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Customer service online is all important, and businesses should be making it easy for customers to contact them to resolve any issues.
However, some sites seem determined to prevent, or least make it difficult for you to contact them. Whether through missing or hard to find contact details, charging for customer service calls, or taking weeks to reply to emails.
Perhaps these firms think they are saving money or easing pressure on customer service staff by doing this, but I fear they are just annoying the hell out of their customers, which is rarely a good idea.
Why should websites provide easy contact options?
To avoid customer frustration
Companies need to see retention as being as important as acquisition. According to KISSmetrics, the average value of a lost customer is $243, while 71% of consumers have ended their relationship with a company due to poor customer service.
Customer frustration has to go somewhere
Made.com launched three years ago, and a post we published on the launch has continued to attract comments from unhappy customers. One of the reasons, as explained in this post, is that Made.com didn't have a contact number, meaning aggrieved customers were choosing whatever channel they can to vent their fury.
This is something which has now been rectified, and the 'contact us' link on the site leads to a contact form and a clear customer services number:
According to Made.com CEO and co-founder Ning Li, the company has looked to improve on initial mistakes, and has added various contact options:
Customer feedback is so important to us and we’ve worked really hard to tackle any concerns. We now have an ever-growing customer service team in place covering phones, email and live chat, our phone number is much more prominent on the site and we have a dedicated social media team to respond to queries. We also opened our Notting Hill showroom last September, where customers can meet the team and see the products before they buy.
Avoid reputation issues and dodgy search results
One consequence of poor customer service and contact options is that customer complaints end up on social media, online forums and elsewhere, all of which is indexed by the search engines. This isn't what you want customers to see when they search for your brand:
Customers may need help to complete transactions
Customer support isn't just about after-sales and handling complaints. Effective support can help push customers towards a purchase by answering key questions and helping them to overcome any issues with the process.
Indeed, a recent survey (admittedly from a live chat provider) found that 83% of consumers needed some kind of help to complete an online purchase.
Sites that make it too hard for consumers to contact them...
This site does have a help link in the top corner of the page, which leads to this contact hub page:
This looks fine, but eBuyer wants to charge customers 10p per minute to call with any queries. If your order are late or they have a problem with the service received, having to pay for calls isn't going to put customers in the best mood.
What's more, if the call queues I experienced are anything to go by, then customers will resent the charge even more.
There are alternatives though. You can write to them, which nobody under 80 is going to do, or then there's the 'Enote'. This sounds a bit like an email, so maybe it's a good alternative to the call centre?
After clicking on Enotes, it becomes clear that eBuyer doesn't just want you to send an Enote straight away. No, why not check out the FAQs first?
Though it does place another barrier, this is reasonable enough, as common customer queries are often covered by FAQs, and it may benefit the customer to point them to the right place.
However, if the FAQs don't answer the customer's question, perhaps this Enote will allow them to get their problem solved?
Actually, no. Unless the query is about login and registration or recycling. Useless.
This essentially means that customers are forced onto a premium rate phone line for any questions. Small wonder that a quick Google search finds a number of unhappy eBuyer customers:
Want to contact giffgaff by phone? Forget it. It just isn't an option. Want to email the company? Forgot that as well, the only email address I could find is for commercial enquiries.
So that's the two most popular online customer service channels out of the way. The remaining options are a (very good, as it happens) FAQs section, and 'Ask an Agent'.
'Ask an Agent' is basically a contact form which allows you to submit a query, but only promises a response within 24 hours. Not much use when you're stuck at an airport and your sim doesn't work...
Needless to say, Ryanair doesn't exactly bend over backwards to allow people to contact them. It's a case of rooting around the FAQs or a choice of two phone numbers, one which charges 10p per minute, the other a priority service at £1 /min.
The company was the subject of a EU decision based on its refusal to offer an email contact address. Perhaps as a result of this, it now offers a lovely contact form:
The 'contact us' hub on Barclycard is easy enough to find, and a range of phone numbers are easy to find. However, it's not hard to spot a trend when you look through. Any numbers to do with selling things (new applications, card insurance, personal loans) have an 0800 number.
Everything else, such as customer services and emergency card replacement are 0844 or 0845 numbers, which cost 5p per minute upwards, and much more from a mobile.
This gives you a clue as to the relative importance of acquisition and customer retention for Barclaycard. Attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as keeping an existing one so this is a short-sighted approach.
There is an email option, though Barclaycard gives no timescale for a response and, 30 minutes after sending the email, I've had no confirmation that someone is dealing with it.
How it should be done
An ideal example isn't easy to find, and I wanted to find one from a company big enough. As a consumer I do object to paid phone numbers but, other than that, John Lewis provides a good example.
You simply click the contact us link and you get this page. No need to route customers around FAQ sections (though there should be clear links) or make them jump through hoops.
Just present the contact options clearly:
Any examples (good or bad) that you'd like to share? Are chargeable contact numbers acceptable? Please leave your opinions below...