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Building customer trust online: Tips for success

Building customer trust online can be tricky -- Don Peppers lists a few ways to maintain your customer's trust over the Internet in this expert tip.

Instead of calling into our call center, many of our customers are going to our website to get answers to their questions. How should we change the way we deal with customers in order to build customer trust online?
Interacting with masses of customers individually is a complicated and difficult business function that most companies have only begun wrestling with in the last decade or so, because the Internet has finally forced them to. There are a handful of businesses that have always done a sterling job – even prior to the Web's arrival – of using their call centers to inspire confidence and trust in their customers (USAA, for example). But for the vast majority of companies, prior to the rise of the Web, call centers looked at as just one more cost of doing business.

"Customer interaction," in other words, is still a brand new discipline for most business people, with lots of unknown complications and unappreciated benefits. I know that many executives charged with supervising the customer experience, or trying to structure their company's many interactions with individual customers, have trouble articulating the case for earning customer trust, but I still think this is the most important objective you can have when it comes to guiding customer interactions.

I just finished reading a new book by Bill Price and David Jaffe called, The Best Service is No Service. Jaffe is a customer experience consultant operating out of Australia, and Price is the ex-VP of Global Customer Service for Amazon, which says a lot about their perspective, because Amazon is certainly one of the world's true icons of great customer service. If you're struggling with the issues of how to improve customer trust when people use your website rather than your call center, then you should simply buy Price and Jaffe's book and read it cover to cover. Then read it again.

The truth is, customers don't make a big distinction between the channels they use. They choose a channel for their own convenience, but no matter what channel they employ, they expect to be interacting with YOU, the company, and it ought to be an interaction that is roughly consistent across channels. Still, with regards to building customer trust over the Internet with online customer service, some of the advice in the Price and Jaffe book is very good and very basic. For instance:

  • On the website, phone numbers should be clearly shown or available on every page, along with "click-to-talk" or "chat" buttons and "contact us" buttons that make it easy to send emails, stating how quickly they will be replied to.

  • Website choices should be consistent with other, similar lists of choices available from other channels, such as the interactive voice response (IVR) system.

  • Use plenty of white space on Web pages, so customers don't feel overwhelmed or lost, and can easily navigate where they want. White space costs you nothing, but delivers better clarity and understanding to the customer.

  • Multiple support levels should be available, so that your website is carefully designed to help users recover from mistakes or problems.

  • Standard, straightforward navigation features should allow users to drop bread crumbs during their Web search.


    Hear more in Creating Customer Value, a SearchCRM.com monthly podcast series with Peppers and Rogers.
  • This was last published in June 2008

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