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Online Customer Service - The Cornerstone of a Successful Online Business
Online customer service is still one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of running a successful online business. Yet, in the highly competitive world of Internet business, it could be (and should be) the one thing that sets you apart from your competition!
Most Internet businesses that have a drive to succeed focus all of their time and resources on building a great site, and then trying to drive tons of traffic to that site. Honestly, these are two incredibly important factors for success. After all, a site won't be successful without tons of new potential customers hitting it, and you want that site to convey a professional image of your business by its appearance and ease-of-use. However, you must keep in mind that you are operating in a highly-competitive environment. You probably already know that there are tens, if not hundreds, of other businesses that offer the same basic goods and/or services that you do! They are battling you for the same exact keywords, and constantly enhancing their site to make their visitors' experience better than yours.
So, how are you going to differentiate yourself from your competition? What is going to set you apart? What is going to help you get, and keep, more customers? The answer lies in the online customer service that you provide! Before I get into how to provide excellent online customer service, let me explain why providing online customer service is so important.
On the Internet, customer loyalty is incredibly difficult to obtain unless your site is associated with a popular retail store (e.g. Walmart.com, BestBuy.com), or has developed a successful reputation and goodwill over a long period of time (e.g. Amazon.com). The fact is, Internet customers are much more likely to shop around from site-to-site because it is so EASY. In the brick-and-mortar world, shopping around for an item means getting in the car and driving from store to store, not to mention, parking at each location, and then going in to find the item. That sounds like an entire afternoon project, just to purchase one item! That is why most people don't do that, especially for a low cost item. They develop loyalty to one store for a variety of reasons that matter to them, and they buy the item almost exclusively from that store. Think about your personal life. Don't you usually buy groceries from the same store week after week because it is easier than going somewhere else and having to learn where all your favorite items are located?
The Internet works very different. I can wake up in the morning, and before I finish breakfast I can browse the top ten sites listed on Google for the item I'm looking for. Its so easy to shop around! I don't know anything about any of those sites so how do I decide which to buy from? Sure, I'm looking for the best price, and I also want a site that looks credible so I don't perceive that I may get ripped off. That may narrow my list from ten to five sites. They all offer my item at about the same price, they all have professional looking sites with easy-to-use shopping carts, and I found them all in the top ten search results on Google! By common Internet business logic they're all doing it RIGHT! But, only one will get my business today. And who's to say that even if I have the best experience possible with the one I choose, that I'd ever buy from them again. Remember, it's so easy to shop around, and there are still several other good-looking companies that offer similar items.
The difference is in the customer service. That is the one way that a website can set itself apart in this competitive world. It can take the best website, full of stylish graphics and rich content, and make it more than an image on a computer monitor. It can give it a personal touch. Its that personal touch that will differentiate yourself from your competition. Potential customers will want to buy from you, and customers will want to keep coming back. They know you... and you know them. Your business has become more than just an image on a screen to them.
So, how do you provide great online customer service?
Traditional wisdom says to include your telephone number and email address on your site in highly visible locations. Unfortunately, doing just that doesn't go far enough, and probably will only offer minimal benefits. To call you, a dial-up user may actually have to log off your site just to get in touch with you, and you're trying to keep them on your site! Even with a high-speed connection, a phone call may not be the most convenient thing to do, especially if you don't have a toll-free number. And if you do, phone calls are costing you a lot of money! With email, your customers can contact you, but how long will they have to wait for a response--an hour, several hours, a day, a week? You may have a great policy about quick follow-up, but do your customers know that? They just sent you an email and they don't know when they'll hear back... if ever. Plus, posting your email on your site opens you up to getting tons of spam.
So, what's better than telephone and email? Here are three tools that can increase your sales, build your customer loyalty and retention, and save you money.
1. LIVE CHAT: Putting a live chat system on your website will have incredible benefits. Picture a potential customer browsing your site and having a question about placing an order. Again, we've discussed that phone and email aren't the best solution for this scenario. Now, picture having a large, noticable live chat button right there on your site. The visitor clicks it, enters their name and question, and they are IMMEDIATELY connected to you or one of your employees. Now, you know who they are, and they know who you are--you're beginning to develop that personal relationship we talked about. You can help them with their order, answer any questions they might have, or upsell them to a different product. All this, and they never left your website. Next time they need something, there's a good chance they'll want to come back to your site and talk to you again.
2. KNOWLEDGE DATABASE: A knowledge database is a collection of self-help articles that a customer can search through to find answers to their questions. Let's face it, as easy as you make your website to navigate and use, you'll still have people that have questions, problems, or concerns. With a knowledge database, the customers can quickly and easily browse for answers to their questions, and get help quickly and effectively. Its like FAQs, only turned up a notch.
3. TICKET SYSTEM: Using a ticket system is the best way to support current customers, and to answer questions from potential customers. A customer or potential customer creates a ticket and submits it to your company. Your company receives the ticket and can route it to the appropriate person or department for follow-up. It is quick and easy, and the customer gets an answer from the most qualified source at your company for the problem they had. Tickets also allow you to track your customers to get to know them better, and track your issues to find out what you could be doing better. Tickets are far more organized, secure, and useful than email--both for the company and the customer.
Search engine optimization and site design are important. But you're operating in a highly competitive environment, and you need something more to set your business apart. Something to make your website more than just a simple collection of graphics and content on a screen. You need a personal relationship with people viewing your site. The kind of relationship that will create new sales, and encourage repeat purchases. This can be acheived through effective online customer service.
Please feel free to reprint this article so long as you include the resource box listed with the article.
Dan Cavanaugh is the Senior Marketing Director for CSLive, a fully integrated and affordable online customer service system, featuring live customer chat, a ticket system, knowledge database, live web meetings, internal messaging, and much more. To find out how easy and affordable it can be to provide great customer service on your website, click here: http://www.CSLive.com
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