email you. Tell them it may take five days to reply if you must, but at least put the option there.
2.) Make “self-service” mean “self-service.” Putting your mailing address under the Self-Service heading is good, but the links that encourage new sign-ups aren’t. Small business owners want answers, not a sales pitch. Move the Frequently Asked Questions material under this heading, and get rid of the links. That, combined with the mailing address, will suffice for “self-service” on this page.
3.) Announce the $35 fee sooner. If you really have to charge $35 for a phone call, you ought to mention that as soon as you show the phone number. Don’t make them click a “Learn More” button for such an important piece of information.
4.) Expand the live chat. I have my doubts that many people ever use live chat online, but as long as it’s part of the mix, make it look like you’re trying. Seriously, what’s going on at headquarters between 2-3 pm PT on Tuesdays and Thursdays to prevent you from offering live chat? Add that, at minimum, and you can promote it as “daily live chat.”
5.) Advertise your Twitter account. Twitter is one of the best customer service tools ever created. To your credit, you have a Twitter account, and back in February you seemed to be having conversations with other Twitter users — possibly small business owners. But there’s no mention of Twitter on the contact page. There should be.
Just adding a contact page was a big step. But I think with these changes in place, Merchant Circle will take a much bigger leap toward showing that they really are “working hard to support [their] members” … and non-members, too.