Ways to show customers you care
Selling online is very similar in business terms to selling by any remote route. When a customer sends a cheque in response to a mail-order advertisement in a newspaper, they are extending the same trust as any buyer on your web site. It's a risky business for them, so you need to provide a service that makes them confident about you.
Put your business details on your site
You need to show that you have some tangible presence. If all they have is an e-mail address, don't be surprised if they don't rush to hand over their credit card details. It's amazing how many sites lack basic details - under the EU Distance Selling Directive it's actually a legal requirement.
Send an immediate acknowledgement of receiving an order
This can be automated by your e-commerce package or you may choose to send a personal note. Small companies can do this more easily than corporates with their larger volume of orders.
Set expectations and then beat them
Often, mail-order companies give themselves room to beat their targets - that's why mail-order adverts say 'you may wait up to 28 days for delivery'. You probably won't get away with that on the Internet (unless it's built to order) but you also don't want to make a rod for your own back. Unless you're going to pick up and process orders at 11 pm, don't tell people that you normally ship the same day. And keep your customer up-to-date on the progress of their order. Tell them when you have shipped it, and you may even supply a courier's tracking reference so that they can follow it on the courier's site.
A customer who's just ordered? Sell them more
They've just shown they trust you enough to place an order, so it's a good time to offer them more. Look at what they ordered: is there anything else they might like from your range? If so, why not contact them and suggest it? This gives a personal touch to your operation as well as generating additional revenue. You could offer the extra items post-free as an incentive. You may want to identify your best- selling lines, or to look at links between items (batteries with toys, for example, or a case with a laptop).
If you have a printed catalogue, ask if they'd like it when they order. Don't feel that the Web is your only channel -you have multiple routes to your customer and it's much easier and cheaper to sell more to an existing customer than it is to win a new one.
Use any sale as a chance to get further customers. Ask for recommendations - you're much more likely to make a sale if recommended by someone trusted. If you get a sale as a result - say thank you personally and send some form of reward, perhaps a voucher that can be used at your store or a small gift.
Look for every opportunity to personalise your service
The Internet is generally very impersonal, so you need to communicate that your business is run by human beings who care about their customers. This also reassures them that they have a contact in case of problems.
Image is an issue when a customer has never met you
Take all the chances you have to exceed expectations. If the credit card and delivery addresses are different, you could call the buyer to offer a gift - wrap service. This also helps protect the vendor from fraud without offending the customer.
If there are any problems, like out of stock items or a delivery delay, tell the customer immediately and take full responsibility
Never, ever blame anyone else - even the courier. Nothing is more infuriating for the consumer than when a supplier blames some third-party over whom they have no control.
When a mistake happens, correct it at the highest level
Customers appreciate it when a manager calls, rather than the most junior member of staff. It makes them feel important to the company. And the manager has more power to offer compensation or to rectify the problem.
Review your service continually
Call customers a week or so after delivery and check they're happy with what they bought and with your service to them. You can do this by e-mail or by telephone. This gives you feedback on your operation and another legitimate chance to sell something. Your customer may have ordered one of something to try it out -if they're happy; you may get a larger order immediately. If they have any problems, apologise and deal with them. If a junior made the follow-up call, still get a manager to make the apology.
And finally, remind everyone in your organisation that you are one company - it's everyone's problem if a customer is unhappy.