Ring My Bell

When your e-customers ask for help, is anyone there to answer?
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the December 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Just as in the world of brick-and-mortar, can make or break your e-. Yet dealing with customers online presents a daunting set of challenges. A recent survey conducted by Jupiter Research revealed 72 percent of online buyers cite customer service as a critical factor in their satisfaction, but only 41 percent are satisfied with the service they've received.

A variety of customer service solutions are hitting the Web to mend this weak link in the e-commerce chain. Busy netpreneurs are finding two types of third-party services useful: sans humans or humans included. Either way, the aim is to reduce expensive support phone calls and piles of unanswered e-mail.

Virtual customer support presents a low-cost, low-personnel option, but functionality is limited. Approaches range from the use of systems to cartoon assistants. Somewhere in the middle are services like Ask Jeeves' natural language -essentially the same as the Ask Jeeves search engine, but applied to customer service on participating sites.

The top choice for online human-assisted customer service is chat. Chat offers the advantage of real-time interaction accessible directly from businesses' Web sites. Companies like LivePerson offer this high-tech version of a traditional call center. Although the costs have to be closely examined, one-on-one service is the ideal for customer support.

A June 2000 study by Datamonitor reported a loss of $6.1 billion in due to poor customer service in 1999. That figure indicates that top-level service isn't a luxury; it's a necessity that pays off in added sales and repeat customers.

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