The Internet takes a business's marketing potential to a global level, with its interactive nature unique to this media. The Web, email and wireless technology bring together creative and technical aspects of design, development, advertising and sales far more effectively than call center or retail models. By the same token, the potential for value-added customer service truly is unlimited.
Since a company's website is, in effect, its "store," making the customer happy starts with the set-up. Here are some basics for designing a consumer-friendly venue:
- Websites should load quickly and provide realistic information, rather than lots of gimmicks with fancy graphics that don't say anything.
- Limit language to laymen terms - techno-babble may sound trendy and high tech, but if the majority of the viewers don't understand it, they may not come back.
- Follow the KISS principle - Keep It Sweet and Simple. Too many choices may be confusing and a turn-off to potential customers.
- Include a product/service catalog with pricing, shipping and warranty information; capability to make payments online; store locations (if applicable); appropriate forms for sales; return policy details; and contact information allowing customers to telephone the business for questions and concerns.
- Try other value-added enhancements, such as advertising space, links to informational sites, a testimonial page, newsletters and educational material.
- Feature a customer feedback page encouraging complaints, praise and suggestions. Then, respond to each submission promptly and courteously.
- Consider hiring a professional content specialist. Besides handling day-to-day issues and concerns, a pro can constantly update and revise your information.
An onsite resource center is another tool for boosting consumer satisfaction in a hurry.
For example, a jewelry-supply web venue might feature links to free necklace and bracelet patterns, gem identification, wire gauge information, current precious metal prices, a "frequently asked question" section, art and design schools, and precious gem grading information.
Social media - an umbrella term for a range of online tools and networks that promote personal interaction - offers plentiful customer service options. Here are some benefits:
- Social media is more fluid and interactive than a standard website.
- Social media sites allow you to get customer feedback, share news, make announcements, promote products and services, and make page changes in minutes without involving IT professionals.
- For sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, getting a page up and running is usually free, with low fees for additional ads and promotions.
- Setup and maintenance is simple. The best sites provide templates and tutorials, with many offering immediate online support.
- Business-friendly social media outlets track performance data, such as the number of new and return visits, sharing rates and subscriber growth.
There are drawbacks, though. An effective social networking strategy requires time and consistency. Posting comments or photos every now and then isn’t enough. To reap the full benefit, you must develop the discipline to post and update daily.
Also keep in mind that a careless remark or reference potentially can reach thousands of existing and would-be customers. To this end, give plenty of thought to what you communicate.
Managing Customer Relations: Software Made for the Job
With so many software packages on the market, designing a website today is much easier than in the past. Whether making it a do-it-yourself job or hiring a professional, "must have" software for any Internet venue is a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system or similar package.
CRM technology connects different players within the organization and the customer base, thus solidifying consumer satisfaction processes and increasing goodwill. Data gathered on the customer through site registration, questionnaires and sales transactions can help determine whether the online vendor-customer relationship is growing or stagnant.
As with bricks and mortar stores, CRM technology enables and expedites direct customer contact (as appropriate), e-letters, automatic emails regarding sales and specials, and various two-way exchanges.
When questions or complaints arise, CRM software can address the situation appropriately the first time around. A good product allows online vendors to:
- Categorize information
- Distribute queries to assigned employees through a "decision tree"
- Staff appropriate staff to administer and maintain the system
- Track complaints (number, type, trends)
- Control numbers for tracking and other quality assurance tools to manage responses and problem resolution
Prices for CRM products - including online services such as Salesforce - vary widely, so it's a good idea to consult a software specialist before committing to a product. Higher-end systems typically provide round-the-clock and online support, as well as routine upgrades.
Web Refunds: The Contented Cyber-Shopper
Web retailers face a peculiar dilemma in addressing refunds. Unlike their real-life storefront and call center cousins, they are not dealing with voices or faces. Their customers, rather, are shadowy silhouettes, tapping away at phantom keyboards.
For this reason, a clear, detailed refund policy identifying specific return criteria must be part of the initial ordering process. Cyber-customers should not have to search for this information. Rather, a "return policy" button should be posted on shopping cart, catalogue and home pages, as well as in "check-out" sections.
A serviceable Internet refund policy will pretty much mirror brick and mortar and call center models. Conditions may include:
- Packaging, price tags, receipts
- Credit slips, with or without time limits
- Returns within a prescribed time period
- Returns by mail or other carrier, with or without shipping costs
- Option to return merchandise to a website's brick and mortar counterpart.
Treat your return policy as part your service recovery strategy, a systematic process of restoring dissatisfied customers to a state of satisfaction with your business. For instance, compensate for any inconvenience customers might experience by offering "no-questions-asked" returns, free shipping for returns and an offer of coupons and discounts on future purchases. A follow-up letter or phone call likewise does a lot to strengthen an Internet firm's connection with its customers, especially after an unsatisfactory transaction.