The Internet and Customer Service: A Winning Combination
This article originally appeared in the July 1999 issue of
The Business Monthly

Why Online Customer Service?

Conventional usage of the Internet by businesses centers on making sales. However, a thriving business also has to address the post-sales process; i.e., customer service. We all know why customer service is important but why should a company use the Internet for customer service?

The Internet and Customer Service A Winning Combination
For the same reason as making sales online; to save time and money on personnel dedicated to answering repetitive, simple inquiries.

If your company already has an Internet site, why not maximize the site's utility? As a case study, consider what happens during the customer service process. A customer will call your customer service department and need to be routed to the appropriate section that handles their particular inquiry. Experienced company personnel spend a certain amount of time with the customer answering that inquiry. The advantages of this process are the one-on-one experience of talking with a knowledgeable company representative and the goal of immediately helping a customer with a problem. The disadvantages of this process are that it is available only when your customer service department is staffed and that department is sure to experience its share of repetitive, straightforward questions or problems.

This is where your company's Internet site steps into the customer service process. By providing basic support information to visitors on a 24x7 basis, the burden on your customer service staff can be eased. The information you provide online should be based upon frequently asked questions that are compiled from your customer service department, known service bulletins, and other information that is of a routine nature.

Think about the notion of 24x7 customer service. How many times have you purchased a product for home use only to find that you need assistance, usually after 5 p.m. on a weekday or during the weekend when you are at home? How would you like to have your questions answered, or at least receive some clue as to when you will receive an answer, by just a few clicks of a mouse? As a company, you might not solve every customer's problem online but you can make that process easier and less painful.

Doing It Right, On Time And Effectively.

Just as most things in life, it is just as important how you do something as to the fact that you can do it. The same premise applies to online customer service. As an example, Internet industry sources indicate that nearly half of online companies leave their email unanswered for more than 7 days. In customer service terms this means the customer is virtually on infinite hold. The lesson here is for your company to learn from online virtual companies that do all their correspondence by email. If these virtual companies do not respond quickly to their email, they lose business. Have that same dedication when dealing with your company's email.

Interactivity is more than a lone experience on a site. Interactivity can also take place between visitors. As mentioned previously, newsgroups, listserves, and messageboards allow visitors to interact with your other clients and prospects. They also allow your company or organization to educate, serve visitors, and regularly communicate with them. Visitors and prospects then know that you are involved in your product or service and that your Internet site is not just some static site that doesn't get updated regularly. Make your Internet site reflect the dynamics of your company.

Loyalty Thrives If You Don't Make It Hard.

Some say that customer loyalty is a thing of the past. Most of us would tend to agree based upon our experience with the buying process. Think about how many times you have been turned off from a product line because of something a company did. That "something" might have been the product itself or just poor customer service. If your company doesn't make customer service hard, and you sell a quality product, customer loyalty thrives. If loyalty is there, referrals follow. Why? Because your customer is happy with your product and proud to share that fact.

So, if you think loyalty for your product or service doesn't exist, look inside your company for a cause and then take action to reverse that fact. Then look at the community you are serving and tailor your Internet site to take advantage of community support. Support can grow only if there are means to grow and foster communication. Thus, the benefits of online customer service.

Why Is It Cost Effective?

As a company with an online presence, provide as much information geared to your prospects and your customers as possible on the Internet. Then your prospects will know why they should buy from you, your existing customers can get the information and experience that will keep them loyal, and your valued employees can be more available when customers do call in and require one-on-one assistance. Do it right, on time and effective. Give your customers a good excuse to stay loyal!

by Connie & Ken Mazur
Principals, CyberVillage Networkers, Inc.

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