I have recently started to buy all of my meat from the butchers.  A strange start to a blog I know.

The reason for this switch away from the supermarkets and into the butchers is a simple one.  When I go into the butchers I am treated like an important customer but crucially I am given a level of customer service that goes beyond simply selling me some meat products.

A butcher is an expert in meat and all related areas and this expertise simply does not exist in most supermarkets.  So when buying meat for a casserole I can ask the butcher a number of questions such as “what is the best cut for this type of meal?” – “how many people will this be likely to serve?” – “how long should I cook it for?” – “are there any accompaniments you can recommend?” etc etc.

This sort of service goes beyond the simple act of serving me as a customer and instead takes the form of the butcher advising me, pointing me in the right direction and becoming someone I trust.  This has the effect of making me feel like a valued customer and it reassures me that what I am purchasing is the right choice.

This type of expertise exists in many places but it is not often that easy to convey in words.  This is an offline environment but the task can potentially be even more difficult and seemingly daunting when transferred to an online environment.

Having a conversation with someone when they are either on the phone or stood in front of you is often much easier than when a potential customer is surfing around your website.  However transferring expertise online is not as difficult a task as it may seem.  Also if done correctly conveying expertise and support online can actually potentially help you improve your search engine results.

There are numerous ways to transfer expertise online and some of them are outlined below –

Ensure that your website conveys authority and reassures the customer that you understand their problem.

Taking the butchers example a simple page online explaining the different cuts of meat in plain English to the customer would be a good start.  This could also be supplemented with recipe ideas and recommendations.  Although you are not directly selling here you are providing the customer with some expertise.  You are joining the conversation in their head about what best to cook.

Convey authority in other areas other than your own site

A very useful way to convey expertise is to write articles and take part in debates on your subject area.  Once again using the butchers example you could find websites where people might be discussing recipes and cuts of meat.  Writing a simple article for this type of site gives you authority instantly.  Again you are not selling anything directly but you are reassuring people that you know what you are talking about.  If done correctly the inbound link you would receive to your site would potentially be very valuable in terms of search results.

Use some form of online chat facility

It is more and more common these days to see a live chat facility on various websites such as insurance companies or rail companies.  Now this might not be as possible for a small butcher but it is something worth considering for slightly bigger enterprises.  This facility once again allows you to join the conversation in the head of your prospective customer and give them the benefit of your expertise and advice right when they need it.

At the very least you should make it easy for your customers to contact you by phone and then you have an opportunity to enter into a dialogue with them.

It is definitely a challenge to replicate offline expertise online but one which everyone will need to embrace as they move forward.  If you are not doing it then your competitors may be.