Automated vs. Personalized Business Tasks

ClintH · June 11, 2003 12:00 am

In business, you have a limited amount of time. Automating certain tasks can free up some of that time. But there are things you dont want to automate, things that could cost you more than the very time it frees up. Heres a look at a few things you can do to be more efficient, and also build your business. This articles focus is primarily on how automation affects Customer Service, as its one of the most important things in any business. Non-Automated Tasks Customer Service - How Far Should You Go? The short answer - as far as it takes. There are certain business tasks you should automate. Customer service is not one of them. I'm not talking about a standard autoresponder that says "your email has been received and we will reply soon". Those are fine. But when a customer asks you a question, you'd better be sure you answer it, or you risk not only losing their business, but business from ten of their friends as well. Email is the preferred method for most of us on the Renderosity site and the Poser Community these days. Larger companies are the exception, and typically have dedicated support personnel, available by phone. But if you are an individual running your merchant business from home, either full or part-time, you need to come up with efficient and effective ways to handle customer inquiries, support issues, and general questions from prospective buyers. Let's start with a general method of contact. You should have an email address that your customers can use to contact you. Next, you need to establish some guaranteed response time, or if you can't guarantee a time, a statement that you will reply whenever possible. Personally, I don't like to use autoresponders. I feel it generates unnecessary network traffic, and in my humble opinion, email is like voice mail - it's traditionally not been expected that your message will immediately be answered. However, I place a 24-hours-or-less guarantee to my customers. Even if I haven't found the answer to their question in that time frame, I email and let them know about it. I also recently started providing a toll-free (U.S.) voice mail number to my customers and subscribers. This pages my two way pager immediately, and I can respond ASAP. But back to email: while I can't tell you how you should respond to your customers, I'll tell you how I do it: each inquiry is answered individually, and each situation given the appropriate thought and consideration. I talk with my customers and prospective buyers rather than giving them a "form letter" approach. And remember, "Relationship Marketing" builds business - longterm business and loyal clientele. Customers have taken the time to ask about your product or service; why not take the time to answer honestly, and provide the information they need? When it comes to customer service, make it personal. Don't treat your clients like "just another number". "But it takes time!", you say. Yes, it does. Anything worthwhile does. By taking the time to give your customers, you're making more than just a sale - you're earning their trust. This translates into more sales over time. For me, it's the only way to operate. And besides the "business" benefits derived from Relationship Marketing, you meet some cool people, and you learn a lot from your customers, and you get to see what wonderful creations they make using your product. The nature of the Poser/3d Community provides merchants with a lot of "entertainment value"; i.e., when your products are used in movies, artwork, etc. So you get more out of it than you might think! Automated Tasks There are some things you want to automate, but these don't affect customer service, per se, but rather the operations side of your business. Newsletters, Payment Processing, Product Downloads - by automating these things, you can free up valuable time and hopefully decrease customer support issues, giving you more time to talk with your customers about the "cool stuff", thereby building more customer relationships. There are many sites, books, and articles about automation of daily business functions. Cory Rudls Internet Marketing Center (www.marketingtips.com) is a great source of software and tips. Newsletters Newsletters can be scheduled using either a third-party solution or your own server/software. Constant Contact is a web-based service that I use for the Posertrax Newsletter. I create the content, and then schedule the delivery. All subscribers, content, etc., are managed on the web site in my account. An autoresponder sends the welcome letter after subscribers sign up. I do take it a step further and follow up with each new subscriber individually to ensure that they had a smooth sign up process, and with the amount of spam today, that they indeed received the confirmation letter. Frequently Asked Questions A FAQ is another way you can free up time answering repetitive questions. If you get asked the same questions day after day, set up a web page with those questions and answers. This allows the customer to find general information, and even some specific scenarios, so they can determine whether your product will work for them. No FAQ can be an answer-all for every person and situation. If there is something your FAQ doesnt include, the customer will email. A unique question begs a unique answer so answer it directly. Payments & Product Downloads Automating your payments frees up your time spent manually processing orders and payments each month. If you want to sell in volume, this is a must. Imagine how much time you would spend keying in 100 orders, then emailing each customer with their order confirmation, and then providing the product delivery. Cory Rudl has an some excellent articles devoted to just this subject at the above-mentioned IMC site. I recommend going through the newsletters and articles there in-depth, they provide invaluable information for anyone taking website orders. There are many other ways you can save time by automating tasks. Some may be specific to your niche, and may require certain software. Just be sure to analyze what type of impact automating any task will have on your business and reputation before diving head-first into it. Remember, it's not about you - it's about what you can do for your customer. And if you can't do it, they'll go to someone who can. Best of luck in your business! --Donnie / silver Vist silvers: MarketPlace Store Home Page Art Gallery

Article Comments


Moebius87 ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 June 2003

Hiya Silver, You have no idea how invaluable these articles of yours are to a clueless merchant like myself. I might have some ideas about how I think I should go about doing things, and it is just very reassuring to know that I am not in uncharted terrain. Nice to know that "the labyrinth has been all mapped out". :o) Thank you very much. I look forward to your next article. Cheers! M

TheVelvetFoxx ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 June 2003

Ditto the above. Articles like this are always a welcome sight.

AristaProductionLab ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 13 June 2003

Nice!! Automation is Challenging!!! Keep your Edge sharp & your pen flowing!! Good Luck!!!

WorldbuilderMedia ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 13 June 2003

Thanks gang! Yep, automation for the "other stuff" is cool - Renderosity handles so much of it (product delivery and payments, etc.) that we often times don't even think about the hassle that could end up being if we were doing it ourselves, and manually. Thanks for reading! --Donnie