Customer Service for business

As the number of e-tailers in the United States increases, the number of industry experts mocking the level of customer service also increases. Customer service is, today, one of the most important aspects of moving your business online, and a lot of what you’ve learned in the offline world maps right onto the online one. Luckily for you, most online retailers don’t do a good job of customer service, leaving you j in a prime position to create a competitive advantage. But, as you know, things in this industry move quickly, so don’t rest on your laurels.

The critically poor customer service levels in the e-commerce industry stem from the fact that, originally, the only people who bought online were skilled computer users who thought in a similar way to the programmers who designed and built the sites. Now that an increasing number of non-technical people are using e-commerce, the need for customer service has grown – a major need has been to provide what are, effectively, technical support services to the sites themselves. Additionally, the impersonal nature of the Web and online shopping effectively increases the distance between you and your customer, meaning more tender, loving care is needed to keep your customers happy.

In this article, we’ll be talking about the tools and services you can provide to help bridge the gap between you and your customers. Naturally, the ideas in this article just scrape the surface of possible customer service tools that you could implement on your site. An important source of more ideas is the staff of your company and your friends. Ask them to report to you whenever they have a problem with someone’s site as they do their own personal shopping at home you’ll quickly find all kinds of good ideas.

In this article the customer service strategies that we’re going to cover are:

  • Toll-free numbers to provide customer support
  • E-mail interaction between vendor and customer for addressing queries
  • Automatic e-mailing to customers for order support

Let’s start by stepping back from Internet-based interactions and look at why, and how, we can use telephone support to enhance our e-commerce organization.

Toll-Free Numbers:
Even though you’re operating an online service, it’s very important you have a quality telephone infrastructure that your customers and potential customers can use to contact someone in your organization if they have a per-sales or a post-sales question.

The philosophy that, because you’re an online company, everyone will want to contact you through e-mail is simply not correct. In some very specific market segments, it may be the case that the vast majority will contact you through e-mail (typically, we find this tendency in computer-related retail sites). Niche markets are likely to experience a larger amount of customers who are less confident of carrying out online transactions, and are therefore likely to create a greater load on operators.

One of the most important reasons to offer an effective telesales operation is to capture the address and credit card portion of the order. A surprisingly high number of people are not comfortable with sending a credit card number over the Internet and prefer to telephone in their orders. Naturally, an easy way of dealing with an offline transaction such as this is to have a telephone operator tap the order into the tools the customer would use if they weren’t so wary of the consequences. If that customer receives a busy signal, or spends too long on hold, it’s likely he or she will abandon the call and move on to another merchant.

Unfortunately it’s not uncommon to come across telephone operators who have never used the Internet and can easily say some pretty impolitic things to technically literate customers. Since you want to ensure all contact with your organization is as pleasant as possible it might be a good idea to put together an FAQ, that’s updated daily, for the staff who answer the phones.

Customer Service E-mails:
When dealing with customers online, you’ll find that there are two distinct types of people; those who’ll prefer to interact with you over the phone (and as we’ve seen, this type of person may even phone you to place orders), and those who’ll prefer to contact you by e-mail.

To provide an organized way of allowing people to contact your company you may want to offer a variety of e-mail addresses; for example an e-commerce company might offer the following:

|> sales@yourdomain.com – e-mails pertaining to actual sales of the product

|> support@yourdomain.com – e-mails pertaining to issues with getting the product working properly

|> service@yourdomain.com – e-mails pertaining to general customer service issues

|> webmaster@yourdomain.com – e-mails pertaining to Web-related issues with the site

|> advertising@yourdomain.com – if you offer advertising on your site, e-mails pertaining to advertising opportunities

|> partnering@yourdomain.com– e-mails pertaining to enquiries into entering into a business relationship with the company

Providing e-mail addresses for different parts of your organization (even if, in a small company only one person actually answers the e-mail) is a very simple proposition; but this must be managed effectively in order for it to be a constructive customer service tool.

What this basically means is, if you have a service@yourdomain.com e-mail address, make sure that the person dealing with that in box can turn the enquiries round quickly. There is nothing more frustrating than having a customer service e-mail fall completely on deaf ears, or take a very long time to receive an answer. E-mail might be an asynchronous medium, yet the person sending the message is still keen to have a response. What seems like an hour or so to you may well seem like a day to the customer. Most customers expect a turnaround in a 24-hour period, but turning around queries faster than this may well give you a competitive advantage.

Additionally you should make sure that you regularly check that each of these e-mail addresses works. A good way to do this is to periodically test the e-mail addresses you use by running code similar to this:

Contact Forms:
A lot of sites use contact forms that invite people to communicate with the company through a Web-based form, such as the one shown below. Although these forms are not as flexible as having a list of e-mail addresses, they can be used for a number of reasons including focusing customer input, or avoiding abuse of e-mail facilities by people attaching massive or malicious files.

All modern browsers will launch the customer’s e-mail client upon clicking on a link that is specified as an e-mail address through the mail to: protocol. However, there are certain circumstances where the user j will not have access to a mail client such as if they’re using a browser on a handheld computer or mobile phone, or if they’re using the site from a public Web kiosk.

Some reasons for not using forms like this on your site are:

  • The customer has no record of sending the e-mail. Because the process does not involve the customer’s e-mail client in any way, the customer cannot look back to see when e-mails were sent. This could be particularly important in defusing problematic customer service issues.
  • Bounced messages may not get routed back properly.
  • Replies may not get back to the customer if they misspell their e-mail address.
  • Lack of appropriate tools. Some customers may not be comfortable sending e-mails without running them through spell checkers. Customers who are visually challenged may not wish to cram their message into a hard to read box on a form. By inviting the user to use their regular e-mail client, you ensure that they will have minimum difficulty in getting in touch.

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