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Customer Care@E-Commerce
By Eileen O. Brownell   Printer Friendly Version

"Think about (this...). Right now, a whole generation of young customers in the United States has been brought up to take computers for granted. Pointing with a mouse is no more mysterious to them than hitting the on button on the television is to their parents".
-Andrew S. Grove

E-Commerce is here to stay! In order to survive in the twenty-first century, businesses must embrace the use of the World Wide Web. The Web can provide products, services or information directly to the end user or to the creator of a product that will ultimately be used by the consumer. The Internet is no longer a novelty or luxury. The web has become a vital, intricate and necessary tool for businesses. Based on research conducted by Forrest Research, Inc., it is anticipated that by the year 2004, On-Line revenues will exceed $175 billion. According to a survey conducted in 1998 by Martin Akel and Associates, 27% of buyers turn to the net as their first source of information on a product or service. That was a 14% increase over the previous year.

The Internet is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The consumer can purchase a product at any time and then have it delivered directly to them. Customers can now purchase their groceries, buy stock, apply for a loan, establish their horoscope, research a new home, plan a vacation or buy a car all without speaking to another person or leaving their desk. A Web Site creates an image for a business much like a store. When the Web Site is easy to maneuver and responsive, the customer is more likely to return. Lets take a look at some of the ways you can put your best foot forward on the World Wide Web and win customer loyalty.

  • Make the site easy to use. It is very frustrating when you have to scroll from left to right to read a web page. All the information needs to be visible on the screen at one time. Additionally, keep all of the web page link buttons available on each page. That way the customer can move easily from page to page without returning to the home page each time.
  • Focus on the customer. Identify your end customer. Establish what information they need to do business with you. Decide what the easiest way is for the customer to obtain this information. To really establish if your organization is focused on the customer, enter your web site as a customer and see if it is easy to place an order or obtain information about your product.
  • Make a real person available. Always have your 800-telephone number and a customer service representative available to assist the client. If the customer has a question and they are unable to get it answered, you may lose out on a very important order.
  • Make it easy to order. How many ways can you list your item for sale: by manufacturer, product name, or interest area? You can find a book on Amazon.com by topic, title, or author. When someone places an order, ask for the minimum amount of information regarding the order on a secure site. If you are conducting a survey and want additional information, then place that at the conclusion of the order and to give them the option of providing you with additional information. Do not make the customer fill out unnecessary forms to help you make more money. A free gift might also be offered if you request their response to a survey.
  • Keep your Web Site current. Update your site regularly. As products become available, add them immediately. If there is a change in company policies that affect the customer, provide that information on the site. If the product is not available, be honest and provide that information.
  • Follow-up on all orders. Notify the customer immediately their order has been received. You can confirm their order with an automated e-mail that indicates an order tracking number. The e-mail needs to also indicate when the item will be shipped and the anticipated arrival date. Remember, much like a store can provide a positive experience for the customer, your goal for your Web site, is to do the same. You can do this by communicating, confirming the order, and providing shipping information responds to all e-mail inquiries.
  • Keep the customer informed. Some organizations I have done business with on the Internet have provided me with e-mails every step of the way. Usually, the business informs me that my order has been received. A second notice arrives when the order has been shipped and then, finally, they ask if I am satisfied with the order once it has arrived.
  • Provide an accurate representation of the product or service. There is nothing worse then reviewing an item on the Internet and then discovering when it arrives, that it was not what you ordered. Make sure your product descriptions are accurate and complete. If customers find they must return orders on a regular basis, they will soon stop doing business with you.
  • Create a positive experience. Traditional businesses depend on the customer having a positive experience in their store. They create an ambiance that encourages the customer to browse and buy. Metropolitan grocery stores however, are discovering that the customer does not necessarily have to smell the cantaloupe, squeeze the Charmin or walk up and down the aisles to be happy. What they are interested in is home delivered groceries that are easy to order and delivered on time. The positive experience begins with the search engine process. Web sites that are easy to find, view, maneuver through and order from are in demand and will succeed.
  • Make your customers feel special. Customize your service for each customer. If you notice the customer is interested in a particular line of products or manufacturer, notify them when you have new products in stock that you think they would find of interest. I have placed several orders with Amazon.com and frequently ordered a particular author. When the author releases a new book, Amazon notifies me. You can also ask the customer if there is information they would like notification on. This allows them to indicate products or services they may be personally interested in.
  • Indicate your terms and conditions up front. A camera a friend's husband ordered for Christmas arrived too late, so he kept it for her birthday occasion. She decided she did not want the camera and tried to return it. The company refused to accepted it since it had passed the 30-day return period. When she reviewed their Web site, there was no indication of the return period. She complained to the service representative and their response was one of indifference and a refusal to accept a return of the camera.

Web sites can reduce organizational costs and generate greater profit by reaching a wider audience. A Web site is minimal by comparison to the millions it can cost to create catalogs and distribute them. Small companies can compete with major corporations. Businesses that sell specialty items or services can be located by a greater customer base through the use of the numerous search engines. The World Wide Web has revolutionized business, much like the train did in the 1800's and the automobile did in the 1900's. Businesses that provide a positive experience with exceptional customer service on the Web will be able to keep up with their competition and survive in the future.

For permission to print Customer Care@E-Commerce in your company newsletter or professional journal contact Eileen.

Copyright © 2000 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.

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