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Building Customer Service Websites

Building Customer Service Online Stores
One of the biggest mistakes an ecommerce business can make is trying to build a turn-key website. Self service can never replace customer service. Virtual shopping is becoming more important as web security increases. Statistics predict that online shopping in the USA will double in the next 5 years, to 135 million consumers.
Most of these will gravitate toward websites that are easy to navigate, offer entertainment value, and have an easy to pilot shopping cart. 

Content is dead in this new e-tailing world. Community is the new king. Success will be measured in an ecommerce company’s ability to forge relationships with their customers. 
Successful stores will also learn how to bring back customer service that feels almost physical to the customer.

Customer Communication
The first step toward building customer relations is communication. This step needs to start long before the customer is shown the ‘buy now’ page. 

Communication starts with full disclosure. The company needs to include their phone number, address, pictures of officers and their names, and contact information for each department.

The next step is to invite customers to contact the company. This is done through 800 numbers, call centre representatives, live chats, FAQ, forums, guest books.

There are several tools that can ‘talk’ to consumers, but they should not be used to sell. These include podcasts, forums, live chats, streaming video, audio buttons, and ‘new ebooks.’ 

The new ebooks include MSReader and Adobe books that talk, or self marking e-courses. 
Email campaigns are still a strong marketing tool, when used right. E-tailers are using email campaigns to ask potential customers for their feedback, for suggestions, if they want to participate in a special event, or if the customer wants to speak at a local event, or even moderate part of the forum. This type of reversed-sales feeds the customer’s ego and their need to feel involved, while still leading them toward a buy-now page.
The buttons and links for contact need to be located on every page, including 800 numbers. 

Trained Customer Service Personnel
There is nothing more frustrating than having a person read the customer service information from a book. Poor customer service is as bad as no service at all. Do not offer customer service tools, only to send the customer an automated reply, or include an 800 number with a voice recording on the other end. 
Call centres can cause a problem if the customer is misled. Do not put an office number down that leads to an answering service. Be honest. 

Customer service representatives (CSR) are often computer operators working from home. Then answer the phone from a fanny pack, while cooking supper or working on another project. They often recite scripts and cannot answer questions. 

If you are hiring freelance phone operators, make sure they are professional, have a thorough knowledge of the company and product, and do not handle more clients than they can handle. 

Give consumers options. Do they want to fill out a form, call you, speak on a live chat, or via email? Do not force them to give private information or endure a frustrating log in process before contacting the company. There should always be an emergency form of communication that does not require log in or membership.

Good customer service replies to emails almost immediately. Average replies in 24 hours. Transponders should not make excuses for a lack of human interaction, but promise a quick response. 
Any communication that does not offer instant contact should invite consumers to visit a FAQ page, or forum where they can find instant answers.
Full Disclosure
Just over 20% of consumers abandon their shopping cart when they learn the shipping costs. Market research suggests that they will be less likely to abandon their purchase if they knew the costs beforehand. Being honest, and offering a variety of shipping options, will help increase sales and improve a site’s conversion rate.


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