Blockbuster Examples Of How Answering Customers’ Questions Makes Them Way More Willing To Convert
If you can successfully answer your customers' questions, then you will gain a powerful advantage in conversion optimization, says columnist Jeremy Smith.
How does a gimmicky, phallic-shaped product turn into a sensational bestseller, with national media attention and a frenzied fan base?
The answer is both mind-blowingly simple and absolutely complex. The answer is, well answers.
If you can successfully answer your customers’ questions, then you will gain a powerful advantage in conversion optimization.
First, I’m going to tell you the story of the phallic-shaped bestseller. Then, I want to explain why questions are such a powerful method of conversion optimization.
A Conversion Optimization Legend: The Saga Of The Banana Bunker
On March 26, something totally normal happened. Groupon posted a Facebook timeline photo of the “banana bunker,” a plastic shell designed to protect a banana.
The photo was accompanied by a bland, straight-faced caption: “We’re contractually obligated to let you know every time the Banana Bunker is featured on our site.”
What happened next was somewhat surprising. Groupon broke the Internet.
Why? Well, one reason has to do with the product.
If you sell a banana-shaped anything, you’re going to get banana-shaped comments. (Pretty much anything banana-related has potential.)
And so it happened with Groupon. Its fan base let loose with a cannonade of ribald jokes, not-so-subtle innuendos, and enough double entendres to make Louis C.K. blush.
What did Groupon do? On the one hand, it could shut it all down and end the fun. Or, it could dig in its heels and go all NSFW. Or, it could do something smart, hilarious, and altogether genius.
It chose genius. Here’s how it went down.
Groupon regularly posts deals with limited-time offers. It’s part of its strategy. Often, it’s local deals like a full pedi at a new beauty shop. Yoga, massage, hip hop class, whatever. Groupon sells it.
It sells stuff that you probably don’t need but might think you want.
Such a product is the banana bunker.
Groupon had previously featured the banana bunker. But last time, it didn’t get quite the, er, expressions of affection.
This time was different. This time, the Facebook timeline blew up with comments.
“Looks like a…never mind.”
Groupon: “Good thinking, but we disagree. It does not look like a CD of the popular Nirvana album ‘Nevermind.”
“Is it okay to caress my banana bunker?”
Groupon: “Human contact is always a great way to show someone or something how much you care! hold it dear, and let it know that you’re proud of its snack fruit protection.”
“What if my banana is too big?”
Groupon: “Let’s not exaggerate, Holly.”
“What if my girlfriend doesn’t like the banana bunker? What should I do?”
Groupon: “Two words: new girlfriend.”
Within mere hours, Groupon sold out of banana bunkers. Bill Roberts, who spearheaded the whole operation, told Adweek that five people were on deck to handle all the Facebook comments and reply to them.
The banana bunker was such a success that a few weeks later, Groupon trooped the bunker out for an encore.
And, again, the bunker sold out in record time.
What Made The Banana Bunker So Successful?
So, let’s ask some questions. As conversion optimizers, we’re interested in how this became such a conversion-crushing phenomenon. Surely, it wasn’t just the shape of the dang thing.
What was it?
There was a combination of features:
- Groupon has a huge Facebook fan base, around 13 million. That’s probably more than you have. So there.
- Groupon knows conversion optimization. These people are pros when it comes to optimization their website, hacking social media, and unleashing wicked smart conversion techniques.
- The explosion happened on Facebook. Facebook gets things going quickly. It’s mobile-optimized to the hilt, it notifies users when their comment is liked or replied to, it keeps a stream of little red numbers and push notifications flying fast and furiously through the ether — forcing the masses to bend their necks and hunker down with their little glowing screen to find out what dopamine-releasing information is going to entertain them next. Sorry, that was a long sentence and an unnecessary digression. But you get the point.
But, like Groupon said:
“It’s just a banana bunker, people!”
Here’s The thing: You Answer Questions
Answering questions is not the most prototypical method of conversion optimization.
Must optimizers are thinking about CTAs, headlines, landing pages, making bigger buttons, creating mobile-friendly checkout processes, and unleashing a frenzy of split tests on their latest homepage design.
Questions? Nah. That’s a developer thing, or a hire-’em-off-Textbroker thing. You don’t give this serious conversion thought, do you?
Well, Groupon did. And it did so with astonishing success.
I believe that Groupon’s social media hack — and the resultant conversion explosion (times two) — is due, in large part, to the genius of answering questions.
Allow me to explain.
How Answering Questions Enhances Conversion Optimization
There are several key things going on in the Groupon discussion that warrant serious attention from a conversion standpoint.
When you analyze many of the elements and features that comprise CRO, you come up with a list of ways that answering questions is sheer genius.
Maybe it doesn’t fit the mold of Things You Always Find in the Conversion Optimizer’s Toolbox. But I don’t care. I’m interested in boosting my client’s conversions, not capitulating to someone’s conventional conversion features.
So, if answering questions boosts conversions, then go for it.
- Answering questions reduces friction. Friction is the No. 1 public enemy of conversions. Anything that you can do to rid the world of friction, the better. When you answer potential customers’ questions, you eliminate so many forms of cognitive friction.
- Answering questions builds trust. The positive corollary of friction-eliminating is trust-building. Dialoguing with your customers allows you to create a sense of trust that no trust seal can ever hope to accomplish.
