I’ve written about customer service before but I want to touch on the subject again because this is such an important topic. In fact, getting the customer service aspect of your online (or offline) business right could mean the difference between success and failure….
I don’t care what you are selling, who you are selling it to, what service you provide or who your target market is, if you don’t make the effort to provide top quality customer service, you will definitely be losing sales somewhere along the line.
This subject is fresh in my mind at the moment because I have had cause to make several online purchases over the past week or so and the levels of service I have received have varied considerably. At one end of the scale I have had some excellent service and in contrast, some companies have totally ignored my requests for assistance!
This is to be expected I guess (though there is no excuse for ignoring paying customers) but the businesses that really stand out for me are the ones that made the effort to communicate on a ‘personal’ level. By that I mean taking the time to reply to my emails rather than just ignoring them in the hope that their standard automatically generated emails would do the trick. These businesses that went the extra mile to make me feel like a valued customer are the ones that will reap the rewards in the future because I will go back to them to purchase again. It really is so simple that it amazes me when companies/individuals don’t bother to make the effort.
So what can you do to ensure that your online business is offering the right level of customer service? Well here are a few ideas to get you started….
1. Ensure that your website has a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ) page. This will help your customers to find the answers to their own questions immediately without the need to send an email/make a telephone call. As many of you know, I set up a Support Centre earlier this year which includes a Knowledgebase of commonly asked questions. Not only does this help customers but it also reduced my inbound emails considerably.
2. Make sure that your contact details are easily located. Online businesses can generally get away with not publishing a telephone number (though if you want to do so, even better) but it is vital that a working email address is available for customers. Note that I say ‘working’ email address – if your ISP is filtering your emails for spam and junk, then this doesn’t really count as it is very easy for a genuine email to get sent to the trash bin in error.
3. You should set your sales site up so that when a purchase is made, a confirmation email is automatically sent to the buyer. This lets them know that their order has been received and confirms that it is being processed. I can’t stand it when I spend money online and don’t even get an email confirmation!
4. Answer all emails/enquiries within 24 hours. That said, I actually think that 24 hours is too long to wait for a reply from an online business. I have always stated on my sites that I will respond within 24 hours but most emails are answered within 8 hours absolute maximum. If an online business can’t/won’t respond to me within 24 hours, then I won’t deal with them.
I am afraid that I have little time for anyone running a business that says that they can’t answer emails within 24 hours. Even when I had a full-time job, I checked my emails first thing in the morning and then again in the evening so that customers weren’t left waiting. I even check my emails daily when I am on holiday so if I can do this, why can’t other people? Ok, you might want to have time off over the weekend – that’s fair enough but make sure your website tells your customers that your office is only manned Monday to Friday.
Mind you, any online business owner that doesn’t check their emails at the weekend is missing a trick. I make a fair few sales on Saturday/Sunday and I know that sometimes this is because I bothered to reply to an email sent on one of these days within a few hours. If I had left it until Monday, chances are that one of my competitors would have got the sale.
I have come across some business owners that have gone on holiday for two or three weeks and just left their emails to pile up. I find it hard to believe that anyone that takes their business seriously would do this but I have seen it happen. If you want to take a holiday and don’t want to check your emails, fine but make sure you get someone else to do it while you are away. Sending an autoresponder message that says ‘We will answer your email in two weeks time…’ just isn’t good enough. If you want to be able to clear off for a break and forget about your work, then you need a job not your own business.
5. Finally, deal with complaints quickly and fairly. Whatever type of business you run, you will get complaints from time to time – it just isn’t possible to please everyone all of the time. A lot of the time you will probably feel that the complaint isn’t justified and in many cases, it won’t be – people can be a strange breed! However, just handle it and move on – it isn’t worth getting hung up on.
Spending time on customer service is time very well spent – it gets sales and more importantly, it brings customers back again and again. To quote an old saying, it is much easier/cheaper to retain an existing customer than it is to find a new one.
Copyright 2005 Richard Grady