"Service with a :-)"
September 23, 2002COMMENTARY-- When your customers have questions, are you there to help? Alas, most Web sites and online businesses are regrettably remiss in the online service department: some 80 percent of shopping carts are abandoned prior to checkout while the “look-to-buy” conversion rate hovers at a dismal 2.7 percent. Why? Inadequate service to assist customers with questions, confusion and information deficits.
Lackluster service was to blame for many a dot.com implosion, too much focus on acquiring customers and very little on delivering an experience worthy of their return. Even now, when the online pack has thinned so much, many companies are still failing to heed their customers’ warning: “If you don’t deliver proper service, I’ll abandon my purchase, click over to a competitor’s site or take my business off-line.“ Are your customers’ cries falling on deaf ears?
Get help online, not in line
But what do customers really want? They want nothing less than the reintroduction of the human helper to the online commerce world. The “human” element was lost in the early years of the Internet: online businesses spent millions of dollars on site design and advertising but then left customers to fend for themselves in the commerce process. It was the equivalent of building a mega-mall and then having no salespersons or clerks available to assist customers with their purchases. Imagine asking a question of a salesperson in a “brick and mortar” store and then being forced to wait several days for an answer. That’s unacceptable, right? Jupiter Communications found that 46 percent of “highly rated” Web sites took five days or more to respond to inbound e-mail (with many often failing to respond at all). That’s far too late for saving most potential sales, or your business reputation.
Customers want swift, courteous and consistent interactions--the same service they expect in the off-line world. In this time of belt-tightening and budget slashing, it’s easy to want to skimp on customer service. But if you cut (or fail to build) a compelling service solution, you risk alienating customers just when you need them most. And with more than 700,000 e-commerce sites vying for their business, set to double to 1.2 million by 2003, there’s a good chance they won’t return. Ever.
Channels, they are a changin'
- Chat / instant messaging
Clearly, there are numerous media and channels by which to serve and communicate with the modern customer. So the question for your business is: which channels best address your customers? Which are they demanding? Is it chat, the online, real-time text interaction that approximates in-store communication? Or would they prefer a high-tech, no-waiting solution like Web self-help or service bots, reminiscent of the Jetson’s robot butler? (Service bots are actually software that “chat” in real-time like a live human by using a knowledge base, artificial intelligence and pre-programmed responses to converse.) A careful analysis of your customer base via focus groups, surveys and pilot programs will help to weigh cost factors against what customers want and expect from your company.
Getting it right
- Integrate online and off-line accounts (phone should not be addressed separately from e-mail, nor should store customers be unknown in the Web sphere)
And then comes the implementation . . . sounds about as fun as a tooth extraction. Yes, it’s complicated, but the rewards are immeasurable. An effective online service solution can help your business close sales in real-time, advise, guide, up-sell and cross-sell online customers; reduce shopping cart abandonment, handle more customers (per agent) and lower service costs. Not to mention the intangibles: delivering instant assistance to encourage customer trust, empowering customers to resolve issues in the channel/method most convenient to them, delivering a memorable experience and building customer relationships. Customers remember superior service, which encourages referrals and repeat site visits. Gartner Group and Consumer Reports identify online customer service as a tremendous opportunity for retaining customers and avoiding any further e-commerce shakeout.
Outsourcing for ease and excellence
Outsourcing your online service will help you avoid the pitfalls, risks and resource drain of building and integrating your own solution. Mistakes can be costly: poor online service implementations are very expensive in the long run if they drive up phone and e-mail volumes from frustrated users. And again, an angry customer rarely keeps their angst to themselves--bad service experiences are shared again and again with friends, relatives and neighbors. With an outsourcing partner focused on building and enhancing your customer relationships, your company can focus on growing and improving its business . . . and rest easy knowing your customers are in good hands.
Customer service will be the leading point of differentiation as e-commerce continues to expand and mature. It has already played a significant role in separating the wheat from the chaff online. Providing a smooth, fulfilling shopping process via the latest technologies is essential to long-term business success. Service must be an integral and ever-present part of the Web site and the shopping experience, never an afterthought. The key is designing your processes, products, knowledge flow and service around the customer’s desired experience: true customer centricity. If your company fails in this endeavor, you may end up hearing the most dreaded of sounds: click! Adios, customer.
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