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Beyond Basic Customer Service

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Posted January 11, 2001 By Robyn Greenspan     Feedback

Does your customer support policy emphasize "answers" or "solutions?" Evaluate whether your e-business satisifies customers on a technical level or an emotional one.

Good old-fashioned customer service, or "customer relationship management" as it's now being called, has evolved into becoming one of the technical skills that comprise the e-business machine. There are various systems, processes, and routers that accommodate every type of customer inquiry but there is still a deficit in actually "serving" the customer on a more emotional level.

To further elaborate, imagine this scenario: a customer calls/e-mails your company because an order that was placed a week ago still hasn't been shipped. The customer is upset because the product was supposed to be a gift and now it's going to arrive quite late.

There are two ways that a customer support person can handle this particular situation and others just like it -- they can provide an "answer" or they can provide a "solution."

The "answer" response could be that the item wasn't in the warehouse as originally thought and needed to be special ordered. They expect it to arrive within three days and then it would be shipped as planned.

The "solution" response could go something like this: "The item had to be unexpectedly back-ordered and is expected to arrive in three days. I can upgrade your shipping to overnight status without charge or I can help you choose a similar item that is available immediately."

So, which method of customer service does your company practice? Both models may offer a 24-hour support number, online tracking, coupon incentives, and timely e-mail response, but which is more effective at satisfying and retaining the customer?

Another example of providing answers vs. providing solutions: A customer calls tech support because they are having problems completing a transaction. An inappropriate answer would be to inform the customer that the site is temporarily down and they should try again later. A better solution would be to offer to take the order over the phone. The customer already has their credit card in their hands! If you don't take the order now, some other site will.

Online consumers have more control than ever before, especially due to the lack of geographic restraints. The buying public no longer has to settle for what the neighborhood retailers have to offer and they have become more demanding and time-oriented while utilizing resources for finding the best pricing. Furthermore, there are plenty of e-tailers that are willing to strike the best deal to gain customers. Consider it part of our new collective shopping mentality where you can haggle, auction and choose the prices you want to pay. E-stores now have to be worthy of earning some of the digital dollar pie.

The Internet is already a faceless, somewhat anonymous arena and customers want to feel special and important if they have chosen to spend their money with you instead of some other e-tailer. Some consumers are even willing to sacrifice the lowest pricing for excellent customer service.

In addition to establishing a customer service training program, an emphasis on hospitality training is more effective for consumer satisfaction. Once you are certain that your customer support team is up to par, feature your policies prominently on your Web site. Let customers know that they are highly valued and extensive measures will be taken to retain their business.

Originally appeared at E-Commerce Guide.

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