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Customer Service Online: What to Watch in 2011

Article date: Fri, 04 Feb 2011 15:19 GMT

Customer Service

Traditional retailers are missing out on business by failing to give their online customer service the attention it deserves.

While online-only vendors can concentrate solely on pleasing e-shoppers, thousands of traditional retailers with an add-on web presence are delivering an inconsistent brand image.

That was the consensus amongst a panel of experts who debated the key issues for online retailers in 2011 at a roundtable in Manchester.

Paul Walker, MD of craft materials retailer Fred Aldous told the panel his focus for 2011 was to make the firm's customer experience online offer the same as the experience in-store - "to make sure customers know where they are buying from, whether online or offline, and guarantee they enjoy a fluid and great experience".

Jonathan Bowers, communications director at UKFast - host of the roundtable - asked whether the growing prevalence of social networks encourages consumers to vent their dissatisfaction.

Walker said: "I would never delete a comment from Facebook, even if it was negative. Things are always going to go wrong, what is important is the way you respond to it and social networks give you the opportunity to tackle it head on and show the online world how highly you regard your customers' feedback."

Rob Galkoff, founder of Wilmslow-based The Business Consultants, said delivering "legendary" customer service is increasingly important in a difficult economy. "The big differentiator is what experience the customer has. Retailers need to look at all of the different touch points that a customer can use to interact with a company and make sure they are getting them right and that they are all aligned with each other. If they do that, customers will keep coming back."

The panel of experts discussed data-capturing techniques and the effectiveness of online retailers demanding customers register their details before they buy.

Glen Berd, founder and director of disagrees with the approach. She said: "Being forced down a route just so they can add you to a database is annoying. Customers just want to buy the product."

Dale Hicks, founder of online industry networking business, The Fashion Network said: "The data that you can collect in that way is worth less these days because there is so much of it about. What makes it valuable is how you use it and if it pushes your brand. If emails are targeted correctly and give customers the info about products that they want, they can generate a significant amount of business."

Panellists agreed that Harvey Nichols was successful in developing an online presence that complements its stores.

Jessica Lowe, press and marketing manager for Harvey Nichols Manchester, told fellow panellists that the retailer's customer service ethos was consistent throughout the business. She added that social networks would continue to play a significant part in the retailer's communications strategy in the year ahead. "Bombarding people with info won't get you anywhere. Twitter is great for us because customers choose to come and find you. Our customers are excited about being able to contact Harvey Nichols directly and get a response. That personal communication is really important to the promotion of a brand."

The round table discussions are held in association with UKFast with the aim of uniting business leaders to share advice and provide a wealth of ideas for other developing companies.

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