The Internet can take a business’s marketing potential to a global level. The web, email and wireless technology bring together creative and technical aspects of design, development, advertising and sales that when properly executed can surpass the effectiveness of call center or retail models. In addition, the potential for value-added customer service truly is unlimited. Here is some counsel for web retailers intent on cultivating satisfied customers.

Website design 

Since your company’s website is, in effect, your “store,” making the customer happy starts with having a consumer-friendly venue. A few tips:

▪ Websites should load quickly and provide realistic information, rather than lots of gimmicks with fancy graphics that don’t say anything.

▪ Include a product/service catalog with pricing, shipping and warranty information; capability to make payments online; store locations (if applicable); appropriate forms for sales; return policy details; and contact information allowing customers to telephone the business for questions and concerns.

▪ Try other value-added enhancements, such as advertising space, links to informational sites, a testimonial page, newsletters and educational material.

Social media

Social media sites allow you to get customer feedback, share news, make announcements, promote products and services, and make page changes in minutes without involving IT professionals. And for sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, getting a page up and running is usually free, with low fees for additional ads and promotions.

An effective social networking strategy requires time and consistency. Posting comments or photos every now and then isn’t enough. To reap the full benefit, you must develop the discipline to post and update daily. Also keep in mind that a careless remark or reference potentially can reach thousands of existing and would-be customers. So give plenty of thought to what you communicate.

CRM software

“Must have” software for any internet venue is a customer relations management (CRM) system or similar package. CRM technology connects different players within the organization and the customer base, thus solidifying consumer satisfaction processes and increasing goodwill. Data gathered about the customer through site registration, questionnaires and sales transactions can help determine whether the online vendor-customer relationship is growing or stagnant.

CRM technology enables and expedites direct customer contact (as appropriate), e-letters, automatic emails regarding sales and specials, and various two-way exchanges.

When questions or complaints arise, CRM software can address the situation appropriately the first time around. A good software solution allows online vendors to:

▪ Categorize information
▪ Distribute queries to the proper employees
▪ Track complaints (number, type, trends)

Web refunds

For web retailers, a clear, detailed refund policy identifying specific return criteria must be part of the initial ordering process. Cyber-customers should not have to search for this information. Rather, a “return policy” button should be posted on shopping cart, catalog and home pages, as well as in “check-out” sections.

Treat your return policy as part of your service recovery strategy, a systematic process of restoring dissatisfied customers to a state of satisfaction with your business. For instance, compensate for any inconvenience customers might experience by offering “no-questions-asked” returns, free shipping for returns, and discounts on future purchases. A follow-up letter or phone call likewise does a lot to strengthen an internet firm’s connection with its customers, especially after an unsatisfactory transaction.

This news is provided as a service to you by Marlin Business Services Corp., a nationwide leader in commercial lending solutions for the U.S. small business sector. Marlin’s equipment financing and loan programs are available directly and through third-party vendor programs, including manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers, to deliver financing and working capital that help build your success.