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Serving the Customer

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You've spent a bundle packaging a product or service for sale. What good is that if your site scares customers away? Before you can get an online sale these days, Net-savvy customers need to be convinced that your site offers them a smooth and easy purchase process - and return process, if necessary.
This article was adapted from Frank Fiore's book, TechTV's Starting an Online Business. Frank is a regular contributor to InformIT.
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The quickest way to e-commerce failure is not delivering on what you promise. Your promise to your customers is a good product or service, at a fair price, delivered promptly. But your responsibility to the customer doesn't end there. What you do or don't do after the sale determines whether your customer returns and buys from you again.

Here's another important point. It's generally known that it's five times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. So growing your e-business includes not only attracting shoppers to your site, but keeping the customers you have. You keep a customer by providing good customer service. Customers—and even potential customers—need to know that you care enough about their business to help them when they have a problem.

In the wide world of e-commerce, customer service can spell the difference between success and failure of your e-business.

Service Elements

I've written a lot about making your web store customer-friendly and easy to use. If your site seems difficult to buy from, a shopper will move on to your competitor. But good site design, an easy-to-use shopping cart, quality products or services, the speed of your site, and your selling price are all for naught if the quality of your customer service is below par. An investment in good customer service is one of the best customer-retention investments you can make. And customer service strategies should be applied at every stage of the purchasing process.

Good customer service is not offered just after the sale. Good service is everything that takes place before, during, and after the sale. Wouldn't you rather influence shoppers to buy when they're considering making a purchase—and not just when they're ready to buy? Then, after the sale, wouldn't you want the ability to bring them back again to your site for repeat purchases? A well-planned customer service strategy or online help desk can accomplish all of these objectives.

So how do you build good customer service into your web store? Easy. Walk a mile in your customer's shoes. Ask yourself what kinds of service you would expect before, during, and after a sale, and then provide that service.

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