25 Creative Ways To Improve Internet Customer Service

Consider the competitive advantages of an online retailer. Customer service is usually not the first thing that comes to mind, right?. Many eCommerce websites, even the large well-known store, are infamous for impersonal, mediocre customer service practices. And yet, the few internet retailers that differentiate themselves on service become well-known case studies in client care. In this article, I'll share some of the best-practices I've seen over the years that serve to differentiate companies on customer service.

Upgrade Your CRM Tools: Proper technology can go a long way to improving customer care. At the very least, ensure that your staff has the ability to view the history of previous interactions with a customer. It's very frustrating when you have to repeatedly explain the situation to a representative.

Hand-written thank you on Packing Slip: Most packing slips are dull, impersonal, and useful only if you need to return the merchandise. On rare occasions, I've received orders where the packing list featured a hand-written, personalized thank you from a staff member. While this may not be practical for every order, it is a great way to impress select customers. Another idea might be to include the business card with contact info for a manager.

Assign Personal Customer Service Reps: Along with the order confirmation receipt that you send to your customers, also automatically assign each customer a personal representative that will field their questions. Send the email from this representative's name, and include their contact info. Customers will be impressed that they have a "personal" representative assign specifically to them.

Call Customers Who Abandon Orders: When a customer starts an order but doesn't finish it, follow up with a phone call to find out if there were any problems. Customers appreciate the gesture, and you will likely save many sales in the process.

Follow up surveys: Consider sending a survey email out with every order confirmation. While not every customer will complete it, your customers will know you care enough to ask their opinion.

Extensive FAQ Knowledge Base: Surprisingly, one of the easiest ways to improve your customer satisfaction may be to prevent needless customer interactions in the first place. No matter how friendly your call center representative, no customer will be pleased if they have to call you in order to answer a simple question like "how do I return a product?" Prevent situations like this by maintaining a searchable FAQ knowledge base that answers every reasonable question.

Live Chat: Many customers dislike the thought of sitting on hold for even a few minutes. Offering a live chat option can be an inexpensive way of answering questions for your visitors, and reducing the call volume for your call center.  Improve 

After Hour Call Center: If your business employs a 3rd party after hour call center that is off-site, make sure you frequently monitor the quality of care they are rendering. Make sure they are empowered to serve your customers as effectively as possible. If your primary call center is 3rd party, seriously consider bringing it in house. While this is not always the most affordable option, it's necessary if you desire to give your clients your absolute best.

Free Upgraded Shipping: Surprise select customers by upgrading their shipping to 1 or 2 express. If you do this, be sure to send them an email letting them know they have been upgraded. This strategy was pioneered by Zappos.

Same Day Shipping: Most websites have a policy of shipping orders 1 or 2 business days after they are placed. If possible, selectively ship some orders the same day. The speedy delivery will be appreciated, though not expected by your customers.

Prominent Customer Testimonials: Place customer testimonials on more than just the "testimonial" page. Zappos features them right on their main customer service page. A word of caution applies here though. If you're going to "brag" so to speak about your service, make sure you follow through!

Human Touch: Many online shoppers struggle with trusting an online merchant due to the lack of face to face interaction. Mitigate this weakness by showing pictures of your customer service staff.  Christian retailer C28 shows the picture of their customer service manager on the Help page as well as on every order confirmation email. In addition, below the picture is the manager's direct contact info. Something like this can go a long way to instill trust in your company.

Detailed Product Pages: Answer questions before they are asked by always having thoroughly detailed product pages. Include all the relevant info a customer would want to know about your products. For more ideas on this topic, checkout my previous post on 25 ways to improve your product page.

Automatic Price Protection: Always honor sale prices of items that were previously purchased by customers. They need to be able to shop with this confidence. Better yet, automatically notify customers when items they have purchased in the past go on sale. Offer to apply the price difference toward a future purchase or just refund the amount. Sound crazy? Maybe, but it's small cost that can win a customer for life.

