Site Savvy: Good Customer Service on the Web

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - Great Web sites require more than just great design; they also need great customer service. Reader Doug Kanter writes, "I love your articles about Web site design; however, I've run across lots of sites whose design is good, but whose response to inquiries is pathetic or nonexistent."

Outstanding customer service is a must if you want customers to return. Good design, such as providing FAQs and a simple interface for customers to track orders, lets customers find answers for themselves. But good customer service is still a necessity.

According to a study by Boston Consulting Group Inc., "Twenty-eight percent of consumers' purchase efforts 'failed' when they could not find the products they wanted, could not finish their transactions, or did not complete their purchases to their satisfaction." The most common problems related to slow page loads and confusing sites where customers could not find things. Although not as popular a response, "tried and failed to contact customer service" was also listed.

I've had mixed customer service experiences on the Web. I randomly test customer service at sites, checking response time and accuracy. Often I do not receive a response or I receive an incorrect one. Automated messages that read, "We've received your note and we will respond," need to indicate when customers can expect that response. If you use automated responses on your site, be sure to deliver information that matters. Dip into your database and let those customers know you've formed a one-to-one relationship with them. At InfoWorld.com, we respond to all inquiries, even those that make little or no sense. Our customer service is aligned with our business culture. We could not exist without you, so it is in our best interest to serve you well.

Doug, the reader who inspired me to write this column, also shared a few experiences. While exploring Seagate's site for info about backup software, he found a link offering to have someone call to answer his questions. He clicked it, filled in the phone number, and submitted it. Doug did not have to do a demographic dump on himself. He got halfway out of his chair to get a cup of coffee, and guess who was calling him on the phone? The Seagate person answered all questions quickly and accurately and offered to e-mail some late-breaking tips on making his tape drive work. Seagate also got an order for software right then and there. Stories like this bring in more customers.

Next, Doug sent e-mail to Moen, the faucet company, about a problem with a shower faucet. He promptly received e-mail from a service rep saying that the problem with the faucet was due to a decaying part in his water heater, which was true. Moen mailed Doug the part at no cost. Even though the cause of the damage wasn't Moen's responsibility, Moen knew how to take care of Doug.

Guaranteed, Moen will be in Doug's new kitchen.

Check out Gomez.com, which evaluates e-commerce sites on various criteria such as ease of use, relationship services, and customer confidence. High customer confidence scores go to sites with knowledgeable and accessible customer service departments. Gomez evaluates many facets of customer service: availability, depth, and breadth of customer services, including contact options such as phone and e-mail.

Customer service isn't new. Sure, there are new technologies to support building customer relationships, but the fundamentals remain the same. Great customer service is connected to a company's culture. If you have outstanding customer service, connect it to your site. If you don't, get it.

Laura Wonnacott is vice president of InfoWorld.com.

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