A Guide to Online Customer Support

Often, many online retailers focus on optimizing marketing efforts to attract visitors to their site but forget about offering support to potential buyers once they have reached their site. Just like for any shop, customer service is crucial for any Internet based business.

Many Internet users feel reluctant to shop online because of a common lack of customer service. They prefer to go to a physical store in fear of not finding the right support prior or after completing a purchase.

A company’s success depends mainly in maintaining a constant demand from its clients. Customers are without any doubt the most valuable asset in a business. Satisfying their needs is the key to remain successful. Therefore, a proper pre-purchase and post-purchase support is mandatory and must be a top priority. By providing the right pre-purchase customer support, clients will shop knowing that all their questions have been answered (e.g. knowing the best value for money TV) and will not leave the store just because they could not find an answer to a simple question.

According to the ACSI, customer satisfaction is an indicator of financial achievement. Companies with high customer satisfaction levels tend to do better than those with lower grades. Changes in customer satisfaction affect the willingness to buy. Typically, manufactured goods tend to score higher than services. In fact, the more service required, the lower the complacency.

Moreover, ACSI’s research shows that quality plays a more important role in satisfying customers than price. Price promotions can be an effective temporarily approach to improving satisfaction, but price mark down is almost never assertable in the long run. On the other hand, companies that focus on quality enhancements tend to perform better.

Large stores underestimate the importance of salesclerks, possibly due to constant cost reduction policies. As a result, clients find it hard to seek for advice prior to purchasing a product, since the amount of sales support is usually very limited. Consequently, customers might feel frustrated, abandon the store without buying anything and could possibly never return again. Marketing attracted customers, however, failure to develop a proper onsite sales strategy prevented them from converting. The number of lost sales could well cover the expenses driven from having the right amount of salespeople, justifying their immediate need.

Post-purchase counseling is a vital part of any business process because it supports successful long-term relationships with clients. Moreover, a great way to increase loyalty is by offering unique value added to the customer; in this case, an excellent customer service is a reason to stay with a certain company.

An unhappy customer is more likely to post a comment on the Internet about a bad experience with a company than a happy one. Many prospective customers could come across this review and avoid doing business with this company. Eliminating this negative appraisal and reinstating customer trustworthiness is far more complicated and expensive than keeping customers happy and avoiding these situations. A happy customer is likely to recommend what he likes and come back to it. Always consider resolving a conflict with an angry customer by promptly acknowledging the possible mistake and fixing the problem.

After any completed order, customers should receive a thank you email confirming their order. Furthermore, they should also be informed when the item has been shipped, and asked if they were satisfied with their purchase and how they wished to be served better. Installing automated responses or notifications gives customers the impression that a company is permanently thinking about its customers. Being polite and showing that the company is always willing to help the customer is inexpensive and highly efficient. A good follow-up reinforces the positive feelings that a customer had when initially buying and at the same time relieves possible feelings of buyer's remorse. Sending a discount coupon or information about related products after a purchase is a way of stimulating future acquisitions. Always personalize communications with names and other pieces of information and target offers by collecting information about customers. Support staff must have this client information available when assisting a customer (i.e. products bought by the customer, customer contact information, background, description and opportunity information).

When shopping online, customers must find it easy to contact a sales representative if they were to need guidance throughout their visit to the store. One of the simplest ways to enable assistance is by providing a helpline, preferably toll free. Contact information including the company’s address and main telephone should always be provided. Some companies make it very difficult to find their contact information, as if they were afraid of their customers. The customer service phone should never be hidden because many sales depend on it.

Prior to contacting a sales representative or a more advanced technical support, customers will search for information thorough the webpage. Therefore, answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) should be easily found. This way, clients will be able to obtain answers to their questions on their own, faster than by contacting customer service. Providing quick answers to general inquiries (e.g. shipping and return policies) helps prevent customer service congestion and significantly reduces the amount of staff required.

Sticking to a simple contact telephone number is not ideal, customers demand other ways of contacting support. The more channels provided the more convenient this will be for clients; many of them will prefer to contact by email or live chat. A rule of thumb is to always make it simple for customers to contact support. Therefore, they should be able to contact customer service through whatever channel they wish to.

