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Running an Internet Business: Nine Critical Steps for Excellent Customer Service

Make certain your business can answer any call for "HELP!"
Make certain your business can answer any call for "HELP!"Creative Commons: Flickr D3 San Franciso

Customers and clients of an internet business are separated from the “faces” of the company by cables and computers. They can be right down the hall, or oceans apart.

The ease with which you allow your customer to interact personally with your internet business is extremely important, yet can be challenging. When building or “fine-tuning” your website, make sure that “customer feedback and service” functionality is your first priority and goal.

Listed below are 9 critical steps EVERY website should have to ensure happy customers:

  1. Create visual icons that point to “email us”. These should link directly to an email address that is checked at least 3 times a day by employees whose job function and training is customer support.
  2. Clearly display your “contact information” and INCLUDE your telephone number and mailing address (this instills confidence) on your website.
  3. Create a “chat” button manned by a live person at least 12 hours per day—this is a proven and effective visual cue that real people are available to provide immediate answers to your customers.
  4. Encourage customers to complete a very short and simple questionnaire or feedback form on your website. This should include no more than four questions, or feature a box that allows the user to type a question or comment of short but reasonable length (250 words or less). Be careful not to invite a novella, but do communicate that you are available to provide assistance.
  5. Build an automated response to submitted questions so that the customer receives acknowledgment that it “worked.” A simple response is fine, along the lines of “Thank you for responding to our questionnaire. If necessary, one of our representatives will follow up with you shortly.”
  6. Establish an online Help Desk which is a powerful tool for online businesses. There are many large companies that do an excellent job maintaining an online chat, for example, Dell and Sony. Take a look at what they how they set up and manage their Help Desks.
  7. Clearly display a button for “frequently asked questions” (FAQ), accompanied by your responses. It may be effective to divide the list into two parts. First, feature commonly asked questions, which address general questions about your products or services. Then include a list of recent questions that are date-stamped and “signed” by site visitors.
  8. Host an online forum for your customers. This is not “live chat,” but a list of topics with archived responses from users. An excellent example of an online forum that builds brand loyalty and raises the value of the business to its customers – and potential customers – is from an online retailer of custom auto parts. This business hosts a forum for vintage auto enthusiasts, who post questions, comments and product advice. Forums can be simple, threaded conversations, or more dynamic, live venues providing interaction and chat. T-Mobile maintains a forum for their customers, as does Lush Cosmetics. Photos add interest and visual sophistication to a forum, which is done very well by Gander Mountain. If you decide to host an online forum, make certain that it does not become a long thread of complaints and problems with no corporate response or resolution.
  9. Social media can also be leveraged by an internet business to provide a forum for customer feedback and input. Social media is an excellent place to announce new products, tout awards, share company news and proactively address customer concerns in a global forum. Remember, if you put it out there, you can’t take it back. Facebook pages are interactive by nature, allowing fans to comment on posts by the company. Twitter, MySpace and blogs can also solicit customer interaction. Some retail companies use a blog to feature products, provide photos and information, and then encourage responses from its readers. Sephora does an excellent job with “Beauty and the Blog.” Polls and questionnaires, which are easily embedded in Facebook and blogs, are simple ways to engage customers online.

When you implement customer feedback vehicles, evaluate every level of the experience from your customers’ perspective. Make certain that the procedures don’t hinder the customer service instead of improving it. In online interaction, it may be tempting to create templates to handle various scenarios, but canned responses generally sound “canned.”

When you invite interaction, be aware that anyone can post, email or chat. Often times, they do. You can moderate and filter, but you must walk the fine line of managing and manipulating your communications.

Comments

  • Mike Mogil 4 years ago

    I'm getting ready to launch an online math (and other subject) tutoring business in a few months. Thanks for the great insights.