Lenient Return Policy: Make sure your return policy is not unnecessarily complicated or rigid. How many times have you shopped at a certain retailer because their lenient return policy gave you the confidence you needed to buy? (Think Costco vs. Walmart!)

Thank You Calls: Call select customers and thank them for ordering. This personalized gesture will blow them away.

Thank You Emails: Email certain customers and thank them for their business. Be sure to include something personalized in the email that will convince them it's not just something generic sent to everyone.

Do More than Fix Your Mistakes: When your business makes a mistake, be sure that you exceed your customer's expectations when fixing it. If an item was mistakenly left out of a shipment, don't just a apologize, offer that item for free. Many businesses find their most loyal customers result from a highly satisfying resolution to a problem.

Fix Other's Mistakes: If a shipment is delayed or lost due to the fault of the shipping carrier, don't just blame UPS, offer a solution. Offer to promptly re-ship the item, or at the very least, offer to take care of the problem with the carrier so the customer doesn't have to.

Guaranteed Email Response Time: Most customers expect an email inquiry to be answered within at most 24 hours. If you can, guarantee a response time faster than this. Also, acknowledge the receipt of an email inquiry by employing an auto responder.

Secret Shopping: Used extensively by brick-and-mortar retailers, secret shopping is a great way to identify problems and keep your customer service staff on their toes.

Customer Centric Slogan: Show your dedication to customer care by prominently featuring a customer centered slogan that summarizes your company's practices. A great example of this would be Zappos' famous slogan on their home page: "We are a service company that happens to sell shoes."

Free Return Shipping: One of the greatest stumbling blocks to online ordering is the thought of having to return the product. Consider sending customers a pre-paid return shipping label in the case of a product needing to be returned. Because this is rarely done by e-commerce stores, you will certainly set yourself apart in the mind of your customer.

Personalize Everything: Always great customers by name on the home page, and offer them personalized product recommendations based on previous orders.

Increase Number of Service Reps: It goes without saying that if you have a higher representative to customer ratio, you will have the time to better serve your clients. While not every business can afford this, if you want to differentiate yourself with outstanding customer service, it's a must.

I once heard it said that "the enemy of good is not bad, it's mediocre." Too many online retailers struggle with mediocre customer service. Many businesses fail to realize their customer base is also powerful marketing machine. If treated right, they can become to most effective viral marketing campaign imaginable. Treated poorly, and they can become a PR disaster.

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Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

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10 Questions to Ask When Collecting Customer Data

When your customers disclose their personal and financial information to you, they're taking a leap of faith that you won't lose, abuse or otherwise mess with it — accidentally or not. Your customers don't want you to spam them every two minutes, hawk their info to third parties or, worse, expose it to cyber attackers. 
 
Collecting Customer Data 
 
 
Collecting customer data has been notoriously loaded with a tangle of privacy pitfalls. But when done right, the benefit to your bottom line could outweigh the risks. Leveraging customer data can lead to happier customers, reduced client churn and bigger profits. 
 
Gathering sensitive customer information isn't something business owners should just jump into and make up as they go. Get up to speed with these 10 essential questions to consider before you ask your customers anything: 
 
1. I don't have time to get anything from my customers but their money. Do I really need to collect data from them, too?
 
Without customers, you wouldn't be in business. Knowing who they are and what they want, particularly from you, can lead to more effective marketing, increased brand loyalty and the holy grail — more sales. 
 
"Collecting customer data helps you know each customer more individually and treat them that way," says Jeff Tanner, professor of marketing at Baylor University and director of the school's "Business Collaboratory." And the info you glean from them can empower you to "craft offers that increase purchase rates at higher margins while also delivering better value to the customers because they're getting things they want," he says.
 
2. What types of personal data should I collect and why?
 
Start with the basics, such as customer names and mailing and email addresses. These allow you to personalize your communications with them, directly market to them and follow up with them if there's a problem with their order. Other data points to collect for an overall demographic snapshot are age, profession and gender. 
 
