Customer Service on the Web

Customer Service on the World Wide Web

How to give customer service on your Internet site.


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Old School Customer Service - What does that have to do with the web?

2006 David Peterson

Have you begun to wonder why traditional brick and mortar companies are starting to excel on the web? Two words: Customer Service. I have had an opportunity in my life to work in two different worlds. I like to call them my past life and my present life.

In my past life I sold consumer products in a retail outlet and then for another 10 years I was selling the same type of product to a big box retailer. During that period I was responsible for over $30 million in sales a year. Now I thought these two types of channels were miles apart in terms of how each approached customer service - until I got to the web.

The small retail outlet (part of a national chain) built it's reputation on building relationships, looking each customer in the eye and trying to satisfy everyone who entered the store. The old saying that "They are in here looking at our product, not tires" certainly held true. When a customer (prospect) entered the store they were there because of a strong interest in what the store offered. Margins in the store were very high and customer service was typically excellent. As a customer you could always find assistance to answer questions. The small retailer prided itself on customer service and drilled it into you during their training.

The big box retailer was different. They didn't care what you looked at once you were in the store as long as you bought something (preferably a higher margin item). The big box retailer had lots of money and could get great pricing on all there items and produce bundles of loss leaders just to get you in the store. Margins were a lot less but they made it up in volume. Customer service was traditionally poor but believe it or not they actually had about 130 employees per location. Here's an interesting point the big box retailer prided itself on customer service and drilled it into you during their training. Sound familiar?

So what does my past life have to do with the web? Well a lot since my past life has given me the experience to move into my present life and know right from wrong. In my present life I am involved with the Internet. My 1st involvement was as a hobby then as a salesman for a web hosting company. I have managed many campaigns since the early web days including one project involving domain names that reached well over $1.5 million in sales. Since I have been in sales and customer service from about the mid 80's to today, I have taken notice about one thing concerning web companies - zero customer service. Throughout my Internet career I have had the ability to listen to 1000's of new business ventures being launched on the web. All of them had the next widget that would make downloads easier or offer a larger product selection
or have a unique site devoted to this or that group. What most of these sites really had in common is that they tried to program their way into world.

Now I like programmers since that is one end of the business that I know I can't do. If you hire a good web development company and a good database company you can make yourself quite a web site. However what you do with that web site once it is completed is the real key.

Now everyone offers customer service, or at least they think they do. The real question is are you hiding behind your website or are you and your personnel out front and leading your company. My main focus on customer service is that the customer can get to decision maker quickly to answer a question or resolve a problem. Sounds pretty simple but how do you rate?

Let's try a test. For this test you must give your site to a friend or your mother for review. No you can't review your own site.

In under 1 minute can you do the following?

  • Find a phone number for the business?
  • Is there and address for the home office?
    (I love this one since I'm in sales I end up calling the sales departments of these companies asking them how to get a hold of the main office.)
  • Can you find a return policy on your site

The point of the test is just because you have built the best widget in town doesn't mean there won't be questions on it. FAQ's are great but since your customer couldn't even find out your phone number what makes you think they can easily browse through your FAQ's.

In conclusion customer service is about servicing the customer. Just because they are buying from you on the web doesn't mean that old school theories of customer service are no longer applied. If anything you need more service because you programmed your site to do amazing thing - it's too bad nobody can figure out what you were trying to do. Take the test give it to your friend or mother.


David Peterson

David Peterson

Author of: 

Been There - Done That

David Peterson's Search Engine Optimization Guide

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