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September 12, 2013

Keeping Customer Service Alive and Well with Online Businesses

Although the Internet revolutionized business and changed many facets for both business owners and consumers, one old adage will never change: A happy customer will tell a friend, but an unhappy customer will tell 10. People may not be sharing their experiences in the same ways (who really talks on the phone anymore?), but they’re still talking.

Customer service presents unique challenges and opportunities for people who do business online, because it’s often not a top priority when it comes to Internet companies. And because it’s truly a rare thing in the digital world, online entrepreneurs can use stellar customer service to stand out and keep customers coming back.

Respond to Inquiries Immediately
With online business, open avenues of communication are the most important aspect of customer service. When a customer has a problem with something they bought at a store, they can physically show up to speak with someone if they want to. When they buy something online, they know that the relative anonymity of the Internet means if you simply don’t respond, they’ll have such a hard time finding you and it probably won’t be worth the effort.

There is nothing more reassuring to a customer than a prompt, personal reply. Respond to customers as quickly after the sale as you did before the sale, when you were trying to get them to spend their money with you.

Avoid form letter and auto responses. Study after study shows that automation is the No. 1 customer headache reported by patrons. There was a time when people knew the names of most of the people from whom they bought things. We are collectively nostalgic for that. Write each e-mail individually, provide a phone number for customer service and, if you can, answer each call personally.
A comprehensive FAQ page will help reduce communications and free up your time to talk to customers.

Reach Out
After a customer makes a buy, contact them shortly afterward to thank them for the purchase, and then a few weeks later, contact them again to make sure they’re happy. When someone receives a communication from a business they recently purchased something from, they expect a pitch or offer to buy something again. When you reach out without trying to sell them anything, just to see if they’re happy, it won’t be forgotten.

Live Chat
Adding live chat to your website gives your customers a sense of being connected to real people at a real business. More personal than e-mails, but less intrusive than phone calls, live chat allows you to engage your customers directly and immediately. Companies like Live Person and Bold Chat offer free trials so you can see if you like it before fully committing.

There’s no shopping experience more impersonal than buying something online—many times, that’s what the customer wants: to be able to sit behind a screen and interact with a business, instead of doing it face-to-face or even over the phone. But the truth of the matter is that consumers still want to know they’re cared about, even by online businesses. The key to great customer service, therefore, is to personalize the customer’s experience as much as possible to feel connected to the human being behind the business. It doesn’t take much to become the enterprise people are happy they did business with.

How does your customer service team go above and beyond to make an impression on your clients? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about online business topics and the benefits of Spokeo removal, among other things.