March 21st, 2007 by Jamie Estep
Online Customer Service – 5 Rules to Live By
Providing good customer support is absolutely key to running a successful online business. It is also one of the most time consuming aspects of running an ecommerce website. And, it is one of the most overlooked aspects of online businesses. Taking a step away from the traditional brick and mortar business, business owners often get the idea that support is not an issue in ecommerce.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you run your business, you will eventually end up with some dissatisfied customers. Shipments get lost, things get back-ordered, people simply make mistakes, and some customers will not be happy no matter what level of service you give them. What is important is that you adequately correct situations where customers are upset, and that you attempt to prevent area of poor service before they become a problem for your customers.
These are five simple rules of customer service that I think are essential to providing good support for online businesses.
#1 – Maintain contact
This is the most important and often most ignored idea behind customer service. If you receive an email from your customer stating that they are upset with something, or something went wrong with their order, acknowledge them immediately. Nothing is worse than being ignored by a business that you purchased something from. By immediately, I mean immediately. One or two hours tops. Not two or three days, or never. Even if you don’t have a good answer for them, let them know that you got their message and that you will get back to them in a reasonable amount of time. If you don’t acknowledge them fast enough, you can expect a phone call within a few hours. Ignoring problems will never make them go away…
#2 – Learn how to apologize
Something that is almost as bad as getting no response is getting something that tries to place the blame of the situation on the customer. This is a sure-fire way to lose you customer forever, and you can be sure that they will tell their story to others. Seth Godin wrote a great article about how to apologize. The old saying ‘the customer is always right’ still applies to online business. If your business is any way was responsible for the error, apologize.
#3 – Respond quickly
This doesn’t have to be strictly related to complaints or problems. If a customer fills out a contact form, get back to them within the hour. If they email you, get back within an hour. Unless you have so many requests that you cannot possibly respond quickly, or it is the middle of the night and your business is closed, there is no reason it should take any longer. The internet is all about convenience, speed and efficiency. Don’t let the only area requiring human interaction ruin your customer’s experience.
#4 – Let visitors actually contact you
So I ordered that part for overnight delivery and you sent the wrong one, I need the correct one now! It gets really frustrating not being able to get a person on the phone, when something is really urgent. If I email you, it will probably be a day before you get back to me, and that’s simply unacceptable, so i need to get you on the phone. Just because your business is online, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t answer the phone. If nobody is really available and I leave a message, refer to #1 and #3. Also, make sure that you have a customer support number (preferably toll free) and that it is plastered all over your website.
#5 – Prevent bad experiences
This one seems obvious, but I can’t count how many times I have ordered something to later find it was back-ordered. If you don’t have something in-stock, don’t list it as available. If something is discontinued, make a recommendation for a similar item. Most importantly, don’t ever make promises that you cannot deliver on. This is one of the quickest ways to sour your customer’s opinions of your business. Try to over-deliver on everything no matter how insignificant it seems. If you tell your customers that a shipment should take six days, try to get it to them in four. Every time you impress your customer by exceeding their expectations, you increase the chance that they will do business with you again, or that they will refer their friend to you.