I've often said that a website needs to provide customer service features that mimic the service that you offer in a store. Today, I'm going to specifically explain one of those feature you should strive for.
In-Store Customer Service
Think about the following scenarios for a moment.
A customer is shopping in your store and tells your sales associate that they like the way you've recently remodeled the store.
A customer comes into the store with a merchandise return.
A customer is looking at something specific in your showcase and asks for more information about it.
A customer is unhappy with the way they were treated by a sales associate and calls the store to complain about that associate.
Now think about who in your store would be responsible for handling each one of those scenarios.
The first scenario is nothing more than a general comment that any customer could say to any employee. Surely, the employee would pass that along to the manager or store owner. Anyone with the proper training could handle the second scenario, or perhaps the manager might need to get involved if permission is needed before a return can be authorized.
Depending on how your employees are educated, the third scenario might require someone with specific product knowledge to step in and talk to the customer. For example, a customer asking about a specific designer style is best served by one of your sales associates whose had training with that product line or even met that designer in person at a trade show.
The fourth scenario is undoubtedly something that a manager or store owner should handle. Depending on the nature of the complaint, it could turn into a refund, an apology, a conversation with that employee, or a combination of all three.
Typical Online Customer Service
I've recently been studying the use case of the typical website contact us form and whether or not they are equipped to deal with the above mentioned scenarios, or even others. I find most of them to be quite lacking because the typical form just asks for a name, email, and comments.
I've seen a few offer the option to add a subject or a drop down selection of why they are sending their message. Some of the choices I've seen include product inquiry, general comments, website feedback, product return, and complaints.
Most modern website forms have an autoresponder feature that will immediately reply to someone filling out the contact form. Typically, these instant reply messages are quite generic, simply thanking the person for their message along with the infamous "we'll get in touch soon."
Sadly, through the years, I've come to discover that many jewelers will set up their contact forms with special company email addresses that are infrequently monitored, or worse, they change their email address and never have their contact form reprogrammed. This problem is not unique to the jewelry industry, but to all small businesses. Thus, many customers have low expectations, but high hopes, when filling out these contact forms. It's really unfortunate that so many of those messages go unread and unresponded to, which translates directly into lost income.
Naturally, what I've implied so far is that all the messages from the online contact form are being sent to a single email address, which is typically true for small businesses. However, website technology is easy enough now to program a contact form to tailor both the autoresponder message and the email to whom the customer message is sent.
Contact Form Improvements
Imagine that your contact form has a drop down feature allowing customers to choose the reason for their message. A "general comment" message could be sent to the employee in charge of managing your website and the autoresponder message could include a simple note saying "Thank you for contacting us; we'll get back to you soon."
On the other hand, someone inquiring about a particular product should receive an autoresponder message that includes a website link back to that product along with a promise that your product specialist will be in touch soon. I suggest the product link so it's easy for the customer to get back to it online instead of needing to renavigate your site. This type of website request could be sent to your store manager because they probably know best which employee to delegate it to.
When a customer requests an online return of merchandise, it's best to send that email to the store employee who handles that process. In some stores that might be the bookkeeper or manager. The autoresponder message should then include basic instructions of how to pack the item back up, how to insure it, and the return shipping address. Some businesses require a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) number while others just accept any returns. More sophisticated ecommerce websites can generate those RMAs on their own, but most require human intervention.
Handling a customer complaint that comes in through the website is probably the most important of all the messages you will receive. Gone unanswered it could quickly lead to a negative online review on Google and Yelp. I suggest deactivating the autoresponder message when someone complains. Nothing would be more infuriating for an angry customer to receive a sterile message saying "thank you for contacting us, we'll get back to you soon."
Instead, the contact form needs to be programmed to send an emergency text message and email to the store owner's smartphone. This situation is of vital importance and needs to be sent to whichever email the store owner reads most often, even if it's their person email so they can make every effort to reach out to that angry customer within minutes.
It should be easy to quickly reply back via email, but as a brick and mortar store, it will be better to add a personal touch and phone call the person immediately. Even though they just sent that email moments ago, if it's too early in the morning or too late at night to make an unannounced phone call, then email them back immediately asking if it's okay to call at that hour, or if there is a better time to call. Even at 6am or 11pm, you'll be surprised with how many people are willing to have their problems quickly resolved so they can feel at ease.
The Bottom Line
Website contact forms are a very important tool for your site, but don't let that useful technology replace the personal engagement that your typically provide in your store. A little custom programming of the features I've explained above will help your website seamlessly integrate with your normal brick and mortar operations.