The A B C’s of Good Online Customer Service

(This post is part of a continuing series focusing on home-based business startups.)

It’s been a tough time to be in business for the last few years. It would seem to make sense that for this reason, customer service should be a higher priority than ever, especially if you have an online business. Who among us can afford to drive customers away right now with poor service?

But how does one define good customer service, especially in regards to an online business, where face to face contact just doesn’t occur?

You  might say that good customer service is just common sense. It’s as simple as treating folks the way you’d want to be treated yourself. And you know what? I’d have to agree with you. Good customer service really is as simple as A B C, except here’s the deal. The service (or the lack thereof) I have received from more than a few online vendors in the past few weeks, has literally left me scratching my head. How in the world do these folks manage to stay in business? So….for the benefit of these online folks who have never heard of the Golden Rule, here’s the A B C’s of good online customer service.

Answer Your Email & Phone messages-
I am constantly surprised at how cavalier some online merchants are about returning calls and answering email messages.What could they be thinking by waiting 1,2,even 3 weeks to answer a question, if at all? How can they afford to simply ignore their messages?
I’m not talking about obvious spam messages, or those rediculous million dollar lottery notifications from Nigeria. Everyone ignores them and that’s OK.
I’m talking about folks who ignore email messages from colleagues or potential customers. Messages which include
       bonafide product questions,
                requests for information,
                        invitations to collaborate
                                 appeals for advice… or any number of other honest questions.

The fact is, there’s no legitimate reason to routinely ignore your messages. Schedule time (on a regular basis) to check and answer them. Hire a service to assist you, if you must. Your replies need not be lengthy. Keeping a file of generic replies in a folder, can really cut down on the time it takes to respond to similar questions or requests that you get on a regular basis. .

Be Reasonable About Shipping Charges
I was in the process of placing an online order from a colleague last week, and was ready to hit submit, when I noticed the shipping charges. $15.00 ?
Take it from someone who has a pretty good grip on shipping costs, there’s just no way that the shipping should have exceeded $4.00- $5.00.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming more common for online businesses to lower their prices dramatically, and then make up the difference with exorbitant shipping charges, (hoping you won’t notice). This is NOT a good way to endear yourself to customers, and if you want repeat business, I do NOT recommend this practice.

Complete & Ship Orders in a Timely Manner.
Schedule time on a regular basis to process and ship out your orders. This seems obvious, doesn’t it?
But again, it blows my mind how lackadaisical some online merchants are about shipping. I recently ordered an item from a colleague and was excited about using the item in the construction of my new design. Three weeks later, I got my credit card statement and could see I had been charged for it, but had yet to receive it. This was a domestic shipment, and yet it was ANOTHER 3 weeks before I received it? Not only will I not be using this item in my design, but I won’t be recommending it to anyone else either. Big mistake on the part of that vendor, wouldn’t you say?
Did I call, or email this vendor, to find out what the heck was going on? Of course I did… but you guessed it, she never bothered to answer her message!

So how about you? Have you noticed this type of behavior in online merchants? If so, what’s usually your response?


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15 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. Shipping has always been an issue for me when ordering online. I hope your offending vendors read and heed your blog post.

  2. I agree! If a vendor wont reveal the shipping charges prior to me hitting the submit button, I just do not buy from them. I’ve been burnt by too high shipping costs way to many times. I really think many online vendors are taking advantage of customers this way.

  3. #1. the ability to understand and speak english

  4. That IS a good one! That bothers me as well!

  5. Or at least have someone available that does speak and understand English.

  6. Wow! Did you hit the nail on the head! I couldn’t agree more with
    everything you wrote. The shipping thing has been happening more and more.
    I wanted a book from a museum that charges a flat $15. When I wanted two
    copies, then I swallowed the lump in my throat and bought them. And if you
    are an online business, if you don’t want to answer questions or be timely,
    don’t gripe if your customers quit ordering. I worked for a big retailer
    who does online and they are timely, or send an email saying if the item is
    going to be delayed. Thanks for a Great Post.

  7. This is a FANTASTIC read! I follow these principles already and wish everyone who markets on the net would also.

    Thank YOU!
    Hugs !!!
    Kim ♥

  8. i would NEVER buy from them again and tell everyone I know what lousy service I
    got. They get a tone of bad press for this one order. Not worth the cost
    to them I assure you!

  9. Thanks so much for the comments and I’m so glad you agree! You know, if enough of us followed through and especially let these folks KNOW why they lost a sale, maybe this climate would Change. Sometimes I think they honestly think we are too unmotivated or dumb to get ourselves organized!

  10. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! And as a seller on, I’ll be posting a link to this on our forums there!

    Countless times I have been in the process of ordering, only to cancel when I see the shipping charge. Paper sewing patterns, which weigh next to nothing, should not be $7 to ship! Maybe ordering through the mail used to be a luxury or rare necessity, but not anymore! I hope online sellers will realize they’re saving a ton of money with no overhead and making more sales and pass those savings along through reasonable shipping!

  11. Thanks Amy, for commenting AND for the link! The best way to encourage change is to do JUST AS YOU SUGGEST!

  12. Dear Kat,

    Excellent observations on all points. Frankly, when I receive poor service, I look elsewhere for the merchandise. YOU are a winner in all areas.—-Denise Stahl

  13. Yes. Since I am homebound, the only way I shop is online. One vendor never came through after I sent an email complaining about the product and she said she would rectify the matter. Another sale lost from me. I do some sales and always try to do my best to make sure everything is all right from my end and the customer’s. That’s why I appreciate people like you! My sisters love their Boho Baguettes!!!

  14. I agree with everything you’ve written. I’ve lost count on the number of shopping carts I’ve abandoned either due to excessive shipping or site’s that won’t/don’t disclose the shipping costs prior to gathering my personal information.

  15. I certainly agree with what you say about the postal charges. I’m in Canada, so I really have to think twice about the shipping charges. Lately, I’ve been going on the U.S.P.S. site (I’m thinking, just like vendors), to calculate postage. The postal service doesn’t offer as many options as they do in person. Online they quote priority & express, not parcel post or flat rate envelopes etc. So, naturally, you are quoted the rates that make the post office the most money (sometimes as well as the vendor!)