By 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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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