|The Small Business Library|
October 15, 2000
Top 7 Essential Keys To A Professional Online Image
While great offers, enticing product descriptions and a solid selling reputation are absolutely essential to your business vitality, what separates you from the rest of the pack is a surprisingly basic principle:
Great Customer Service Communication.
If you operate almost entirely online, it's email that often becomes the sole service link between you, your customers, your suppliers and your potential market. Yet most of us tend to overlook this powerful tool when we're brainstorming for ways to build our reputations, enhance our service practices and gain more consumer confidence.
You can use email to boost sales, entice repeat customers and instill faith and confidence in your offer, AND your business. While the way you use email will vary with the type of business you do, there are seven basic but essential principles that can beef up your correspondence and establish you as a trusted professional in your market:
Avoid being too formal or too casual with your customers. Too formal and they'll feel like a number, too casual and they'll feel as if they aren't worthy of your professional respect. There's a good balance between the two, it's what I refer to as "Business Casual" communication. Write in a clear, conversational tone that lets them know you appreciate their business. Never underestimate the feel-good power of adding a "human element" to your words!
Spell-check has created a culture of "lazy email" among most of us. While it's a great tool to catch words you've misspelled, it does little to catch words you may have misused. Thoroughly proofread your online communication before it goes out, to make sure your grammar and syntax are in order. If you don't have time to proof every email, at least scan through them for mistakes and consistency before hitting the send button.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from consumers making online purchases is the slow response rate for email inquiries. Because your competition exists just a click away, it pays to show your customers how important they are to you. If you're submerged in customer email, writing a simple, quick personal reply acknowledging their inquiry or comment is a great idea. Let them know you'll get right back to them with a thorough response. Being ignored (even inadvertently) is a turn-off, and can result in lost sales and a negative impression of your business.
Say what you mean, mean what you say! Be straightforward and informative about your product, your warranties and all other information related to a possible transaction. A clear, thorough answer will make your customers feel more comfortable making the purchase from you. Vague descriptions or failure to address a question makes it appear as though you've got something to hide. Describe your product with enthusiasm! But above all, be clear, honest and complete with your information.
We are a society of busy, stressed out consumers. If you can give your customers all the information they need to know to make a purchasing decision, or to resolve their problem, you'll be appreciated. If you can do all that in 300 words or less, you'll be a hero. Save your customers BOTH time and frustration by getting to the point quickly, but completely. It doesn't hurt to toss a light dose of humor into your communications, either... it adds to your "human" quality, and your customers will appreciate anything that makes them smile. Just be selective and appropriate with your choices.
Invite questions! Make it easy for your customers to contact you for further information, complaints or comments. If you're readily accessible, they'll feel better about purchasing from you now, and in the future. Placing your full name and contact information in your signature line instills confidence that you're a professional and will be there if and when they need information. NOT including clear contact information raises doubts about your seriousness as a professional, and your confidence in your product.
Follow the old tried-and-true basics of good communication. Capitalize where appropriate, avoid run-on sentences, and choose the best possible words to define your ideas. Avoid using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. The human mind processes text much more efficiently in lower-case, with only appropriate or emphasized words capitalized.
It's hard enough to establish credibility as an online merchant without making a poor impression through your correspondence. I've seen large, established Internet companies send out email with lousy grammar, poor spelling and little attention to my original question. Guess what? I eventually took my business somewhere else. Don't lose your customers to a lack of attention to detail and basic communication skills.
Bottom Line? By incorporating the seven steps above, you're establishing a "relationship" with your customers as a whole, and positioning yourself as a reputable, professional business that appreciates their patronage. As always, when it comes to customer service, a little common sense goes a long way!
The author, Tonya Poole, is a Communications Specialist with Inkspinners.com, a full-service online communications agency devoted to helping small businesses put their best image forward. For questions or comments, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call her 877-876-9663.