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Service After the Sale: The True Test of Customer Care

You might say that service after the sale is where the rubber hits the road. You've spent a lot of time, money, and energy getting the sale—now you have to keep it. Online customers are a skittish bunch. No matter how comfortable you've made them in buying from your web store, after that Buy button is pressed, they still want to be secure in the fact that their order has been received and that their product has been shipped.

To soothe the customer's concerns about an order and to eliminate many email messages to your customer service department, be sure that you send a real-time instant order confirmation to the customer as soon as the order is placed. The order confirmation message should include an order number, a list of what was purchased, where it will be shipped, and the total amount of the order—including all shipping and handling charges and applicable taxes.

After the order is shipped, another email confirmation should be sent with relevant shipping information and order status. If for some reason you can't ship within the time promised on your site, send an intermediate email to keep the customer informed of the status of his order and when it might ship.

After the order has been shipped and enough time has elapsed for the customer to receive it, send another email asking whether he did receive it, and whether there were any problems with the order. This proactive approach to customer service will pay off in spades. It shows that you do care about your customers and that you're willing and able to correct any problems. In addition, if the customers respond to your follow-up email, he or she might write a good testimonial that—with the customer's permission—you can print on your web site and use in your promotional material.

Finally, despite the best efforts of your customer service strategies, some customers may be disappointed in a product and want to return it. It's important that you have a no-hassle return policy. Remember that your primary goal is to keep the customers you have; weigh the return of a product or a refund on a service in light of how valuable your customer is to keep.

Sometimes returns are a blessing in disguise—okay, perhaps not blessings, but useful for your business. Most times customers will give you their reasons for the return; this information is good feedback on a particular product or the manner in which you sell from your site. Collecting all the returns data and adding it to your customer service requests will help you identify merchandising problems and opportunities.

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