Q: We recently launched a website at which people can recycle electronics. So far, we have been contacting our customers individually by e-mail. How can we keep up that level of service as more people visit the site?
New Haven, Connecticut
A: As companies add customers, they run the risk of becoming like the Dr. Seuss character Mrs. McCave, who "had 23 sons and she named them all Dave." What bugs people more than not getting a personalized shout-out with every communication is having their individuality ignored.
Start out with a personal touch by posting a statement on your website about your commitment to customer service, advises Jack Mitchell, author of Hug Your Customers and CEO of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs, a high-end clothing retailer with headquarters in Westport, Connecticut. Include your photo and signature so site visitors know a real human stands behind that commitment.
Make sure all specific questions receive specific answers -- though there's no need to construct a fresh response every time. If you document FAQs in an internal wiki, sometimes sending a personal response is as easy as copying and pasting. In fact, cold, faceless technology is often key to providing warm, caring service. "We've architected our whole IT system around personal relationships," Mitchell says. His business uses customer relationship management software to track clients' tastes, including their favorite designers and whether they prefer Pepsi or Coke served to them in the stores. Salesclerks draw on those data to make each returning client feel as welcome as a regular.
Part of being personable is being accessible, so create more ways for customers to express their love (or hate or indifference). John & Kira's, a Philadelphia chocolatier, includes a survey at the end of its online checkout process. The company also has a blog and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Founder John Doyle says those sites are a trove of suggestions.
Technology, however, cannot be all things to all people -- particularly to ticked-off people. Customer complaints deserve responses from human beings. As Web traffic increases, it may not be feasible to field every inquiry yourself. But you can try. Doyle, who manages a full-time staff of seven, devotes half his work hours to customer relations and answers as many notes as possible. "Other jobs can be outsourced to other people," he says. "But only one person can be the spokesperson."