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Customer Service Starts Before the Sale

Picture this. A first-time visitor comes to your web site. He or she came with a shopping list in hand and the thought of making a purchase. What can you do to make this first-time shopper feel comfortable enough to buy from you?

Create a First Time Visitor icon and place it very visibly on your home page. It's a great way to welcome new visitors and give them a feeling that help is just a click away. The icon brings them to a First Time Visitor web page that contains a brief description of the customer service that they can expect when they buy from your web store. (For a good example of a First Time Visitor page, visit RM Carspares.)

For instance, provide your customer service email address, toll-free customer service phone number, fax number, and your customer service hours. Include your customer satisfaction guarantees and return policies. Tell them how their order will be handled, how fast their order will ship, how you will confirm their order, when it will be shipped, and how to track it after it's shipped. Also, provide a link to your FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about your products and services, and tell the shopper that you have a secure site where they can use credit cards without fear.

Finally, direct new customers to the fastest way to place an order on your site, such as a list of specials for first-time customers or the product or service directory page of your web store. If you have a product or service search function on your site—and if you have lots of offerings, you should definitely offer search capabilities—include this on the First Time Visitor page.

If you execute the first-time contact properly, your first-time visitors will get a nice warm and fuzzy feeling about your web store and feel secure enough to make that first purchase.

Now, let's look at some other types of customer service elements that you can provide to encourage a shopper to make a purchase:

  • Customer Care FAQs
  • Dedicated email
  • Discussion boards
  • Guarantees and warranties

Customer Care FAQs

Customer Care FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) can be used to list the most common answers to customer service questions that a shopper might have. They not only list your customer service policies in an easy-to-understand way, but list the most common customer service problems and how you will solve them.

Customer Care FAQs let shoppers answer questions by themselves, all in one place. Ask yourself—would you like having to visit one area of your site to learn about a product, then another to buy it, and a third to see how long it will take to ship? Of course not. So place all this information in your Customer Care FAQ.

The easiest way to start building a Customer Care FAQ is to ask yourself what questions a customer would ask most often. Just frame a simple answer for each question and you have your FAQ. Not only will this benefit the shopper, it also will save hours of phone support. One way to continuously update your FAQ is to add recurring questions that you receive via email and phone calls from visitors and customers.

Dedicated Email

When the FAQs are not enough, email comes to the rescue. A dedicated email address for customer service is a must for your web store and is one of the easiest ways to provide online service and support for your customers. Set up at least one email address for customer questions, such as You might even consider setting up several email aliases to extend your customer care services. With email aliases, you can forward customer email to the appropriate person or department in your company. This way, you can create different email addresses for various customer concerns and problems. For example, you can create a separate email address for general customer questions, product questions, order status, and product return requests.

Keep in mind that receiving the email is only half the task. You must respond to each email message, too—and in a timely manner. Shoppers and customers expect to have their email answered within 24 hours—at the latest! So check your email regularly throughout the day.

A simple and easy way for your shoppers and customers to ask questions of your business is to provide a web-based form for each area of concern; when the form is completed, it emails the information to you. This method provides benefits for the customer and you. With a specific web-based form for each customer service problem, you can request the type of information that you'll need to more quickly address your customer's questions and concerns.

Discussion Boards

Here's another customer care strategy. Why should you do all the work? Let your customers ask questions of each other. By offering a discussion board on your site, you can give customers and potential customers a way to discuss your product or service with other users.

In addition, you can pick up valuable market research from the comments posted there that can help you design better customer care policies, choose better products, improve your service offering, and build a loyal customer base. This will help build a strong online community (one of the three C's of e-commerce, remember?) on your site. You can even solicit customer feedback and advice, giving your customers the impression that you care about their needs and are willing to make changes to your policies and improve your offerings.

Guarantees and Warranties

One of the best ways to build customer confidence in your web store is to tell the shopper of any product or service warranties and your satisfaction guarantee.

If you have a satisfaction guarantee (and you should), let the shopper know that right up front. Put it on your First Time Visitor page and in your Customer Care FAQ. To be blunt, you should offer nothing less than a 100% customer-satisfaction guarantee on all the products and services you sell. These guarantees come in three types:

  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee: Customers must be 100% satisfied with their purchase. If not, they should be able to return the product within 30 days of receipt for either a full refund or a credit on a future purchase.

  • 100% Product Warranty: If your products carry a manufacturer's warranty, say so. If not, consider replacing the product yourself.

  • 100% Price Guarantee: Guarantee that your customer will not find your product or service at a lower price at another web site. If they do, offer to refund the difference in price.

Consider using one or more of these guarantees to build customer confidence in your web store and to make more sales.

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