When offering any contact information it is highly recommended to clearly indicate customer service operating hours. In addition, consider displaying the timeframe needed to respond to any question (e.g. time to respond to an email inquiry); obviously, the faster, the better. Online stores are open 24/7, which means that customers could need assistance out of normal business operating hours. Therefore, customer service hours should be redefined to fit a more versatile business. By analyzing the site’s statistics it is possible to reveal at which times customers are inside the store, making it easier to adjust support hours to customer needs. Having contacting channels that are more convenient for our customers implies adapting them to fit our customer needs, since support needs to be manned. It does not make sense to have a live chat if customers are never going to see it operative. If analytics show that customers shop at a site mainly during the weekends, late after normal business hours or even at any time during the day, investing in a 24/7 customer service unit is strongly advised. Always keep in mind that investing in customer satisfaction will improve customer retention and sales, leading to a strong revenue increase.

Offering a multichannel customer service should not only mean that customers can contact support in a variety of ways, it must also help customers switch to a different channel in case they need to do so without having to initiate a new inquiry. For example, a client might think that email support is too slow to help him solve his problem. Therefore, he must be able to request the assistant to switch to a phone conversation without having to explain his problem again. Preferably, the same assistant that was attending this customer should continue assisting him on the phone. There must be paths to seamlessly switch between channels, leveraging customer service.

Staff must identify themselves prior to any inquiry. Customers should always have the possibility to contact a certain assistant whenever possible. Many customers prefer to be aided by the same assistant over and over again simply because they feel that this employee is aware of their situation. Ideally, the process of assigning the right assistant to each customer should be carried out automatically.

Develop use cases based on what users are likely to search for and what their inquiries will be. Use statistics to complete this information. Knowing what customers need and what they are likely to do on a site is essential to anticipate and provide the best answers. With this valuable information in hand, not only will it be easier to satisfy inquiries in a shorter period of time, but also, to prepare in advance and offer the answers on site before customers actually seek for help on a certain topic. Providing the right information in the right moment lets clients easily accomplish their tasks. Dividing customer service by customer needs, instead of by department, facilitates problem resolution and increases satisfaction levels.

Online businesses can minimize customer support cost in comparison to physical businesses by implementing the right tools directly into their sites, and at the same time, making their customers feel as if they were shopping with the greatest assistance ever.

Although email support is a great channel, providing a contact form on the site instead of an email address increases the speed of process by avoiding forcing clients to initiate their own mailbox. Additionally, it helps understanding what customers are really looking for by including checkboxes that facilitate the task of routing the inquiry to the right staff.

A much better alternative to a toll free contact number is a click-to-call button in a website. Customers can choose to establish a communication with the help center using the computer or asked to be called on a certain number. The communication is established using VoIP, which avoids the high costs of traditional telephony and allows international calls at a minimal expense.

A web community, blog or forum is a unique way to share questions and answers with future customers. While inquiries are usually resolved privately, questions posted on a public forum can be viewed by any visitor and, hopefully, help customers with the same question in the future. Including a search engine to search inside the forum, as well as throughout the FAQ and full site, allows users to quickly find answers to their queries.

With the growth of social communities, and as users become more and more comfortable with online platforms, customers are leaving the phone aside and turning to the Internet, and more recently to these new channels as a way to connect with a company and have their service conversations. Facebook allows the creation of fan based communities which companies can use to successfully communicate with their customers. In Twitter a company can see what people are saying about them or their products and instantly join the conversation to offer support (//search.twitter.com/).

Online live chat is becoming increasingly popular. However, many online sites do not offer this type of support yet. Its simplicity and ability to help online customers makes it the ideal channel to communicate with clients. While many customers are reluctant to speak to a salesperson over the phone, they regard online chat as non intrusive and much more comfortable to use. Customers must be prompted to briefly fill in their personal information and give an explanation of their problem or question prior to contacting the sales representative to facilitate the task of routing them to the right assistant. Instead of having to listen to promotions or a boring and repetitive song while waiting (which is what usually happens when calling a helpline), customers can see promotional videos, interact with media content or participate in surveys. Assistants can send predesigned responses and even files to answer any query.

CRM solutions and service clouds designed for a contact center environment can improve communication with customers, increase productivity of a workforce and help manage information easily by routing, tracking and handling customers. A unified contact solution integrates customer information, voice, self-service IVR, web collaboration (e.g. help and technical support forums and chats), notifications (e.g. sending a text message or email containing an inquiry number) and callback functionalities (e.g. click-to-call) treating every customer equally regardless of the channel used. Previously generated responses (e.g. email templates) and a knowledge database can be used to quickly respond to inquiries. By using escorted browsing, an assistant can lead customers through a series of webpages in order to show them how to find what they are looking for on a website. Additionally, statistics on the number of queries, time needed per resolution, etc, can be automatically generated to improve future resolutions.

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