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Sticking to Customer Service Values Online

Service strategies — like the seasons — come and go. Ultimately, the success of your enterprise has more to do with your core values (and a commitment to delivering them) than it does with the latest and greatest business trends.

Amid the hubbub caused by new and better technology, businesses that differentiate themselves as customer centric are the ones that will see online service as an exciting opportunity for delivering their existing values of service, quality, and excellence to a wider group of customers. The root of these values is a genuine customer-care attitude that compels companies to create a feeling of closeness with their customers and use technology to design systems with their customers' concerns and convenience in mind. Even in this fast-paced, technology-driven world, the timeless aspects of human relations still apply.

Valuing customer loyalty

Numerous studies highlight one key to business success: developing customer loyalty. When it comes to e-commerce, the cost of enticing customers to use your online service is expensive at the front end and light at the back end. In other words, the longer you keep your e-customers and the more loyal they are, the more lucrative they become!

Placing a greater emphasis on customer loyalty isn't a new phenomenon — even though many books and magazines seem to trumpet loyalty as though it were a recent innovation. Adapting your customer satisfaction efforts to a digital world is easier when your company already values customer loyalty and has experience creating it.

Building relationships

Many years ago, service gurus counseled senior executives to create customer-centric organizations. Becoming customer centric often meant moving away from an intense focus on product development to placing an equal amount of emphasis on relationship development. After all, even great products fail occasionally, and a strong bond between company and customer can overcome most problems.

If you're a business owner today, you still need to develop trusting relationships with your customers. The differences between today's business world and the business world of the past are the tools that you have at your disposal. A courteous voice on the telephone and a friendly face across the counter still are important; they're just so expensive nowadays that they have to be rationed. Replacing these luxuries are software and hardware that can be as rewarding to your customers as they are to your company's bottom line when they're designed, integrated, and used with a focus on customer service.

Staying close to your customers

Customers rarely describe doing business over the Internet as a warm and fuzzy experience. The absence of face time is, for many, the downside of today's Internet-heavy service environment. And yet, never before have businesses had the opportunity to be in such close and direct contact with their customers. The Internet enables your company to be in direct communication with all of your customers — regardless of where they reside on the planet — as long as they have an Internet connection.

You can assess individual customers' needs, apologize, say thank you, ask for input, and suggest new products or services suited to each one of them rather than to an entire demographic group — all online. Think of the Internet as a direct line to your customers and a new, exciting opportunity for any company that knows the value of listening and staying close to its customers.

Making it personal

In a wired world, your company must find ways to communicate a caring attitude through computer screens and digital technology. The field of e-business technology uses sophisticated software programs to track inventory, accept payments, trace deliveries, predict customer needs, and send thank-you notes. In short, it attempts to automate the personal touch — thus making the most efficient use of your human resources by minimizing human interaction. At the same time, e-business technology offers fast, convenient, and personalized service.

Ultimately, though, investing in e-business software solutions doesn't guarantee the personal touch — people like doing business with people. That doesn't mean that customers don't like quickness and convenience; they obviously do. But they also crave a human who can help them when they have a question or concern that doesn't fit into the templates of an online help desk. Best-in-class companies demonstrate their caring attitudes by using technology to support their relationships with people. They don't use technology to replace human relationships, but rather only to enhance them.

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