Providing Customer Support in Your Online Store

Keeping your business's customers satisfied throughout the sales cycle might start online, but it finishes offline when customers are happy with the products they receive.

Always respond to e-mail and phone inquiries within one business day. Sadly, companies often violate this most basic rule offline as well as online. If problems occur with order fulfillment or shipping, let your customers know as soon as you recognize the problem, and offer a substitution. An honest effort retains customers; delay or denial loses them for eternity.

To offer customer support through the buying process, try these strategies:

  • Enable customers to communicate with a real person. If you sell online, get a toll-free number. In a prominent spot on the site, display the hours when the phone is answered.

    If your customer base and geographic area become large enough, you might need to create or outsource a call center for sales and technical support. Alternatively, offer live chat, live calls online, or a click-to-call option that dials your office.

  • Build trust. Publish your business hours and a street address, not a post office box, to establish basic business credibility. Post the logos of all organizations that validate your standing, preferably in the footer so that they appear on every page. At the least, post them on the About Us page. Include the logo of the following:

  • Spell out warranty, refund, and return policies. Look at your competitors’ sites to understand what’s standard in your industry. Be sure to promote on your site any special offers, such as satisfaction guaranteed or free shipping on returns. Anything that reduces a customer’s perceived risk encourages purchase.

    It’s equally important to be clear about constraints; for example, DVDs can be returned only if unopened, Exchanges Only, or No Refunds after 30 Days. Some sites use Warranties and Return Policies as separate navigational items. Others group them together with Privacy and Security statements under a Customer Support or Customer Care tab.

  • Ensure privacy and security. Reassure your customers that their personal information, including e-mail addresses, won’t be used elsewhere, rented, or sold. Tell them about encrypting data — not just during transmission but when storing it on your computers. In these days of identity theft, never ask for anyone’s Social Security number.

  • Notify customers if you place cookies on their computers. To reduce the amount of data entry on repeat purchases, many sites create password-protected customer accounts on their servers. Others place a cookie (a small data file with unique identification numbers) on the customer's hard drive that recognizes whenever a repeat customer visits the site.

    Cookies allow personalization, purchase history, records of open shopping carts, and convenient reordering. However, some customers worry about them. If cookies are required, you might need to tell people how to modify cookie settings on their browsers; most people don't know how.

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