Where Did All My Customers Go?

(Ping! Zine Issue 8) – Welcome to the world of client-centric business models, where technology favors customers who are seeking to build long lasting relationships that will benefit them for the long run.  While it is true that the Internet has given birth to portals that allow consumers to literally comparison shop in mere seconds, the importance of customer service should not be taken for granted.  Surely there are other things that are more important than price.  So how does a technologically savvy business retain its best customers to ensure future growth and success?

There are various tools, some are even free, that will build your business and radiate your belief that customers are at the heart of your enterprise.  You should invest in these tools for no other reason that the fact that customers are the life and blood of your business.  Without sounding too cliché, without your customers, you wouldn’t be in business.  And if your customer’s experience when interacting with your company leaves them feeling frustrated, isolated or even agitated, then you definitely have a lot to do in order to create a new philosophy for how you treat your customers.

Without any further delay, let us explore some tools that will help improve your customer service experience.  In this article, we look at tools that gather feedback and promote interaction with your customers.  These various solutions build your online business by extending your ability to virtually mingle with your customers without actually having to be there in front of them.  This is particularly crucial especially with our online businesses, which is why these tools serve as a great way to build your customer-oriented image while keeping your customers happy.

Message Boards
One way of gathering feedback is by implementing a message board, either in a public environment or privately through a client intranet.  It is surprising what kind of feedback you can get simply by giving your customers a place to post their thoughts, suggestions, and even vent their frustration.  While it may be perceived as a bit risky, where agitated customers will mercilessly launch an attack of strong words and piercing comments that are then echoed by other customers, in actuality this is a key motivating factor that can help your business improve in its methodology and business processes.  What better motivation can there be than seeing a rant?

On the other hand, message boards are excellent for gathering feedback because of their collaborative nature.  For example, you can dedicate a forum just for customer suggestions and gather ideas from there.  You are empowering your customers and helping them build the products and services that they want, instead of dictating a monotonous experience.  And by empowering your customers, you show them just how much you value their feedback and how important it is for them to express their honest opinion about your products and services.  It’s a win-win situation: you get feedback and input that will help you mould and shape your future product and service offerings, and your customers will eventually buy into the improved products and services that you offer.  So, in essence, how could you possibly lose by gathering feedback and allowing your customers to express their thoughts?

Live Support
There is nothing more reassuring to customers than seeing a live support icon on your web site.  If anything, this communicates to them that there are real people behind your digital presence.  By clicking on the icon, your customers can reach you with their questions or concerns.  Live support does provide an excellent platform for your customers, and may even increase sales.  The real time response that this tool offers means that customers’ questions are answered right away, without any delay.  In contrast with e-mail, this means a reduced waiting time, and instant decisions can be made.  Live support is also an excellent tool for providing continued support to your customers while they use your products or services.

Live support is being adapted by many online businesses either in addition to other support options such as e-mail, toll free phone support, or ticket systems, or as an alternative to these options.  Businesses who have implemented live support typically notice an increase customer confidence because they are able to reach representatives with their questions, and this also directly affects sales and turnover.  However, it is imperative that businesses who use live support solutions have sufficient staff and resources to handle call volume, because nobody, whether on the phone or on live support, enjoys waiting a long time for a response.

Ticket Systems
Particularly useful when offering online services that require intensive technical support, ticket systems are an efficient means of handling requests from customers without experiencing too much volume.  However, ticket systems do not work in real time and customers have to wait for a response before their issue is resolved, or before steps are taken to actually work on the issue at hand.  But for smaller companies (and even some larger ones), this method gives representatives the time necessarily to thoroughly think out each step and this may be effective in solving the problem at hand.  However, because interaction is not live and is not in real time, customers may be left frustrated and constantly checking their e-mail just to get a response.  Ticket systems are slowly being left behind as it is overshadowed by hybrid systems that combine live support and knowledge base, for example.  However, it is still widely used today and is a feasible alternative if you do not want to offer real time support.

Newsletters do not necessarily gather feedback, but they do promote it.  The communication is primarily directed towards the customer, but effective newsletters do entice customer interaction and do result in either action being taken, or at the very least the client is able to identify with the content of the newsletter and thus retaining it for future reference.  For businesses, it is important to maintain a close connection with customers and newsletters are an easy and effective way to do it.

But what do you need to put in a newsletter to make it effective?  Well, it better be something useful.  Customers these days receive a lot of e-mail, and some receive a lot of SPAM.  So how do you catch their attention and prevent your newsletter from being thrown away?  The answer is by providing creative content and including exciting promotions that will rejuvenate your customer’s purchasing habits.

By offering content that is useful to your client, not only will you serve as a useful resource to them but you also build a strong link, the foundation on which a long term relationship with your client is built.  Content that is useful, funny, informative, or intriguing will usually be passed along to colleagues, thus increasing your prospective customers.  Furthermore, offer something valuable with your newsletter, such as a special promotion or exclusive incentive.  If you offer a 20% discount, for example, on your products or services, chances are it will be less likely for a customer who is considering a purchase in the near future to virtually throw away your newsletter.  So, make it valuable!

The success that your business reaps by implementing these tools depends on your vigor and commitment to ensuring the satisfaction of your customers.  If you really want to succeed and promote a customer friendly experience, then by all means look into these various tools and implement them.  Give them a try and see which works for your business.  The most important thing is that you build a close relationship with your customers and maintain that link.  A happy customer is a loyal customer; an unhappy customer will go elsewhere.  So what is more costly, keeping a customer happy, or losing a customer who will tell their friends about their bad experience with your business?

Exploring the world of customer service can cover many articles and many topics, more than enough to mention here.  We would like your input in assisting us with future article ideas.  If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more about a specific aspect of online marketing, public relations, customer relationship management and other online management issues, feel free to send us an e-mail with your ideas!

Johnder Perez is the Director of Sales & Marketing at OSI Codes Inc., the creators of PHP Live!  When he’s not working, he loves to stare blankly and think.  His favorite thinkers include Seth Godin and Joey Reiman.