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Customer Service on the Internet
by Bill Eager

Customers are your most valuable asset. Common sense suggests that customer service programs should be a cornerstone of every successful business. They are. Today the Internet is an important tool that can provide customers access to the information and services they need. Through Web sites, companies enhance the loyalty of customers through quality service; leverage the information they receive from customers and move towards self-service environments.

Kodak http://www.kodak.com receives an impressive one million visits per day with its Web site. Users can find information on many of Kodak's 55,000 products. Kodak has an extensive area for Frequently Asked Questions, better known as FAQs. The FAQ area provides a series of commonly asked customer questions along with answers. Indeed, many customer service departments find that as many as 80% of the questions asked via the telephone are questions that have been asked before.

Self-Service Access to Information
Self-service is becoming increasingly common. In the 1980's we quickly adapted to self-service gas stations. In the 1990's self-service access to our money via automatic teller machines (ATMs) become commonplace. The 2000's will be remembered as the decade of self-service access to information.

By connecting Web sites to mainframe computers (also known as legacy systems), companies empower customers secure access to valuable information. A few examples include banks and the financial industry. Their customers can check account balances and the status of their investments (INVESCO http://www.invesco.com). Shipping companies let customers track packages (Federal Express http://www.fedex.com). Any information that can be stored in a database can be delivered from a Web site. Campbell's Soup provides a searchable cookbook that creates recipes based on user input http://www.campbellsoup.com.

Your Customers Can Always Reach You
There are no office hours on the Web. Your customers have 24-hour-a-day access to the information they need. The Web can also have a human element. Your Web site can provide easy access to phone numbers, contacts and addresses for your offices and customer service departments. Let customers send electronic mail messages with comments, suggestions and questions directly to customer service representatives.

The latest Internet technology provides what has been dubbed "screen pops" or "instant rep access." When a user clicks on an icon or link on a Web page a CSR (customer service rep) instantly receives a message and can place a call to the customer over the same telephone line they are using for Internet access. The CSR can then walk the customer though a question or issue by both speaking on the telephone and "pushing" specific help pages and images to the customer's computer screen.

As long as you're getting input directly from your target audience, why not ask a few questions? Online market research surveys are a great way to find out whether your customers have any suggestions for service improvement. You can also collect information that is invaluable for product development. With the Web, this information can be automatically saved in a database, analyzed and routed through your organization.

Make the Web work for you by making it work for your customers!

Copyright Bill Eager. All Rights Reserved.

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