As you develop trust with your customers, Tanner suggests going deeper and asking them for certain psychographic data points, like details about their personalities, values and lifestyles. For example, if you own a furniture store and find out your customer has children via a customer questionnaire, you might consider marketing children's furniture to them.   

3. What types of transactional data should I collect and why?

Recording and analyzing each customer's transaction history — what they purchase from you, when and how often — helps you know which products and services to offer them in the future. Companies like Amazon, and Zappos are some of the best at this powerful marketing practice, also known as "basket analysis," automatically delivering sometimes impressively personalized product recommendations based on past purchases.   

4. What are the best ways to collect customer data?

You can start by accumulating customer data every time they interact with your company — on the phone or in online chat with customer service, in-store with a salesperson or via online survey or contest, Tanner says.
 
It's important to note, though, that the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 prohibits procuring email addresses from certain online sources, including blogs and internet chat rooms, without the permission of site users and owners.  

5. How should I organize and store it?

Once you obtain the customer data you want, dumping it into a basic Excel spreadsheet won't do you much good. The best, most time- and cost-effective way to store, track and make sense of customer data, Tanner says, is to use an all-in-one customer relationship management (CRM) solution. 
 
He suggests trying CRM packages for entrepreneurs from Pipeliner ($30 per month with a 30-day free trial), Zoho ($12 to $35 per month with a 15-day free trial) or Teradata (prices available by contacting Teradata sales). 

6. How can I best protect my customers' personal and financial data?

 
Encrypting all of your customers' data is your first step in safeguarding it. This includes their names, email and physical addresses, credit card numbers, spending habits, social media logins and any other sensitive data points you're privy to.
 
Best practices for data encryption vary from industry to industry. Here's a guide to creating a strong cyber security plan for your small business, complete with expert encryption tips. You might consider hiring a data security specialist to take on the task for you. 
 
If you hire a third-party to collect and store your customer data for you, be sure that they use the highest encryption standards available. 

7. How can I be sure what I'm doing is legal?

All that's legally required of you when collecting customer data is to create a customer information privacy policy and give your customers access to it, Tanner says. 
 
In an ideal world, your privacy policy should closely follow the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Information Practice Principles, which are guidelines for securely collecting electronic consumer data, though they aren't enforceable by law. 
 
Clearly state in your policy exactly who is collecting which types of data, how it's used and with whom you share it with (and if you intend to share it at all). You also have to allow your customers to opt out of receiving marketing material from you.  
 
Specifically, if you own a business in the healthcare industry and gather patient information, you have to abide by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) laws. Or, if your company's target demographic is children and you interact with them online, compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is mandatory.  

8. Should I sell my customer's information to third-party marketers?

The choice is yours and plenty of companies do — and profit from it. But Tanner warns that doing so could alienate your customers. And they generally don't come back once they've gone. 
 
"If [business owners] use customer data like a mailing list, then they spam," he says. "If they use data to have an intelligent conversation that includes relevant offers, then they become a preferred partner. You might be able to sell access to your customer list, but no customer will want to stay with you once they figure that out."  
 
If you decide to sell customer data to third parties, clearly say so in your privacy policy.  

9. What's the best way to benefit from the customer data I collect?

Leveraging it to offer added value to your customer is the biggest advantage. Customer data helps you paint a clear picture of who your target customer is and how to best communicate with, advertise and market to them. 
 
When you know your ideal customer better and really understand their needs and wants, you can better craft offers to entice them, which should in turn boost sales.  

10. What are some common mistakes to avoid?

Perhaps the worst in the bunch, Tanner says, is asking for too much at one time and overwhelming your customers.
 
Other common faux pas Tanner suggests steering clear of are not using the data at all and making assumptions about customers based on collecting transactional data only.

If you believe that my message is worth spreading, please use the share buttons if they show at the top of the page.

Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

markethive.com


Al Zibluk

Using Inbound Marketing Techniques To Convert Leads To Clients

Creating content for a website seems to be an endless task. Often times, businesses outsource to writers who can do the job efficiently. However, the job does not stop there. Efficient content requires more than skilled writing to convert leads to clients. Timing and placing with the right social media strategies also increase the likelihood of converting these leads to clients.

Inbound Marketing with MarketHive 

These strategies all fit within the inbound marketing technique, which has been the guide to great online marketing strategies.

Attract Customers

Customer attraction will turn strangers into potential leads. For businesses and blogs, enticing people to go to their website requires the following actions:

•             Blogs – Opening a blog will begin the journey to attracting customers to the business website. Add insightful information that answers questions and increases the attentiveness of the potential lead. A great business marketing strategy begins with blogging.

•             Using Search Engine Optimization ("SEO") – Clients will begin their search usually through online search engines. Using SEO techniques such as content building, link directing and finding optimal keywords and phrases will increase the overall inbound marketing strategy. Using SEO will help customers find out who a business is and make them the top of the search results.

•             Customized Pages – Website fluency is important for customers. Businesses who create websites that appeal to their intended customers will see more results than those who do not. Creating a great website with a user-friendly interface will be great for online marketing strategies.

•             Social Media Marketing – While great content will be the success of inbound marketing – social media marketing will help get this valuable content out. Social media marketing will help businesses succeed and – even better – it is one of the few free marketing tools. Engage with potential customers and post at times that will lead the business with the most results.

 

It is now important to convert these visitors to leads.

Converting Visitors to Leads

Content Marketing with MarketHive

 
Next step is optimizing a website enough to convert the visitors that great content brings in into leads. This requires a strategic method of creation and publishing.

•             Create Forms On a Website – Website forms will generate enough interest for a business to consider their visitor a lead if he or she fills out the website form. Usually name and email forms that popup on the website for a first-time visitor. Make this conversion process as easy as possible for visitors.

•             Generate Interest Through Call-to-Action – Creating a website where a business must have good call-to-actions is ideal. A lack of call-to-actions detriments the entire inbound marketing strategy. Buttons and links to other places and to sign up for webinars, free products or other interesting links will be great call-to-action.

•             Landing pages and contacts are also consistent in the conversion process. Now it is time to close the deal and turn potential leads to purchasing clients.

Close the Deal by Turning Leads to Clients

Turning leads to clients will be the "money maker" for the business. Through great content and conversion techniques, this step will be cake for most businesses.

•             Customer Relation Management – Also referred to as CRM, this strategy helps keep detailed information about leads' contact information and when the best time to facilitate a sale with them.

•             Use CRM to Figure out Team Efforts – Using the right reports, a business can see how well the marketing and sales team are working together to efficiently create a successful business funnel and great online marketing strategies.

•             Keep in Touch via Email – Sending relevant, interesting emails to clients may persuade them to purchase from the website.

 

Next, a business must can use clients as unpaid promoters.

Use Clients to Promoters

The next step is to get client feedback and persuade them to share a product with friends and families on multiple avenues, including social media marketing.

•             Send Surveys – Surveying clients will provide a business with adequate feedback to ensure the customer is getting what they want.

•             Updated Call-to-Actions – Personalize call-to-actions by presenting visitors, leads and clients with different, new call-to-actions varying on the buyers interest and step within the inbound marketing strategy. New call-to-actions increase the likelihood of turning one-time customers into long-term customers and promoters of the product.

•             Monitor Social Media – It's important for a business to know what their clients are saying about them and their product. Using social monitoring, a business can get the true opinion of their product and customer satisfaction and use it to readjust to be a better company.

Inbound Marketing Creates Great Online Marketing Strategies for Companies

Inbound marketing helps by providing businesses with free marketing tools that will enhance the overall effectiveness of the business' success. Each step is meant to help mold the content and products/services being sold and will generate more viewership than previously. 

If you believe that my message is worth spreading, please use the share buttons if they show at the top of the page.

Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

markethive.com


Al Zibluk