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Customers are bringing a whole new set of expectations to shopping on the web that never existed with traditional retail stores.

Typical internet Customers go to your site, input their information, hit the send button and boom! They expect UPS at their door. Because buying products online feels “automatic,” Customers often expect that delivery should be nearly as immediate.

Trying to manage unrealistic expectations can at times be a real Customer service challenge. If you can be prepared for some potential problems, you will go a long way toward achieving superior Customer service on the web.

#1)  Avoid Poor Customer Service.

The internet has leveled the playing field, giving both the storeowner and the Customer equal access to the public, and public opinion. If a Customer is unhappy, he or she can get on the internet and tell the entire world in a matter of a few keystrokes. We don’t have that kind of power when we have an unsatisfactory experience at a retail store. But on the internet, the entire buying public has immediate access to a poor review of your business practices. Therefore, you need to manage individual Customer service problems so they don’t become widely advertised on the internet, damaging your reputation and your bottom line.

Be alert to the fact that a Customer care problem can arise from circumstances completely beyond your control. For example, an internet company owner found that after September 11th his supplier for short wave radios was hit by a huge spike in demand. Because this e-business owner was only a small retailer, he was of less interest to his supplier, and therefore his orders were not a priority. Meanwhile, this small e-retailer’s Customers kept placing orders until he had 680 radios on back-order. He eventually had to tell his Customers that delivery would be delayed for the foreseeable future.

For this internet retailer, too much business ultimately led to unsatisfied Customers. But his situation can happen to any e-retailer who depends on an outside supplier and can damage Customer relations regardless of whether your company is at fault.

#2)  Create Customer Friendly Policies.

To foster good Customer relations and to keep your Customers coming back, establish policies that make it easy for Customers to feel confident when buying from you. For example, you can initiate a 30-day home trial policy, which gives Customers time to receive a product, try it and return it if they are not satisfied. You Customers will be more likely to buy if they know they can trust you to guarantee your product in this way.

Around the holidays, you may want to extend the return policy to 60 days instead of 30. Many people buy gifts far in advance of the holidays. In recognition of this time lag, many internet retailers now extend their return policy through January 31st. Doing so gives your Customers that added sense of security, and they will appreciate the consideration.

Another good Customer-friendly tactic is to have a 30-day price protection policy for your products. Most of us know what it’s like to buy something at full price, and then see that same item go on sale within a few days. A price protection policy guarantees that the Customer won’t have this experience, and is your promise that you will inform him or her of any sales pending in the next 30 days.

As an internet business you will undoubtedly run into situations where your Customers push the company policies beyond their stated limits. You can deal with these situations on an individual basis. For example, if the Customer requests an extension of a few days for a return policy it is usually best to accommodate the request in order to maintain favorable Customer relationships.

#3)  Manage Customer Expectations.

Manage you Customer expectations by displaying your delivery and return policies prominently and repeatedly on your website. It may seem as though you are over-emphasizing this information, but you really can’t say it often enough to the internet shopper who visits your site.

For instance, if you have a home trial use policy, put that information on every page. Customers usually aren’t paying attention to what is written on web pages until they get to the one page that interests them personally.

Think like your Customer whenever possible in order to present the most Customer-friendly website possible. By doing so, you’ll be able to manage Customer demands and anticipate Customer needs from the first moment they visit your site.

#4)  Broadcast Your Rave Reviews.

Have a place on your website where you can post a long list of positive Customer comments, and make sure to clearly indicate to your Customers how and where to post their testimonials. Praise from satisfied Customers gives added credibility. It also helps overcome the resistance of new Customers who still feel leery about buying on the web or those who have questions about what will happen after they buy. Knowing that others have had positive experiences with your company and have returned to your site again gives them the confidence to trust your company. Customer testimonials are also a great source of free advertising for your business.

#5)  Develop Customer Rapport.

Most recent findings cite that even if your Customers are completely satisfied with your product or service, 40% of them will leave you and start doing business with your competition. In order to retain Customers and increase sales, you need to develop rapport with each and every Customer. The best way to do this is to stay in contact with them.

One way to stay in contact with your Customers is to create a private e-mail list to notify them of upcoming sales and other events. But be sure Customers can easily “opt out” of the e-mail if they want to, as unwanted e-mail can create negative perceptions. You can also send Customer surveys or even tokens of appreciation, such as small sample gifts or discounts for referrals. By enhancing the relationship with some personal contact, you will increase your chance to achieve true Customer loyalty.

Remember:  Great Customer Service Equals Increased Profits.Thumbs_Up

You now have the ability to develop superior Customer service practices, which will help you achieve your company goals. By keeping the needs of your Customer firmly in mind, and by applying the above Customer management techniques, you will be able to give your Customers the exemplary service that more and more internet shoppers demand. Remember to monitor and continually improve your Customer relations, because every satisfied Customer will then have a reason to come back, while new prospects will have the trust and confidence to do business with you in the future.

 

James Feldman is an author, consultant, and innovative customer service expert. He works with companies that want to create a competitive differentiation in the service that they provide to their customers. For more information, or to book Jim for your next meeting or event, call 312 527-9111 or email jfeldman@shifthappens.com

 

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