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Internet Businesses Need Customer Service Too!

Bigstockphoto_customer_service_fe_2We often think of Customer Service in terms of a local, face-to-face retailer or calling a large corporation's 800 number. As internet retailers crop up on a daily basis like web-based mom-and-pop shops, those who operate these businesses would do well to give consideration to how customer service is going to factor into their business plan.

I recently ordered a specialty item from an internet retailer called Incredible Inedibles. Despite the annoying background music at the site (perhaps the fact that it's the Godfather Theme should have been a warning to me) they had exactly what I needed at a reasonable price. The site said that they shipped the custom made orders in 2-3 weeks and I needed it in four, so I figured I was okay.

The item hadn't arrived in stated three weeks so I went back to the site.

There was no phone number. There was no contact information other than a generic hotmail email address. I still had the confirmation e-mail for the order. So, I replied and asked about the status of my order, explaining that I needed it the following week for a specific event.

I received a reply back from Cicely Catalano "The Fake Food Chef":

Hello Tom,

Your order will be shipped out tuesday priority mail. thank you

Let's ignore, for the moment, the obvious grammatical errors and stick with the circumstances. I needed the item for my event, which ran Thursday through Sunday of the following weekend and had explained in my e-mail that Thursday was my deadline. When the item did not arrive by the Thursday I needed it, I emailed back to inquire about the status. The reply came:

Hello Tom, you will receive tomorrow it will be delivered by Fedex Thank you

It didn't arrive Friday. It didn't arrive Saturday. The following week, I emailed Cicely and asked her to stop shipment and immediately refund my money. My item mysteriously arrived the following FRIDAY, one week after it had been promised in her second e-mail.

Being a blogger, I like to give web-based businesses a chance. I have often found that these people understand the details of customer service and are working hard to provide exceptional service. But, then you have a company like this one, who gives every web-based business a bad name and makes customers gun-shy from doing business with any small, web-based retailer.

If you operate a web-based business, here are a few basic essentials for providing great customer service that are illustrated in my experience:

  1. Make sure your customers can contact you by phone and that your contact information is easily accessable on your site. Customers want to be able to pick up the phone and talk to a real human being if they need to do so. There are so many low-cost telephony options out there today that it's a black mark against you if you don't have one. Having just a hotmail or yahoo e-mail address is another black mark. It says that you're not the real deal. You should at least have an e-mail address with your domain name on it.
  2. Be utterly professional in all your communication. If you email, make sure you write in complete sentences, that your grammar is correct, and make it personable. When you write a customer, acknowledge the situation so the customer knows they've been heard. When you don't do so, you give the customer the impression that you're not a professional business. It gives you the impression of being a back-alley, fly-by-night, internet fraud.
  3. Just as I would train any call center Customer Service Representative providing after the sale service, you must always acknowledge the customer's issue, apologize appropriately and immediately work to resolve the issue.
  4. If you can't resolve the customer's issue, it's better to be honest and acknowledge it up front rather than make a string of broken promises. You may not have a happy customer on your hand, but some customers are going to appreciate and respect your honesty. When you lie (that's the customer perception of it) and provide multiple broken promises, there's no way you can hope to win back your customer.

If web-based retailers want to win business away from their brick-and-mortar counterparts, they are going to have to provide more than a quality product at a fair price. They are going to have to provide exceptional service that keeps customers coming back.


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Just because you have an online business doesnt mean you can hide behind your computer and not deal with customers! This was my first thought after reading Tom Vander Wells post, Internet Businesses Need Customer Service Too! ... [Read More]


You're so right, Maria! I appreciate that fact that you - as an on-line business person - get out from behind your monitor and engage people. Thanks for being an example to us all!

Yeah i totally agree with you , internet business need an online customers services ots really important these days to ensure the coustomers if they are suspicious about any thing.

Thanks for the comment, Jeff!

Very well put. Customer service is an integral part of a successful business...internet or not. Don't skimpy around with pleasing your customers and make sure you have efficient enough staff to handle all of your customer service needs.

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