The number-one question on the minds of new web site builders is, How do I arrange to accept credit cards for payment? Once upon a time (which means last year, in internet time), getting merchant account status for an online storefront was tough because credit card companies were suspicious about vendors who lacked brick-and-mortar storefronts. No more.
- Avoid Common Dotcom Mistakes
- Target Market
- E-Commerce Tips & Tactics
Credit cards aren't processed cheaply, however, at least not for a startup. A typical fee schedule for a small-volume account (fewer than 1,000 transactions monthly) would include startup fees amounting to around $200 and monthly processing fees of around $20.
Is that money you need to spend? Absolutely. It's simply impossible to run a real electronic storefront without credit card processing capabilities. In very special cases, yes, you can go online and ask customers to mail in checks, but when your aim is to build a volume storefront, you've got to take credit cards--customers expect it, and it will make transactions easier for everyone involved.
A good first place to start your search for merchant status is your own bank. Most issue credit cards, and if you have a long-term relationship with them, that's a big plus. What if your bank says no? Try a few other local banks--offer to move all your accounts there--and you just may be rewarded with merchant status.
You may also try other companies that specialize in issuing accounts to online merchants, including:
- Cardservice International
- Credit Card Processing Services
- The Processing Network
- 21st Century Resources
Providing Great Customer Service
E-tailers used to be innocents who thought that with web-based retailing, all customer service would be a thing of the past with the entire sales and service process becoming neatly (and oh, so inexpensively) automated. Ha! If there's a mantra for e-commerce players, it's this: Customers may be virtual, but their dollars are real.
How can you provide the best online service possible? Just follow the leaders:
- Anticipate questions. Many e-tailers anticipate questions and then answer them in their FAQs. This will save you and your customers time. Of course, sometimes customers will e-mail you with questions, and this can be a good thing. Get lots of e-mail complaining about a certain feature that the customer has simply misunderstood or bemoaning the lack of a particular product that you know is in stock, and you are learning important things about how your site is failing to communicate to visitors.
- Stay in touch. At Hewlett Packard's hpshopping.com, every customer is asked if he would recommend hpshopping to friends, and 88 percent say they would, according to Chief Operations Manager Cindi Zelanis. But the small percentage who say "no" aren't forgotten. "We contact them via e-mail or phone and ask how we can satisfy them," says Zelanis, who adds that it's usually not hard to do: "Just contacting them alone is often enough to win them back."
- Respond quickly. The web is an instant medium--except when it comes to getting responses from many businesses that seem to route incoming e-mail into a folder labeled "Ignore Forever." Smart e-tailers know better, however. "HP's goal is to respond to every inquiry within 24 hours," says Zelanis. Others raise the bar higher still, with responses within four hours emerging as the new goal of many. What's right for you? With a smaller staff (and probably no staff during night hours), you might find a 24-hour standard to be enough of a challenge. But monitor customers. If they demand a faster response, somehow you have to find a way to meet their needs.
- Hold their hands. "Online, not every customer knows how to shop, and you have to be ready to help them buy," says Anne Marie Blaire, director of Internet Brand Development at Limited Brands, where she ensured the successful launch of VictoriasSecret.com. No brick-and-mortar retailer has to teach customers how to buy, but online, that remains a thorny problem. Every day thousands of shoppers log on for the first time, and these newbies genuinely crave handholding as they make purchases. Understand that and be ready to help. Be patient, too.
- Use cut and paste. Canned responses--cut-and-paste scripts--are used by all the leading sites, which track questions, hunt for the most asked, and produce templates for their representatives. You can do likewise. As you answer customer questions, file away your responses. Odds are, you'll be asked the same question within the week, and it's a great labor saver to have an answer ready.
- Stay sensitive. A worry with e-mail: It's easy to seem cold and unresponsive in the formality of the written word. Read and re-read your responses before they go out. You want to be--and appear--interested in the customer's issues and eager to find solutions.
- Offer choices. It's important that you offer a variety of choices that customers can use to contact you, such as e-mail and phone. The easier the online shopping experience, the more likely the customer will come back for more.
These steps will get you started delivering better customer service, but they're not enough. Successful entrepreneurs say that the only way to do online service right is to have the right attitutde, really believe the customer is king, and make sure that every one of their customer service reps know it. Many fail on this score, but when you've made customer service your top and continuing priority, success is within reach.