In a traditional brick-and-mortar store, if a customer needs help, he or she can look around and find someone. In e-commerce, obviously, that's not an option. So how can you provide customer service as a part of your online sales experience? It's probably easier than you think.
There are several ways to provide high-quality customer service with a minimum amount of work.
Live chat is probably the best option for most start-up e-businesses. It gives you the option of providing real-time help to more than one customer at a time. The downside is that you or your employees have to staff the chat utility. Make sure that your site clearly states when representatives are available to help. Once you have set your live chat hours, do your best to stick to them.
Using a live chat utility is much like instant messaging. After you install the utility on your site, customers can simply click on a link to contact you immediately. Normally, a small browser window will open, and you can communicate with your customer in real time.
Many of the inquiries that you'll receive from customers will be about the status of their orders. Automating the order-tracking process can free up time to manage the more pressing aspects of your business.
Many shopping cart programs offer integrated order tracking, which can dramatically reduce the amount of email you receive from customers who are looking for their merchandise.
Once you ship an order, you will mark it as shipped and enter the appropriate tracking information into your shopping cart application. Most shopping carts will even generate an automated email message to provide the customer with the appropriate tracking information. If your cart supports notifications, you can set your cart to notify the customer automatically when the status of their order changes -- from pending to shipped, or from shipped to deliver -- which will reduce the amount of work that you have to do.
Just because your customer receives the order does not mean that your work is done. Invariably, some percentage of merchandise will be damaged in shipping, or a customer may need to exchange a product or have some other concern. Implementing a support-ticket process can further streamline the support process.
Support ticket applications are fairly simple: Customers visit your site, click a support link, and are prompted to submit their order information. The support program will send you the information, and you can craft your response. This system works very well if you have a lot of customers. When your customer logs back in to the support area, he or she will receive your response, along with the appropriate return or exchange instructions.
If all else fails, there's always the telephone. It can be expensive and time-consuming to provide phone support, but sometimes it's the best way to communicate with your clients. You may be able to hash out in two or three minutes on the phone what it would take 10 emails to achieve.
Customers also appreciate live phone support, and it can add a personal touch to your e-business. Most companies can't afford to provide 24-hour phone support, so don't forget to prominently post your phone hours. Reiterate these hours on your voice mail system or answering machine.
Customer support for online businesses isn't really that different from traditional business support. As long as you take care of your customers, they will keep coming back.
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