Getting customer service basics right |  Software

Anyone who has had a customer support e-mail query orphaned by a vendor or who has been forced to abandon a shopping cart midsession knows that online customer service has a long way to go. E-commerce sites focused on the hard stuff first: transactions. But these businesses have come to realize that customer satisfaction counts just as much. Despite the lackluster state of affairs, today's e-tailers are a test bed for technologies that offer some hope for improving customer experiences across all industries.

The fundamental goal for companies today should be to establish a coordinated way of dealing with customers across all channels -- those using the phone or the Web as well as those buying from a physical location. Banks and retailers are reticent to talk about a process that you have started on the Web, because online systems often sprout up independently and organizations have trouble coordinating them among departments. The bottom line is that many Web sites are confusing places to visit, and they don't offer much hand-holding.

Online consumers are also a slightly different breed than those dialing in to call centers. With one phone line at home, an online shopper is much more likely to open a chat session with a service representative than to call. E-mail, of course, is also a natural way to follow up on a Web-based transaction.

This week's Page One story by Bob Trott and Jessica Davis details how these new technologies -- from chat to co-browsing to e-mail management systems -- will make a splash in the retail world this holiday season.

Clearly, tight order fulfillment is a prerequisite for doing business online, and outfits that place a high value on customer service are exploring these customer-facing technologies. A self-service system has the potential to lower costs, compared to traditional call centers. And ultimately, better control of interactions will shed some light on who your best and worst customers are.

Is it time to introduce CRM (customer relationship management) technology on the Web or should companies just stick to the basics?

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