As a small business owner selling on the Web, it will hardly come as a surprise to you that at online auctions, you compete with millions of others who are similarly vying for the attention and patronage of bidders. There was a time when a good variety of merchandise was the only hook needed to attract eager consumers who frequent the auction venue. Those days, however, are over.
Today, bidders are just as interested in how they will be served as they are what they will be served. With this in mind, you need to understand the rudiments of exemplary service and how to deliver it. At your service, then, is this quick and concentrated overview of the key customer service elements that can make you a stellar seller from day one.
Be interactive and responsive
For starters, recognize that bidders are seeking sellers who are interactive and responsive. Bidders at online auctions are typically engaging in transactions with complete strangers, often across the continent and sometimes across the globe. The attentive seller understands the potential anxiety this can cause and, therefore, remains ever ready to respond to any and all bidder inquiries. When a bidder (especially a potential bidder) contacts you, be sure to respond quickly, completely and professionally. Answer the bidders' questions directly and then provide any extra information you think could help them better understand your item and your way of doing business. Remember, you're courting a potential customer here, so be friendly and forthcoming. Your goal and duty is to help bidders feel at ease when dealing with you.
Post-sale terms and conditions
Next, bidders are looking for your sales policyone they hope will not be difficult to find or confounding to interpret. With your policy, be clear, concise and direct. Develop and publish your sales terms and conditions upfront so your customers will immediately understand how you will manage the eventual transaction. Make your policy easy to find by including it directly within your auction descriptions.
Offer bidders your assurance that you'll stand behind every item you sell, as represented and as delivered
Recognize that it is the bidders who will determine if your sales terms are sensiblea subjective matter, yes, though there are many terms that are generally accepted among auction goers. Bidders (your customers) need up-front information regarding what payment methods you'll accept, what sort of shipping charges you'll apply, and how quickly you'll deliver an item once it's been won. Be reasonable here; don't mandate "money orders only" or "PayPal payment requiredno exceptions." The same goes for shipping charges: Don't charge obviously high flat rates when what you're selling can be delivered at commonly understood lower rates. Similarly, customers don't respond well to restrictive shipping optionse.g., the lack of lower-cost services or a seller's insistence on self-proclaimed extra costs or delays in delivery. With so many millions of items up for bid every day, bidders have choices, and if your policy and terms are largely unfriendly, you'll lose the customer's interest fast and forever.
What happens when customers claim they're not satisfied with what they've received? Sometimes they won't be, and they'll want to know what sort of guarantees or return privileges you'll offer to them. Your customers need to know what protections they might have if that treasure they've anxiously awaited turns out to be less than what they expected. Undoubtedly, "unlimited" guarantees (the no-questions-asked sort) can expose honest sellers to some dishonest buyers' misdeeds such as phony claims of loss or switch-and-return swindles.
Even so, if you want to effectively bolster bidders' confidence in you and entice them to bid higher on your items, offer them your assurance that you'll stand behind every item you sell, as represented and as delivered. If you elect to go the "all sales final" route, that's perfectly acceptable provided you are very clear and honest about the item, its condition, and the fact that no returns will be accepted. Given a choice, though, customers prefer the safety net of a return or exchange guarantee.
Next, don't overlook the fact that customers, being human, seek a bit of appreciation in their transactions. While some may argue that dealing with customers can be a grueling exercise in patience (which it sometimes can be), the fact is most bidders you'll deal with at online auctions are honest folk intent on doing good business. Simple things like including a "thank you" note with their item or suggesting an alternate shipping method that can save them a bit of money will go a long way. If you treat your customers courteously and with integrity, they'll be more inclined to work with you to improve the transaction. Then, upon completing a successful transaction, be fast to post positive feedback for your customers, letting them know how important and appreciated their business has been to you. Of course, this should be common sense to us all, but it's also a credo that is too often overlooked in the fast pace of e-commerce.
Be passionate in your work
Experts often remark that to truly excel in customer satisfaction, a seller needs to have a passion to serve those he sells to. "Real customer service comes from the heart. If you don't truly and deeply value what the customer means to your business' health, you may as well not bother." So says one veteran online seller, and, though it's not easy to maintain such an unwavering commitment, it helps to remember that it's the customernot youwho determines what's satisfactory. Listen closely to your customers to ensure you remain totally customer-focused. For better or worse, recognize you don't give out the grades here, the customer does; the wise seller keeps a pulse on his or her customers' satisfaction as a method to understand in which direction the business is going.
To the benefit of your business, keep these simple and basic customer service principles in mind, apply them to your business method, and then watch as your approval rating soars upward to everyone's mutual delight.
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Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.
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