“Customer Service in Cyberspace: The New Age of Customer Service”


The emergence of E-Commerce has forced businesses to redesign their business strategies and re-invent customer relations.  With the explosion of the Internet brought on by advances in computer technology, coupled with falling telecommunications costs, the average consumer logged onto the Internet has more choices than ever before and now holds an advantage over businesses.   Suddenly, the average consumer is super-empowered, meaning that the average consumer can make choices that can ultimately affect the success or failure of businesses in the marketplace.  The average consumer can now choose from a much wider variety of resources to shop for goods and service, and can choose the product or service that offers the best value for the money.  Today, the average consumer is not limited to just a few choices, as was the case for every consumer before E-Commerce when businesses had the advantage.  Back then, businesses used to be able to lock in their customers because there were no other alternatives for their customers or so few choices that it didn’t really matter which one was the best.  The customer just went along with it because they had no choice.  As a result of limited choices, customers were stuck with whatever product was on hand at whatever quality and price.  Well, that was then and this is now, the new age of customer service. 

Today the average consumer has the entire world to choose from when purchasing goods and services.  Consumers can either go to a physical source to purchase goods and service like a traditional retail store, or they can shop online armed with just their computer, Internet access, and a credit card.  Best of all, the average consumer can buy what they want, when they want.  Being limited to shopping during normal business hours, as it was before the age of Cyberspace, has become somewhat a thing of the past.  Now the average consumer can shop at 2:00 AM, in their underwear if they wanted to and not experience a decrease in the number of choices for products and services available because E-Commerce is open for business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  How can the traditional retail store open from 10 AM to 8 PM compete with that?

Obviously, businesses can no longer afford to be complacent with planning their business strategies.  Businesses are now forced have to adapt to new ways of thinking about how to improve their products and services, and how to serve their customers better.  Doing it the “old way” is simply not going to cut it anymore.  Businesses that hold on to the “old school” way of doing things because “they have always done it that way” will be left behind or destroyed by businesses that are forward thinkers who adapt to the changing demands of the new marketplace.  These businesses that continue to stay on the cutting edge of customer service stay ahead of the game. 

The cutting edge of customer service is E-Commerce and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.  Businesses everywhere are adapting the new bricks and clicks strategy for conducting their business.  A good example of this is Dell Computers.  Dell Computers was the first company to use the Internet to their advantage and stay ahead of the customer service game.  Dell Computers incorporated E-Commerce to their business strategy in a way that allowed them to sell computers online and provide the best customer service possible.  They eliminated large inventories, reduced cost, and continue to provide mass customization of their products to their customers.  They were so successful that other businesses have followed suite.  Today, they are one of the leading companies in the world in computer sales and customer service.  And, they did it all online. 

In E-Commerce, not only has the concept of time, as mentioned above, been eliminated (a la “normal business hours”) from consideration when buying or selling products and services, geographical barriers have also been eliminated.  Now, many businesses are finding themselves in competition with other businesses around the world.  It has turned into survival of the fittest for businesses in terms of sales and providing the best customer service possible.  E-commerce businesses in New York must compete with similar e-commerce businesses in London, Montreal, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sydney.  They all compete with each other.  To the consumer, the difference between these geographically dispersed businesses is not where they are selling their product or service from, but which business can provide the best quality product at the most competitive price.  The winner will always be, not only the one that provides the best quality product at the lowest price, but also the one that provides the best customer service.

So, how do businesses adapt to an ever-changing demands of the e-marketplace that is controlled by the fluctuating tastes of super-empowered consumers who shop for the best deal, make comparisons and choose to buy certain products or services based on what they perceive as having the best quality and value for the money?  How do businesses make customers feel like they have made the best choice after the purchase?  And, once businesses adapt to demand, how can they stay ahead of the game and continue to provide what customers want at competitive prices?  In this day and age of E-Commerce, customers have a multitude of choices.  Businesses are challenged to make customers want to buy their products.  But how do they go about doing that? 

First of all, the business has to provide quality products or services to their customers.  Without a product or service that can appeal to a large number of super-empowered customers, a business simply cannot succeed. 

