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 October 1, 1997

Think customer service in design of Web features

Is it like TV? Is it like serial print publications, such as magazines?
Most people who concern themselves with these questions agree that "narrowcasting" best describes the Web — it provides specific information to a specific target audience, to consumers in a specific niche. The trick is to figure out what that target audience — your customers — needs, and how to best use the unique capabilities of the Web to meet those needs.
An answer that˜s working for many companies is to make customer service the focus of the Web site. It˜s a win-win proposition. Providing customer service via your Web site can return solid cost savings, in the form of reduced pressures on your support staff and decreased distribution costs, while providing an extra dimension of interaction with your customers that can give you a competitive edge.Product information
This is pretty much where every company˜s Web site started out — putting information about products or services on the Web. It was the natural first step, as this information usually already existed in the form of other printed materials such as brochures or catalogs.
By and large, it˜s what most of your Web-site visitors want: detailed information, when they want it, at their fingertips. The ability to access this information is a tremendous benefit and may help a consumer make a decision when comparing your product to a competitor˜s, who may not have provided the same level of product information.
Think of your Web site as a virtual salesperson, always ready with the most up-to-date specs and prices and ordering information. Not only is this salesperson always available — even at 3 in the morning — but this salesperson also never forgets some crucial item or mixes up the part numbers. Having said this, there˜s an obvious gotcha: You have to keep product information on your Web site current, and depending on your product-development and release cycles, this can be quite a job.Help with problems
Product information can satisfy a lot of your customers˜ needs, but it˜s not very personal. It doesn˜t (usually) give customers a chance to interact with your company to get very specific information or to get help with a product that˜s not working. Your customers can call your handy 800 number and have one of your staff help them, of course. Or they can use your Web site to get help.
One benefit of providing customer support over the Web is immediately obvious: Reducing the number of support calls saves money. Not only is it costly to have your technical experts spending time on the phone, but it˜s also likely that they˜re answering many of the same questions over and over.
Your Web site˜s customer support area can provide a list of frequently-asked questions, or FAQs. This is a place where you can present all the common problems associated with the product or its use, and the solutions. Did you turn it on? Do you have the batteries connected properly? Does it come in blue? An FAQ can be a great consumer resource, and one that˜s inexpensive to create and update.Connection to the "process"
Here˜s where Web-based customer service really gets tangible! Connecting to the "process" in this case means giving your customers the means to close the deal, make the purchase, and follow up on the purchase, if need be.
Of course, making this happen on your Web site definitely takes time and expertise in the form of secure server setup, database connections and other electronic commerce applications.
If your dealings are business-to-business, rather than with consumers, you might bypass the need for security by allowing your established customers to begin the buying cycle online, filling out an order form and including a purchase-order number.
Again, you don˜t have to be a megacorp to pull this off. A small company in Loveland that sells children˜s novelty gifts has recently added online purchasing to its existing sales channels. This is a great example of a Web site appealing to a niche market and of a company reaping the benefits of Web-based customer support with a small investment.
That˜s just one example of how companies are leveraging the power of the Web to connect with their customers in specific and quantifiable ways. If you˜re wondering how to make your Web site pay off, not to mention improving your overall bottom line, think customer service.Terry Burton is a marketing specialist with Invision Marketing in Fort Collins.

Is it like TV? Is it like serial print publications, such as magazines?
Most people who concern themselves with these questions agree that "narrowcasting" best describes the Web — it provides specific information to a specific target audience, to consumers in a specific niche. The trick is to figure out what that target audience — your customers — needs, and how to best use the unique capabilities of the Web to meet those needs.
An answer that˜s working for many companies is to make customer service the focus of the Web site. It˜s a win-win proposition. Providing customer service via…

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