Customer Service: Are You Out There?

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned customer service? Though the Internet has revolutionized business practices across a variety of industries, it has also left many believing it plays by its own set of rules.

Many dot-coms have approached online business with big promises and enticing offers. We have all seen Web sites offering products at below-average retail prices, promising the largest selection, or supposedly supplying a product twice as fast as the competition. Although this helps gain market share, clearly it doesn’t maintain it.

Business evolution shows that models based on cost or speed of delivery are vulnerable to the fiercely competitive landscape. Besides, the Internet is a natural for “building a better engine.” If you can deliver your products in 10 minutes today, chances are your competitor can do it in 9 minutes tomorrow.

With this in mind, do you believe Internet consumers will act loyally toward these type of dot-coms? I don’t.

It’s obvious that combining strategy across product quality, delivery, and customer service is a solid fundamental every business must follow. But research clearly demonstrates that all areas do not get equal attention, and customer satisfaction is not at an acceptable level.

Relationships are created over time and stem from the principles of sound customer service. Solid brands are built from this reputation, and future dot-coms will need to embrace strong customer service principles to conquer the brick-and-mortar business world.

Many companies making the transition to the online marketplace are beginning to place a stronger emphasis on the customer relationship. I have seen improvements in return policies, availability of on- and offline customer service assistance, rewards programs, and so on. There have been overall improvements in a typical e-commerce experience, but there still is a long way to go before consumer confidence on the Web reaches higher levels. Fact is, for many Web sites, customer service is not easily integrated into the user experience, often difficult to engage in, and not effective in addressing customer concerns.

Working for an interactive agency that does work for a variety of dot-coms, I have begun to see too much emphasis placed on customer acquisition and not enough on customer retention. As we all know, the value of a solid brand over the years is priceless.

Although many brick-and-mortar powerhouses have shown up late to the party, their presence is beginning to be felt on the Internet. They are using the Web as an extension of their current offerings and as an additional marketing and distribution channel in an integrated approach. For many of these powerhouses, but certainly not all, the customer relationship has been the key component in building their brands over the years. They know customer service, value the customer relationship, and are now taking these fundamentals to the interactive arena.

Dot-coms should beware as savvy customers begin to seek quality service over speed and savings.

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