The Personal Touch
How to Treat Your Customers Online
by Julie-Ann Amos
Julie-Ann Amos is a freelance consultant within
business, management and human resources. She has worked
in the RAF, the public sector, retail, recruitment and
banking – in as far locations as New York, Hong Kong,
Scotland, and the Falkland Islands. Currently, she works
part-time, consulting with a banking institution in the
City of London, and freelances during the rest of her
She is the author of a number of books published by How
To Books on management topics.
She lives in London with her husband, a wonderful garden
and a small menagerie, including a Siberian Husky, and a
very helpful cat who likes to type and play computer
Successful e-commerce brings increased sales, reduced cost per transaction, higher customer satisfaction and competitive advantage. Companies like Amazon, who have excellent customer service ratings, can not only get more customers and keep them, they can charge higher prices. But Customer Service becomes even more difficult in the e-commerce, internet world. Online, your customers or clients have no idea whether you employ hundreds of people, or operate from your garage on your kids’ computer! So how do people establish who to trust with their business?
For most people, the human touch is still important. So just how can you bring a personal touch to a Web site or e-business?
Make Navigation Easy
Web sites that people like and trust will bring business, but they also need to be easy enough to navigate that most people’s queries are dealt with without them needing to telephone or email you. Most people want to be able to just work through a site and not have to ask for help or information. Great! Make it easy for them to find your products and services, and navigate through. Help them navigate through to answer their own questions.
When customers either want or need to make contact, you have to be accessible. Customers want access to people who can help them when they need it, via whatever technology is convenient at that time – e-mail, online chat, telephone, fax. Forcing people to communicate with you via your Web site is a very bad idea – they want to be able to get instant help or they will go elsewhere.
Be E-mail Responsive
E-mails from customers come with an added attachment – EXPECTATION. The e-mail world is one of rapid response. A delay will probably mean they go elsewhere online rather than wait, so answer emails very quickly. Use a friendly autoresponder, saying the e-mail will be looked at shortly by a person. Answer their questions – there is nothing more designed to frustrate customers than getting back an e-mail full of good advice that doesn’t actually give them the answer to the question they asked in the first place - however polite and friendly it is! Always give a contact and preferably also a phone number in case they don’t understand your response or need further help.
The Human Touch
The ability to contact a live human being makes customers feel more secure. One UK website features a “callback” button. Once you’ve entered your details elsewhere on the site (including phone number), you can click on this button at any time and instantly, your phone rings! It’s the company’s computer calling you, at their cost, with a human being on the line in a few seconds!
Another essential element of customer trust is delivery. Internet business is fast, and expectations are that goods will arrive very quickly. Delays and lack of stock are disappointing and you may not get a second chance. Consider a hand-written or hand-signed note in deliveries, to maintain the personal touch even though the customer bought from a machine, via a machine.
Remember your Customers
A common problem is poor customer contact history, so when customers do speak with or receive a reply from the company, it is not appropriate to their needs and often gives wrong information even though the company actually has their full details. Customers need consistent messages from a company, whether it’s online, on the phone or in literature, and incomplete information already supplied can irritate customers more than none at all.
E-customers are very unforgiving – they have high expectations, and often a move-on-to-the-next mentality if things go wrong. If it’s too complex or takes too long, they simply try another site. Many companies are left wondering why so many visit their site but don’t purchase. People often simply prefer to buy from people, so to tempt them into buying online, you need to reassure them.
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