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  • Providing Excellent Customer Support on a Small Budget
    Copyright 2002-2005, Bill Platt

    An integral part of any successful e-commerce website is an 
    effective customer support solution. Your online business must 
    be able to quickly respond to inquiries from potential clients 
    and from existing clients, and then be able to address those 
    inquiries accurately and efficiently. 
    
    There is no other area of an e-commerce website that is as 
    important as customer service and support. If your online 
    business fails to address this one issue, your business is 
    nearly doomed to failure. 
    
    Small business owners usually rely on a simple email address 
    or a contact form on their website to direct inquiries. The 
    reasons for this choice are obvious. 
    
    Most small businesses are one person operations. There is 
    seldom any need to provide anything more elaborate provided 
    there is only one person handling all communications.
    
    In the event that the site is being managed by only one person, 
    it is recommended that you provide your customers a simple 
    contact form attached to a simple contact script which can be 
    found for free in numerous places online. A good starting point 
    is: 
    
       http://cgi.resourceindex.com/Programs_and_Scripts/Perl/
    
    This is the recommended method because spammers ruthlessly use 
    email harvesting software to gather email addresses from 
    websites for their spam games. If your real contact email 
    address is hidden inside of a CGI script, then the spam 
    harvesters cannot find your address, thus protecting your 
    email address from large amounts of spam email.
    
    Anyone who is operating a website for profit and has no 
    intention of ever expanding his/her business beyond current 
    levels should not worry too much about expanding beyond a 
    simple CGI contact script to run their customer service and 
    support.
    
    However, if you find yourself growing to the point of needing 
    something better, then please keep reading. 
    
    Small business people often find themselves in the mode of 
    needing to add extra support staff, but still being small 
    enough to not be able to yet afford a customized support 
    software solution. 
    
    Software driven help desks can be an expensive proposition. 
    WonderDesk is a decent application to serve this market, but 
    starting at $499 and going up to $8499, it can be a really 
    expensive solution.
    
       http://www.wonderdesk.com
    
    Facing costs like this, many small businesses choose to try 
    bringing on extra staff and trying to manage incoming messages 
    through various POP email accounts. 
    
    While this method remains the cheapest solution, it is not 
    always the most efficient. Think about this.
    
    If you have email going to Bob and to Steve --- in a theoretical 
    scenario --- and you have Bob handling sales and Steve handling 
    support, all would seem well. 
    
    But what if Bob finds himself extremely ill and unable to work? 
    What then? Now you are stuck with the very real possibility of 
    sales inquiries not being handled until Bob can return to work. 
    So the way to handle this becomes making sure that everyone has 
    access to the accounts that handle sales inquiries and support 
    inquiries. So, you make arrangements for both Bob and Steve to 
    be able to get the email from the POP accounts. 
    
    Of course, this introduces a whole brand new problem. Now, both 
    Bob and Steve are getting email from both accounts. But now, 
    if Bob answers an email, Steve really has no way of knowing 
    that Bob has already answered the email. If both Bob and Steve 
    answer the inquiry, then your company now looks as if it 
    consists of a couple of bumbling idiots. That is definitely 
    not the image you want to portray of your company. Additionally, 
    you don't want Bob and Steve answering inquiries that have 
    already been answered because it is a waste of human resources.
    
    Facing this problem, it would seem wise to use a web-based email 
    interface. Problem here is that you will have to constantly 
    monitor a web-based email account for new inquiries. Can you 
    imagine the pain of relying on web-based email for the operation 
    of your business? Unless your web mail system contacts you 
    immediately upon the arrival of new email, then you must 
    maintain an open browser window to your web mail account and 
    continually refresh the window to see if there is new email 
    to answer. 
    
    Relying upon your web email account for your support inquiries 
    can become very time consuming and inefficient. 
    
    The advantages of having the ability to have one email account 
    monitored by a number of people, and having the ability to move 
    some emails to different folders should weigh heavily in your 
    consideration of using web-based email for your sales and 
    support inquiries. 
    
    Web-based email had seemed like the perfect solution for the 
    cost-aware business person, but the disadvantage of the troubles 
    of keeping an eye for incoming mail seem to eliminate this as a 
    realistic solution to our problem, doesn't it? 
    
    I had argued with myself concerning how to solve this problem 
    for many months. I needed an effective sales and support 
    inquiries system without spending my entire budget to get it. 
    But you know, if you stew over a problem long enough and keep 
    your eye to the horizon, a solution will present itself. 
    
    As it turned out, a piece of software I had on my system for 
    quite some time figured into the solution I had been searching 
    for. With the last upgrade of the ePrompter software, I suddenly 
    realized that the final piece of the puzzle was within my reach. 
    
    ePrompter is a handy little application that has always 
    permitted us to check multiple email accounts simultaneously 
    and delete messages as we were finished with them. With the 
    last upgrade of ePrompter, the makers enabled us to have the 
    ability to respond to email inquiries also. 
    
    With this development, I have handed out copies of the 
    ePrompter to each of my support team members. ePrompter runs 
    in the background and notifies us through an icon in the 
    System Tray how many new messages are present in each of the 
    accounts we monitor. As we answer each email, we either delete 
    it from the server through the ePrompter software, or if we 
    need to store the messages for future reference, we log into 
    the web-based version of the account and move the email in 
    question to the appropriate folders. 
    
    To get your copies of the ePrompter software, visit 
    http://www.eprompter.com . This software is free to download 
    and use, and will be absolutely essential to your low-cost 
    (free) sales and support system. 

    Bill Platt owns http://thePhantomWriters.com . One of the benefits of using our article distribution services is that we always archive distributed articles on our website. This way, when people visit our website looking for more articles to reprint in their ezines and websites, then they can come to the original reprint archive and get the articles they will want to use. At the bottom of each article, we provide a link to other articles written by you so that they can take their fill of your materials for their uses.



    This article was originally written: April, 2002


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