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Online Service Savvy: Build Superior Customer Support

A positive online experience benefits both the customer and the business. Clients can get answers to questions, buy products and visit a site 24 hours-a-day without the long waits associated with call centers and bricks and mortar operations. On their end, businesses save resources and time when their web presence is a strong one.

Considering that roughly half of shoppers abandon orders before they complete an online transaction, and that lack of information is a frequent reason, business owners would do well to develop web strategies geared to preventing these situations.

Friendly Sites Draw Customers

To maximize online transactions and make a visit worth the clients' effort, an e-commerce site must be informative, navigable and current. Make sure to address these components:

  • Site formatting. Carefully consider what information customers require and what types of hardware and software they use. Are basic HTML pages enough to convey your message? Are all sections and tools well integrated?
  • Usability. Trouble-free navigation is a top priority. When your website allows customers to get around easily, benefits to you include increased sales and reduced support costs. To this end, make navigational buttons and directions colorful and easy to find.
  • Top performance. A website that's sluggish or crashes under the weight of too many visitors can undermine trust. Obtaining the appropriate technological expertise - in-house or via contract - is essential to a successful Web platform and uninterrupted commerce.

What Customers Really Want

Debate in the design world about site architecture and striking a balance between visual appeal and usability seems never-ending. There are a few universal guidelines, though, for providing your customers with tools that encourage them to stay awhile:

  • Accessible contact information. Many visitors are simply seeking a way to contact your company that is most appropriate for their needs. Make sure addresses, departments and phone numbers are easy to find.
  • Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQs"). An FAQ section can anticipate and sidestep many potential inquiries. Depending on the business, FAQs may introduce new clients to products and services; assist returning clients with additional purchases; or offer guidance to users having difficulty with the site.
  • Searching and site maps. Visitors to your site may be trying to find very specific information about products, contact persons, ordering procedures and more. Both search engines and site maps help users navigate to what they're seeking, and some sites employ both. These functions are profitable, however, only when they are simple to operate and accurate in their results.
  • Reviews. A number of marketing surveys have pointed to the importance of customer product reviews when online shoppers are preparing to buy. Testimonials and case studies also help in the selection process.
  • Updated information. The latest news, events, press releases and information about product upgrades can drive more traffic to a site, as well as instill confidence in both existing clients and prospective buyers.
  • User-generated content. More and more, successful websites are building their business through online communities. Clients feel more connected to a site when they can participate in forums, bulletin boards, or news groups and reviews.
  • Mobility and compatibility. A website works best when users can access it away from their laptops or PCs. To this end, make sure the design is adaptable to mobile devices such as cellphones.

Finally, your company website need not be your sole online presence. Consider extending your coverage to social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Boost accessibility by posting your web address on these pages, and vice versa.

Make sure to clearly post rules of use for all communities you might establish. While it's tempting to allow only positive comments, dealing with complaints can create an environment of transparency and honesty. Assign a staff member to moderate the content.

Beyond the Site

Cyber-shoppers often grumble that they have trouble finding the answers they're looking for on commercial sites. Providing the necessary information online can offset many of these concerns, certainly - but no single solution can foresee and forestall all of them. For this reason, offering alternate venues for direct communication greatly increases client satisfaction. Consider which of the following will best fit your customers' needs:

  • Email. Many websites offer clients a chance to ask questions via email. When business owners fail to return messages quickly, however, impatient customers eventually may call directly - or visit a competitor. Service experts recommend using an auto-responder to let emailers know the message came through and to expect an answer within 24 hours.
  • Customer service chat. If a customer needs a quick response, or when the ordering process involves a series of basic questions, a "chat" or instant messaging component is a great tool. Unlike a one-on-one phone call, a representative with good writing skills can usually assist four or five online customers simultaneously.
  • Callback service. This allows customers to enter a phone number so a support agent can call them back. It is best suited to products and services that require immediate attention or longer, more detailed conversations.

Good customer service - long after a transaction takes place - continues to be a strong factor in attracting repeat business. This is also the case for online support service. Continue to listen to your customers and to survey their behavior while they visit online. Doing so allows you to stay on top of their needs and preferences, and to update your site to better serve them.