By Gerri Bryce
"People used what they called a telephone because they hated being close together and they were scared of being alone." Chuck Palahniuk could be right and wrong! In the world of e-commerce, the telephone could be the single most important tool next to your car keys. An online merchant will not exist and survive in the cutthroat world of online business without key customer service tools. First and foremost, the phone! It's true that people do not want to literally knock on the company's door to ask for technical support when they're having trouble. But they also do not want to be left hanging in the air not knowing who to contact when they need help. If you can provide this means of contact and more, your online business has crossed the line from zero profit to a treasure trove.
Needless to say, if you can provide toll-free phone numbers for your customers to contact, it would be easier for them to gain confidence on you. The same goes for fax numbers which customers can use to send documents when they need to, such as checks and billing proofs. This is extremely important for you and your customers as it helps establish a quick, reliable way to communicate with the simplest tools.
USING VOIP AND IM
Some companies provide a way for customers to talk via voice-over internet protocol (VOIP). VOIP, for the uninitiated, connects people through the internet on a phone call basis without having to disconnect (if they are using dial-up). All they need to do is use a program similar to Skype. Most Instant Messenger programs allow VOIP calls but companies may buy an in-house program that is exclusive for their business transactions.
LIVE CHAT, ANYONE?
Although I would say live phone calls are more favorable than IM text messaging, live chat is also an excellent tool that helps customers easily reach you in real time. Most high risk merchant account owners such online casinos and adult websites offer live chat customer services to ensure that their clients get all the support they need.
AN AUTORESPONDER, DAY IN, DAY OUT
The e-mail is another great channel for customer service. If you're a Mom 'n Pop, brick and click store and have a small clientèle, providing business e-mail address to your customers is the next best thing to a phone number. You may be out on the holidays and will be back in a few days but still want customer queries coming. The best way to deal with this is to use an Autoresponder program. The Autoresponder is programmed into your server so that every time a customer sends an e-mail, a message such as "We will get back to you shortly" will be sent to her. This way the customer knows that she is taken cared of even though technically at the moment you are out sunning and drinking papaya shake in the Bahamas!
ONLINE SHOPPING CARTS
Perhaps the best way to complete the set of customer tools is to employ a highly efficient, user-friendly virtual shopping cart. A shopping cart works for low risk and high risk merchant business owners alike. The purpose of the online shopping cart is obvious enough: it allows customers to browse through your online store using their registered accounts, pick the services or products that they intend to buy, add them to the cart, and check out after they fulfilled the information it requires such as billing address, shipping method preferred, credit card details, and sender/receiver details.
FORUMS, PODCASTS & BLOGS
A company that has grown with a considerable customer base can take advantage of establishing a forum. Customers can use it to tackle problems, build rapport, or help each other in the community. This is the best way for online merchants (who may act as moderators) to know how else they can improve their products and customer service. They may also take advantage of creating product-oriented blogs. These blogs may be customized in order to be highly readable for the clients. Merchants can make use of newsletters, webcasts and podcasts to reach their customers when they release new promos and announcements.
In fact, there are a hundred and one ways to prove to your customers that they come first. Whether you are a low risk merchant affiliated to a local bank or a high risk merchant whose account is established offshore, there's no shortage to happy ways you can serve and keep your customers who are, in the end, the bread and butter of your business!