Satisfying Customers Are you treating your online customers like second-class citizens? A survey says it's likely, so maybe it's time to rethink your customer service policies.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While Web sites provide companies with an easier and lessexpensive way to reach customers, customer service often suffers inthis medium. Last year, The Customer Respect Group Inc., a Bellevue,Washington, consulting firm that focuses on how companies treatcustomers online, published its first "Online Customer RespectStudy," which analyzes company performance from the onlineconsumer's perspective, and the results weren't good.

"Too many companies still view having a Web site as anecessary evil rather than an opportunity to get closer to theircustomers," says Thorsten Ganz, vice president of research forthe group, which is currently working on its 2003 study. "Toooften, customers still get treated like second-class citizensonline."

Whether you have an e-commerce site or simply a site withinformation about your products or services, offering good onlinecustomer service isn't a complicated proposition, according toGanz. As you contemplate whether your site is up to snuff, keepthese six questions in mind:

  1. Do you respect your customers' privacy?
  2. Do you value and respect customer data?
  3. What is the general body language of your site?
  4. Do you have open and honest policies?
  5. Is your site customer-focused and easy to use?
  6. Do you quickly and thoroughly respond to online customerinquiries?

"The Internet provides small businesses with theopportunity to effectively compete against largercorporations," Ganz says. "A well-designed site, a solidand friendly privacy policy, quick responses to inquiries, and anoverall customer-first attitude will have people return to yoursite."

And even if customers aren't making purchases from yoursite, keeping their online satisfaction in mind can still benefityour bottom line. "The key thing is to recognize the fact thata Web site is just as important in interacting with customers asthe telephone, a catalog or a storefront," Ganz says."Customers use the Internet mainly for research, even foroffline purchases, so a good online experience directly translatesinto revenues and/or cost savings."

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