Since the industrial revolution, manufacturer began the search for the perfect way to build quality into their products.  Henry Ford invented the assembly line to manufacture his automobiles and revolutionized manufacturing forever.  In the assembly line of the Ford Motor Company then, manufacturing processes were broken down into sub processes that manager could control and run more efficiently.  This led to more control over inventory levels and lower manufacturing cost. The cheapest materials were used and they built large inventories in anticipation of future demand.  The assembly line made products more affordable.

Then a few decades ago, the Just In Time (JIT) strategy came about and added quality to the manufacturing process while eliminating non-value adding processes.  Manufacturers used higher quality materials.  Workers were multi-skilled and better trained and a commitment to the total quality management (TQM) approach to all manufacturing processes was implemented in concert with JIT.  The result, a better manufacturing process that built quality into the process while simultaneously lowering cost.  Quality built into the process yielded quality products.  It has been proven that customers do not necessarily choose the cheapest product.  Consumers know quality and will gladly pay a little more to get it.  Providing high quality products keep customers coming back and gives a business a good reputation in the market. 

Once the purchase is made, not only does the customer need to be satisfied with the product or service, the customer also has to feel satisfied with the buying experience.  With customer service in a physical store, the sometimes polite and sometimes knowledgeable salespeople are always available to assist customers with their purchases but, how about customer service in cyberspace?  How do you effectively serve customers in E-Commerce where all of the customers are anonymous?  How do you effectively serve customers when there is no person-to-person contact?  That is one of the challenges of E-Commerce.

The Internet literally contains thousands of E-Commerce sites that sell everything from sporting goods to airline tickets.  Some sites have their own personality and present their products or services in some unique way while other sites present their products or services similarly to other sites.  All sites have one thing in common; every E-commerce site on the Internet presents their product or service in a way that appeals to the customer in a variety of ways.  One way a site can appeal to the customer is by the way the site is laid out.  Is the site easy to navigate?  Can the customer find everything the customer needs?  Is there enough information available that the customer can use to enable the customer to make the best decision?  Is there a large variety of products or services to choose from?  Businesses making the jump into E-Commerce must take those things into consideration. 

Navigation is very important to a customer shopping online.  E-Commerce websites have to be easy to navigate through.  Links to different areas in the site have to be reliable and they have to be able to take the customer there as quickly as possible.  The server or servers that support the site have to be able to handle the large volume of traffic through the site.  This means that the server or servers have to be the fastest money can buy.  Multiple processors might be necessary to handle the high volume of transactions that are processed at any given time.  And, there has to be ample storage space for the large volumes of data that a site can accumulate on a daily basis.  Businesses can accumulate millions of bytes of information from thousands upon thousands of transactions on a daily basis.  The website, the hardware, the software and the data stores have to be able to handle high volumes of information without any hesitation or difficulty.  If the E-Commerce site cannot handle the daily requirements of doing business, the business runs the risk of losing customers through slow transactions and frequent crashes caused by the inability of the site to handle the daily traffic.

Once the customer is in the site shopping, can the customer find everything the customer needs in order to make a purchase?  Virtual salespeople might be an answer in the near future but for now, there is no salesperson available to help customers.  A business has to ensure that there is enough information available on the site that the customer can use to make a purchase.  Information might include product or service descriptions, customer reviews, graphics and pictures, demonstrations, and price. 

Variety might also be important.  If a customer can find whatever he or she needs in one site, the customer might take advantage and shop at that site for everything he or she needs.  The more products or services an E-Commerce business offers, the more business they can generate through their site but, business must have enough inventories to satisfy demand.

The customer must also be able to buy more than one product per business transaction.  Plenty of E-Commerce sites provide virtual shopping carts customers can use to virtually store the products they planned to purchase while they shop.  This makes it easier and more efficient for customers and the business to conduct sales transactions.

Businesses also have to provide and E-Commerce site that is secure meaning not only that the customer’s credit card is safe from hackers who intercept these transaction for the sole purpose of collecting credit card numbers to use fraudulently, but also that the customers personal information such as social security number, name, address, phone numbers, and credit history are kept confidential.