Imagine walking into a brick-and-mortar store, asking an employee a question, and being outright ignored.

How about asking a specific, well-thought out question to a store clerk, then watching the employee thumb through a procedure manual, and read you a canned answer that completely misses your question.

Sounds ridiculous, but these are everyday occurrences in the land online customer service, where too many e-tailers hide behind the anonymity of eCommerce. Email responses take too long, contain pat, irrelevant answers, or even worse, never come.

The novelty internet shopping has faded. No longer does the convenience of “anytime anywhere” shopping trump service. As the internet landscape matures, I believe companies will need to differentiate themselves using more ways, including service.

Why Is Online Service More Important than Offline?

  1. Because Competition Is Closer: No longer is your competitor across town or down the street, they’re just a click away. Customers are becoming more sophisticated, and they demand better service online.
  2. Because Negative PR Spreads Like a Virus: Consumer advocate groups such as Consumer Affairs and Complaints.com give customers easy avenues to express their discontent about the service they received. Just ask Dell, who is still reeling from negative publicity about its failed customer service practices.
  3. Because Competing only on Price and Selection is Bad Business: Now that there’s a plethora of bargain basement priced e-tailers in nearly every niche, low prices are no longer a justification for bad service. Smart retailers, especially smaller businesses, will differentiate themselves with service, knowing that service is harder to emulate. In addition, someone will always offer a better selection than you. Just look at Walmart, who’s now selling SEO services.

Customer Service: A Cost Center or Profit Center?

Customer service has traditionally been viewed as a cost-center, having relatively nothing to do with increases or decreases in sales, customer longevity, and brand loyalty. I believe this is especially true with eCommerce, where the lack of face to face interaction creates a disconnect between customers and eCommerce managers. In the brick and mortar world, it’s not uncommon for managers to work the sales floor once in a while in order to keep a finger on the pulse of their customers. I wonder how many eCommerce directors know or care what their customers think.

A few months ago, I did a post on 25 ways to improve online customer service. I wish more e-tailers would adopt these suggestions.

Anyway, if you’ve made it through my whole rant on internet customer service, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinion. Is customer service as important in the online world as the offline? Is the patience of internet shoppers growing thin, or will they accept sub-par service in order to save a few bucks buying online?