"A customer service experience can change the entire perception a customer has of the organization." So notes Wikipedia, which defines customer service as the "provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase."
This means that every interaction—whether personal or automated—that you have with customers affects whether they will ultimately be a happy (and hopefully repeat) customer, or walk away dissatisfied.
So what can you do to ensure all your customers turn out to be happy customers? We've come up with five rules that will go a long way to making your customer service top notch.
Courtesy and respect still count for a lot, even in a virtual setting where you are essentially invisible to customers. It's not necessary to bake a cake for everyone who stops by, but you should strive to make people feel welcomed. Greeting visitors with a long list of rules for how to do business with you is a sure way to send them packing, never to return.
In your site messaging, your listings and direct interactions with customers and potential customers, keep your tone professional and friendly. Yes, it's possible to be both! There's a wide span between robot-y indifference and syrupy sentimentality. Find your own comfort zone. If folksy is your style, go with it, but keep it real. Customers will be put off by a put-on. If you prefer a more formal communication style, that's great, too. Just avoid coming off as gruff.
At minimum, provide an e-mail address or online contact form to let customers get in touch with you
With all the technology that's readily available, it's possible to be accessible to online shoppers around the clock, and still keep quasi-normal working hours.
At minimum, provide an e-mail address or online contact form to let customers get in touch with you. Providing a phone number, Skype or live chat gives customers even more confidence that you are a responsive seller.
During normal working hours, try to respond to inquiries within an hour or two and use automated communications to fill the gaps until you can respond. Make sure you have two things: an e-mail auto-reply message and an online set of frequently asked questions to help customers find answers to their questions or troubleshoot their problems. Post your FAQs on your site (or About Me page on eBay), and link to them in your auto-reply.
When you're "on the clock," but away from your computer for an extended time, set your e-mail system to send you SMS alerts on your cell phone. If you can access e-mail from your mobile device, try and respond to messages as quickly as possible, at least to say, "Thank you for your inquiry. I'm away from my office, but I will contact you as soon as I return," and provide a reasonable time frame.
Nothing beats live human interaction. But doing everything in your power to help a customer solve a problem, even when you're not personally available, can go a long way to building trust.
To be sure, not every customer will be pleasant to deal with. But it's the wise seller who accepts the adage that the customer is always right—even when you know they're not. If a customer seems upset, be willing to listen. Find out what the problem is and work it out. Don't just apologize when something displeases your customer, try to make it right.
"Customer service that doesn't serve is just annoying," notes Internet marketing consultant Ian Lurie.
The important thing is to show customers that you value them. After all, without customers, you wouldn't have a business.
Invite visitors to leave comments on your site using feedback widgets like FeedbackForms
Be willing to improve
Try to see your site or listings from your customer's perspective. Shop your own store as if you were visiting for the first time and make note of anything that doesn't work, whether it's navigation, or the organization or tone of your information. Keep in mind that something that may seem obvious to you might not to someone else.
It's also a good idea to get critiques from others. You can invite visitors to leave comments right on your site or listings using feedback widgets like FeedbackForms. Just remember that whatever criticism you receive, it's business, not personal. No matter how negative or stinging something seems, it can be turned into a positive. Use the information you receive to improve the experience for everyone who visits your site, and you'll be more likely to see customers returning again and again.
Remember that good customer service doesn't end with the sale. There's still the little matter of delivering the product, both safely and timely. Make sure you package your items well, and ship them as soon as possible after receiving payment.
It's a nice touch to send a follow-up note to a buyer asking if they received the item and if everything was to their satisfaction. Invite customers to contact you for any reason, and be responsive and sincere if they do.
"You must keep providing fantastic service to your customer to keep their commitment and loyalty with you," writes marketing consultant Laura Lake for About.com. "Service after the purchase makes the determination of whether they will purchase from you again, or recommend you to their friends and family."