Customers Always Come First

No matter where you work, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve heard someone utter the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Nowhere else is this as crucial a mantra than in the world of e-commerce.

The future of e-commerce is in integrating the human element into technology. This is being realized through the integration of video, voice, browser push, chat, and instant messaging online.

As the Internet evolves and enables us to integrate human elements and features that users are familiar with, consumers will be less apprehensive to log on and surf.

One of the things that I’ve always thought horrendous about customer service (online or off) is the amount of time it takes to get in touch with someone who cares about why I’m making a call or sending an email. Time is valuable. When I’m being passed around from person to person explaining and re-explaining the reason why they should be assisting me, or when I’m filling out form after form only to find that pushing virtual pen to ink has been a wasted effort, it makes me wonder if these companies have even heard of customer service.

Relationships are valuable assets. And building strong customer relationships is the only way companies will find out exactly what consumers are looking for. Through online interaction with live agents, visitors are assured that there is a mutual willingness to participate in something that is sustainable beyond the point of purchase.

Lately, convergence over Internet Protocol (IP) technology has made fostering consumer relationships much easier, enhancing traditional ways of getting to know customers by providing them with live, real-time assistance. It makes sense to simply ask your customers what they want and help them meet their immediate needs.

E-businesses are now going in the direction where they can give consumers the kind of service they expect and deserve. Convergence of voice, video, and data networks is in the early stages of adoption, and businesses are now only beginning to realize that adapting to such new developments is the only way to forge next-generation customer service solutions.

Yet according to a recently released study by the Gartner Group Inc. titled “e-Tail e-Serve Functionality Study,” out of 50 top online companies surveyed, only 28 percent acknowledged email inquiries received, 24 percent offered instant messaging services, and a mere 10 percent were able to effectively assist customers from origin of an inquiry or problem to resolution.

Pretty poor stats when you consider that for every online transaction completed, nearly four times as many are abandoned. To put that in perspective, according to U.S.-based Datamonitor, US$6.1 billion was lost in e-commerce sales due to poor customer service levels in 1999 alone. It also predicts that if this trend continues over the next five years, more than US$173 billion will be lost in potentially recoverable sales.

It’s no surprise that these kinds of figures would force any e-exec back to the whiteboard to sketch out fresh ways of creating and strengthening the kinds of offerings he or she can provide to create lasting relationships with people like me.

Buzzwords and catch phrases tend to generate a lot of hype about almost anything in the IT industry. These days, the “It” concept is customer relationship management (CRM). CRM isn’t really that new. But applying its premise to the online community is proving to be a more difficult task than anticipated.

Proponents of CRM suggest that competition on the Internet is no longer about the survival of the fittest, but rather of the fastest and smartest. When it comes to facilitating a strong relationship between buyers and sellers, it’s about merging technology and business solutions and then interfacing with customers to provide a full-service solution that is interactive and enjoyable for end users. The way to keep customers happy means personalizing their valuable time spent on your site. And it is the best way to lead the next revolution of e-customer service.

So, no matter what you call it CRM, eRM, one-to-one it’s all about acquiring new customers and retaining old ones. While most consumer-driven models share similar end goals, companies are relying more and more on technology to learn about their customers and provide them with superior quality of service. By integrating technologies to create the kinds of niche environments where consumers feel compelled to return, some companies will have surpassed one of the most difficult hurdles of doing business on the Internet today.

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