In recent years, as the number of internet businesses has increased almost exponentially, it seems, there has been a noticeable decline or complete lack of good customer service among many of these online businesses. Perhaps it's because business owners don't ever need to see or speak to their customers face-to-face, or maybe it's just because it's easier to be brusque and blunt in an email.
Either way, many online buyers end up feeling alienated and dissatisfied with their buying experiences on the internet. And many times, this results in fewer buyers continuing to shop online, which hurts all of us online business owners.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do to improve the success and profitability of your online business is to engage in excellent customer service. And believe it or not, it's very easy to do this. For the most part, all it entails is including a few key phrases and implementing a few extra services for your buyers.
And since so few online businesses are doing these things, it's a great opportunity for you to get ahead and gain an advantage over other sellers who are more well-established and popular than you are. If you keep it up, chances are that you'll be the one who becomes more popular, to whom buyers will start flocking as word spreads that you really care about your customers and will go the extra mile to satisfy them.
Some of the suggestions I have included here relate specifically to eBay, but most of them will work for any type of online business:
The first and one of the easiest ways to exemplify outstanding customer service is to include text in your item/product descriptions that's upbeat, positive, friendly, and inviting. This partially entails not using negative-sounding phrases, or those that sound too firm, harsh, or inflexible.
There are hundreds if not thousands of eBay listings out there which include statements like these:
NO late payments
NO bidding if you have less than 5 feedback
NO negative feedback without contacting us first
When buyers see language like that, they immediately think that the seller is rude, harsh, inflexible, and difficult to deal with. Many of them will run for the hills rather than buy something from this type of seller.
Although the statements above are pretty obvious in their negativity, there are many other less-obvious but still very negative statements you can see in many, many eBay listings:
"We DO NOT ship internationally.
"We ONLY accept PayPal payments."
"You MUST contact us first if you wish to return the item."
I'm not saying that you can't have these policies, just that you need to word them differently, in a more engaging and acceptable way. Your buyers will not only be willing to comply with your policies, but will feel good about it!
Now here are the same policies, but written more effectively and in a more customer service-oriented manner:
"We're happy to offer shipping anywhere in the U.S."
"We respectfully request that you please pay for the item within 3 business days via PayPal."
"Please remember to contact us right away if you want to return the item."
Do you see how easy this is?
And speaking of returns, one of the best ways to ruin your business and alienate buyers is to not accept returns. In all but the rarest of cases, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't accept returns. When you say you don't accept returns, most buyers immediately become very suspicious. They wonder what is wrong with the item, if you're even going to send them the right item and/or if you're going to send the item as it was described in the listing.
Plus, keep in mind that not accepting returns does not absolve you from sending the right item and as it was described in the listing. Even if you don't accept returns, the buyer can still file a complaint with eBay/PayPal, citing that the item is not as described, and if the buyer can provide an affidavit from an expert confirming that the item is not as described, you will most likely lose the dispute and PayPal will take the buyer's payment back from your account and return the money to the buyer.
Of course, in most cases, the buyer will have to return the item first, and will have to prove to PayPal that they've done so, but be careful, because if the dispute gets to that point, sometimes the buyer will be so upset and disgusted with you that he/she will send the item back in poor condition, or incomplete, or may even send a completely different item. And it's extremely difficult for you to prevail in the dispute if that happens, since all the buyer has to do is provide PayPal with a tracking number proving that SOMETHING was sent to you.
Now I realize that sometimes this happens even if you did send the item as described, and even if you acted properly and exceptionally in every way throughout the transaction. That's why I always suggest that if you suspect the buyer may try to do something like that, when you receive the returned package, take it to your local police station BEFORE opening it, then open it in front of a police officer and ask him/her to fill out a report or write a note on police station letterhead attesting to what was in the box when you opened it.
In my experience, though, this scenario is extremely rare. In 6 1/2 years of working in Seller Support at eBay, I only ever heard of this happening 2 or 3 times, out of the thousands of emails and phone calls I had with eBay users over the course of my employment there.
Getting back to accepting returns, again, you should always, always accept returns. And you should allow buyers enough time to return items to you. Never require buyers to return items within only 3 days -- it's totally unreasonable.
And the only time I require buyers to return items within only 7 days is if I'm selling something like a piece of clothing, which will only take the buyer a few minutes to try on and see if it fits. And keep in mind that buyers have lives and obligations, and oftentimes they aren't able to open the package and immediately take the time to fully inspect and/or test it.
What will it hurt to allow them sufficient time to inspect and/or return the item? Believe me, it will greatly enhance your reputation as a reasonable, customer service-oriented seller, which is worth its weight in gold.
For almost every product I sell, I allow at least 14 if not 30 days for the buyer to return the item if they wish. The only thing I wouldn't suggest doing is allowing 60 days for the buyer to return the item, as that will prevent you from being able to open an Unpaid Item dispute to mutually cancel the transaction and receive credit for your Final Value fees, since Unpaid Item disputes can only be filed within 45 days of the sale.
The last area of customer service I'm going to cover here is contact and communication. Many buyers are nervous about purchasing items online, and you need to do everything you can to make them feel comfortable and like they can reach you if there's a problem or question they may have.
I suggest including an entire section regarding contact in your item description, and in it, tell buyers that you will respond to all emails within 24 business hours. Then follow through on that, and it will go a long way towards inspiring confidence in your buyers.
I also make sure to address as many potential questions or concerns a buyer may have as possible in my item descriptions and/or message FAQs. This will save you lots of time, since most buyers will find the answers to their questions within your item description and won't need to email you in the first place. And that will make it much easier for you to have the time to respond to the emails you may still receive from buyers.
Of course, this post is by no means comprehensive. There are many, many other things you can do to excel at customer service, but the most important thing to remember is to have a kind, friendly, open, flexible attitude towards your buyers, and that will come across to them.
eBay User ID: the auctionguru
eBay PowerSeller and Top-Rated Seller
Former eBay Top Seller Account Manager