For small businesses on Main Street, Park Avenue, 42nd Street, etc (real businesses) – it’s VERY EASY to have great customer service and interaction. You really can’t help it! As long as you’ve got a ready smile, firm hand shake and can resolve customer problems satisfactorily – you’ll probably do just fine.
However, online – you are dealing with nameless and faceless customers – bits and bytes.
How in the world can your Web site be a bastion of customer service and interaction? There’s several things you can do – some are free, some have fees; some are easy to implement, while others are more difficult to do.
Ways to Provide Online Customer Service
From personal experience in building my site, I’ve learned that email is crucial to any aspect of customer service.
1. Respond to email right away.
Some people will tell you to respond in about 24 hours but that’s way too long. If someone emails you during normal business hours you should reply in an hour or less. If you are SELLING something and have thousands of customers, spread across a lot of time zones, you’d better be prepared to respond to email from those in Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and New York City!
If your Web site is information rich and designed well – you can cut down on routine emails. Your audience / customers can find information on their own.
2. Make it easy for users to find stuff on your website.
The other thing I’ve learned is the importance of a search engine. You can get a free one from Google Custom Search, which has also a paid version. A search engine makes it easy for your customers to find the information they are looking for.
3. Let your customers/audience communicate with you via telephone as appropriate.
If you’ve got a content only Web site and are dispensing information, there’s no need for your “audience” to call you – email is just fine. But if you are selling hair brushes or other “things” – you’d better have a way for customers with problems to call you (or fax you, or write you). Put your telephone number on every page of your website, right up top!
4. Offer chat or live support
More and more e-retailers provide the option of getting a live person to help customers — via their website.Offer chat support: some customers may not want to talk to you on the phone, but may be willing to chat with someone who could help them. The costs for this technology are much more expensive than simple email based customer service. But if you are serious about selling products on line and want to give your customers the best support then live support can’t be beat!
You also have got to have the staff to operate the live support feature. Don’t have live support if it’s always “unavailable”.
5. Use tools to help you remember your customers
Remembering who your customers are, is a very important aspect of developing a customer service and relations component to your Web site. When you visit Amazon.com and by various books or just browse through various selections Amazon.com is able to build up a profile about what you like and do not like. This is called CRM “customer relationship management” Amazon.com’s system probably cost them hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. But there’s other solutions that cost much less – or even let you pay a monthly fee.
These services will let you build a profile of your customers and make their interaction with your Web site so much easier. If Jane keeps buying men’s hats at your online clothing store, your CRM software will stop advertising ladies hats to her, but will give her the latest sales information on men’s hats!
6. A forum or discussion board can be a very good customer relationship building tool.
Instead of your staff receiving emails, you can encourage your customers to post their queries to your forum or discussion board. Many companies use forums as a very effective means to help customers – the successful ones.
7. Use social media
Some people may not contact you via your website, but will put questions, and horrors (!), their complaints in social media. They’ll post it on Twitter, Facebook and in other places. Use social media to extend your online customer service.