Improve Your Online Customer Service If you're wondering why customers aren't coming back to your e-business, maybe you should take a long, hard look at your customer service.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Even if you master each and every one of the internet marketing strategies out there--sales copywriting, search engine optimization, e-mail marketing and the rest--they're not worth a dime if you forget about customer service. It's a strategy that all truly successful business owners understand and pay careful attention to because the one thing all successful businesses have in common is satisfied customers.

There's an old saying in business: A happy customer will tell one or two people; an unhappy one will tell 10! So it pays to keep your customers happy--especially when doing business online.

Online, a seriously ticked-off customer might not just tell 10 people; they might also write a lengthy rant on their blog, post comments on other people's blogs, write a negative review of your site on a shopping website, or criticize you on forums and message boards. Or all of the above.

And worse, once something's been written about you online, it's very difficult to get it removed. This means that any prospective customer who decides to do a search on your business name could come across it.

So while good customer service might cost a bit of time and money, bad customer service online could cost you dozens of prospective customers. Think how much losing even just 10 sales would cost you, and compare it to the extra sales you'll gain from making your customers happy.

What's really interesting is that many case studies show that building good customer service into the operation of a business increases a company's efficiency as well as its sales. Here are some simple strategies to help you improve your customer service:

Step #1: Automate your sales process to keep customers in the loop.
Use autoresponders to thank your customers for their order, welcome them to your opt-in e-mail list, and send them order confirmations and other transactional emails like "your item has shipped" notices. Customers have come to expect these courtesies, but not everyone online bothers.

You can even add an element of surprise to these customer-service e-mails by including a coupon for money off their next purchase or some extra information they'll find relevant to the product they've just bought. You may also want to ask if everything is all right with your customers' purchase or if there's anything further you can do.

This kind of follow-up can relieve any possible feelings of buyer's remorse and reinforce the positive feelings about your business your customers had when they originally bought from you.

Step #2: Create a comprehensive FAQ page.
An FAQ page answers most of the questions people might have about your products or services. You should also create an FAQ e-mail address, such as, and keep track of the questions that customers or site visitors actually ask, then answer them and put the answers on your FAQ page.

With those common questions taken care of, you'll be freed up to spend time giving personal attention to the visitors who need it. The more quickly you handle their concerns the more impressed they'll be. And you'll also stand out in the crowd--a recent Pelorus Group study found that a shocking 42 percent of retail sites take five days or longer to respond to customers.

It's often the times when you respond to a customer's concerns promptly and personally that generate a huge amount of goodwill for your business--and referrals. Even angry customers can be turned into devoted fans if you pay attention to them, acknowledge your mistake if you've made one and fix their problem.

Step #3: Make it easy for people to contact you.
There will always be times when a customer needs to talk to or e-mail someone directly, so don't hide your contact details away in a dark corner of your website, and always provide contact information on every message you send out.

You may also want to create a customer service page on your site that includes your FAQs, the names and e-mail addresses or phone numbers of people who can help, and other relevant information.

I'm often surprised at how many people with small e-businesses really don't want to talk to customers and actually make it hard for people to get in touch. But the worst thing you can do is look like you're hiding or just don't care.

Step #4: Personalize and segment your e-mail messages.
I can't say this often enough: Use your customers' names in your e-mail subject lines and in your messages. Only 4 percent of marketers personalize and segment their messages, according to Jupiter Research, and yet personalized messages have almost twice the click-through rate of bulk e-mail.

As an e-business owner, you can personalize and segment your communications with customers in many ways, including:

  • Personalizing emails with names and other pieces of information you collect
  • Sending customers personalized birthday, anniversary or special occasion offers
  • Sending customers details of new products you know they'll be interested in (in its recent "Consumer E-Mail" study, DoubleClick reported that 43 percent of the respondents would respond to "purchasing recommendations based on past purchase behavior")

The more details you can collect about your customers, the better you can serve them with laser-targeted offers, thank-you messages and information that's relevant to their needs and wants.

This is where your e-mail management software makes your life easier. It can do the segmenting and personalizing for you, so you can spend your time thinking of more ways to target your marketing.

Step #5: Ask your customers how you can serve them better.
People love taking short surveys, and it's been shown that customer satisfaction is rated higher among people who've been asked what they want, even if their answers haven't been acted upon. Just asking what your customers want and how you can make your service better makes them feel listened to.

Actually acting on their suggestions and improving your service is gravy!

Remember, good customer service doesn't have to cost much. You don't have to spend a fortune giving away free products or large discounts. Even a small gesture like thanking customers for their business can help maintain a positive vibe around your business. And automating your everyday customer service tasks frees you up to respond to real concerns or complaints--making your overall customer service even faster and better.

Wavy Line

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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