- Answering questions engages users. Bringing users closer, taking them farther, holding them tighter — these are the upsides of engagement. If you can create a higher level of engagement, then you can create higher levels of conversion rates. That’s what happens when you answer their questions. A user asks a question; you answer. Regardless of the nature of the question or answer, the user is more engaged, and therefore more likely to convert.
- Answering questions provides an opportunity for additional CTAs. Smart CROs realize that the answers themselves give more opportunity for more calls to action.
- Answering questions improves the user experience. People are looking to have a good time while they’re on your site. If you can kick up the humor or entertainment level a notch or two then, hey, you’ve just gained some serious user experience points. Awesome you.
- Answering questions is a conversion funnel event. Picture the conversion funnel for a moment. What do you see there? I see a bustle of activity — customers coming closer, farther, nearer to conversion. Answering questions is a crucial part of that. For some customers, getting answers — good ones — is the only way that they’re going to convert.
- Answering questions reduces bounce rate and exit rate, increases the time on site. All those metrics that matter for conversion rate, question asking/answering improves them.
- Answering questions can go viral. And, as Groupon has so aptly demonstrated, your loyal answering of questions can be a worldwide phenomenon of great renown.
Where To Answer Questions.
We come now to a serious logistical question: Where do you answer questions?
I have a few points, then a few suggestions.
We’re not talking about FAQs.
FAQs are static, developer-dreaded places for answering questions. The acronym spells its demise — frequently asked questions.
We’re not going for frequent here. We’re going for the off-the-wall, one-off questions. Like this:
This is an FAQ. And this is not awesome.
So, no, the FAQ is not the ideal place for answering customer questions.
Do it on social.
Social is a great place to host Q&As, but you have to have a pretty high level of social presence or engagement in order to do it right.
Social is broad, so this can apply to Twitter hashtags, Facebook photos, subreddits, Google+ conversations, or any other method that you deem appropriate.
Blog commenting, yes.
If you publish a blog that inspires outrage, affection, or an otherwise awesome outpouring of awesome, then you’ve got yourself a question-answering platform.
Keep it going. Keep answering.
A forum can be OK if you do it right.
Forums are OK, but not best. The idea behind a forum is user-generated content. I prefer keeping the business, not the general mass of users, in control of the question-answering process.
Let the masses ask, but you do the answering.
It needs to have some level of interactivity.
Sometimes, it will jump out at you. You may not be expecting a certain thread, photo, blog, or hashtag to spark questions, but when users ask, you answer.
Some Examples Of Killer Q&A Techniques
McDonald’s did an awesome job of this. I in no way endorse the health benefits of McDonald’s products, but I have to give it props for letting its customers ask anything.
Yes, it probably curated a few of the questions, but for the most part, this is a wonderful example of answering customer questions with power and conversion-enhancing force.
I’ve included this as an example, in part, because McDonald’s is service-oriented. It’s not selling a physical product, but selling an in-store experience. If you sell a service, this is a good example to follow. The “conversion” is not as much conversion-focused as it is brand promoting.
One good example of a forum done right is Inbound.org. Again, it’s not an entirely CTA-focused approach, but it does a great job in its format.
As a little thumbs-up, I’d like to mention that CRO Day (April 9) was an awesome day for inbound. The forum blew up with tons of interaction — 254 upvotes, 444 comments, 38,986 votes. Crazy.
GMOAnswers.com collects the input of professionals and attracts the attention of the curious with its question-answering platform. It is well designed, highly effective, and intensely researched.
One form of innovative Q&A comes from the political scene. Marco Rubio’s campaign came up with this gem.
NOTE: Posting this video does not imply endorsement of this candidate. I post the video simply because it’s a smart way to do online Q&A.
Rubio’s team posted the video on Facebook, where it garnered plenty of attention.
You can see that there are plenty of ways to answer questions. The starting point, however, is to get people to ask questions.
Find the platform that works for you and your product, and run with it.
How to Answer Questions
So how should you go about answering those questions?
Format will help you to determine this question. Written answers? 140-character-or-less answers? Video answers? A combination?
Groupon, spring-boarding on the success of its banana bunker explosion, produced its own video on the topic.
Here are some techniques I suggest:
- Be honest. This is No. 1. No way around this. Just be freaking honest. Sure, if you want to filter the questions, that’s OK. But don’t insert dishonesty into this process. You’ll ruin everything!
- Be funny. This is where Groupon shone. Its deadpan humor rocked the Facebook world with convulsions of hilarity. It killed it with humor. It worked wonders.
- Be thorough. Answer questions in a complete way. An answer may introduce friction if it is left unanswered. Give it your best shot, and answer with all the thoroughness you can muster.
- Be uncomfortable. Go ahead and accept the questions that make you cringe. Not everyone is going to love you. Some people will ask questions that do not feel good. Answer them. Users will value your boldness.
- Be PG. One great thing about Groupon is that it acknowledged the humor in its product, but it didn’t go all inappropriate. It kept everything safe and still funny.
- Be quick. If you’re using an instant Q&A model (like Groupon), be quick in your responses. Groupon had five people manning Facebook that day, because it didn’t want to stifle the enthusiasm of the event. The name of the game was instant.
This is one conversion technique that will have wide appeal. You, as a conversion optimizer, can lead it. Your social team gets involved. Your content peeps jump in. The developer has fun. Everyone wins.
But most importantly, you enjoy a flood of fresh conversions and revenue awesomeness that keeps on giving.