The Online Customer Service Problem
It’s been an interesting few days on LED Digest. On Tuesday, Ron Coble started a thread about problems with customer service and the conversation hasn’t stopped. In his post, Ron highlighted a few bad experiences he’s had with e-commerce Web sites, including the time he contacted the customer service department to see how much it would cost to ship a lounge chair and ottoman to the home of his 87-year-old father. Surely, the customer service department would recognize an easy conversion and be quick to respond to Ron’s question, right?
"As I write this, it has now been 3 weeks and never so much as a
reply. Now wouldn’t you think that if someone is asking about
delivery charges that they are pretty far into the purchase decision
and you would want to follow up with that person immediately?"
After Ron’s original post, several other LED Digest subscribers joined in to share their war stories about dealing with e-commerce sites and how sometimes customer service is severely lacking, frustrating users and causing site owners to miss out on sales. It seems we have ourselves a wide-spread problem.
Here’s a quick note to all the site owners out there in case this wasn’t clear from the beginning: Customer service is part of Internet marketing. Online marketing isn’t just about creating a
flashy pretty Web site. Pleasing and responding to the needs of your customers is actually a very big part. Without them, your Web site is nothing more than a placeholder on the Web. Where’s the value in that?
By being quick to respond to customer concerns, problems and inquiries, it helps to establish trust, something that is so very important on the Web. You want your customers to feel like you’re there for them. You want them to feel like your site will still be there tomorrow, that there are actually people behind it.
Anyone who has seen me out and about knows that I’m a big fan of Seatbelt bags. They’re sturdy and adorable and I have quite a collection. They’re also fairly expensive, at least for a 20-something trying to support herself in one of the most expensive states in the universe. That being said, when I’m on the hunt for a new bag I send their customer service people a lot of questions, mostly via email. And you know what? They actually answer me, and very timely at that. And because of that, I trust them. I trust that I’m going to get the product they’re offering in the condition they’re promising. I trust that their site is credible. And I trust that should there be a problem with my order (which there never has been, they’re awesome), that they’ll be around to replace it or at least help me sort it out.
That’s what Internet marketing and branding is about. It’s about establishing trust and showing customers that you care about them.
So much of Internet marketing is about establishing these kinds of relationships. It’s why sites put pictures on the About us page or write friendly bios. It’s why we try to design Web sites to be intuitive. It’s about meeting users needs so that they feel comfortable enough to do business with you. Sure, search engine optimization and keywords are important, but they don’t mean anything if you’re ignoring users when they try to make contact.
Any company with a contact or email form should have a prompt system for answering any and all inquiries that come in. It’s just good business. Now, of course there are honest mistakes, the time when that email is accidentally directed to your spam folder or the days when life just gets in the way and you’re unable to check email, but those circumstances should be the exception, not the rule.
Ask yourself, how long does it take you to respond to a customer email? How long does it take to get a contract out? To pick up the phone and make contact when necessary? To respond to a support call? Are you responding to users as quickly as you should be? These are all actions that build trust and they’re all very important to your brand, both online and off.
With all the money you’re spending on search engine optimization and Internet marketing, don’t forget the personal touches that will help your site stand out. You don’t want to frustrate people to the point where they’re complaining about you so loud in discussion threads that nosy bloggers pick it up, do you?
Now, go check your email.