My regular readers will know that one of the things I highly recommend doing with any online business is automating as many of your day to day tasks as possible.
From a personal point of view, one of the tasks that takes up a lot of my time is answering emails. It isn't just answering email that eats up the hours - sorting through and deleting spam and junk mail absorbs a lot of time too. In the good old days, I used to get a couple of spam emails a day. Now it is closer to 1000 a day!
In fact, when you look at it, email isn't always the best form of online communication. Not only is there the junk mail issue to contend with but also the fact that email is not 100% reliable. Emails do 'go missing' far more regularly than you might expect. Often this is simply because the recipients email software has decided that a particular email is junk and has transferred it directly to the 'Delete' folder. Other times it may be because the recipients ISP has decided that the email is junk and deleted it BEFORE it has even been seen by the recipient! (Yes this really does happen - imagine if your postman sorted through your mail and made the decision of which letters you want and which ones he should throw away?!)
One way to help avoid the spam problem when dealing with customer support enquiries is to make use of a contact form on your website instead of posting an email address. This will certainly help to cut down on spam but it still means that you have the problem of emails not getting to their destination (and when you have a frustrated customer waiting for assistance this is not ideal).
Therefore, probably the best option on the market presently is a full-blown helpdesk system. Setting up a dedicated helpdesk is a superb way of automating your customer support and speeding up the process of dealing with enquiries and support emails. Not only that but if you use a system that allows customers to create 'tickets', you don't have to rely on email as your customers can login to a special web page and view both their tickets and your replies online.
Another feature of many helpdesk scripts is an 'FAQ' or 'Knowledgebase' section. This is simply a collection of the most frequently asked questions/queries/problems along with answers and solutions. This means that customers can search the knowledgebase and hopefully find the answer to their question without having to contact Support at all.
Some of the more advanced scripts will even scan the customers support ticket prior to submitting it and then list a few possible answers to their questions just in case they didn't read through the knowledgebase before typing the ticket out - very clever stuff.
These scripts are also very powerful in terms of how they can benefit you. Just think how much time you could save if, say, 40% of your customer support emails just stopped coming due to the fact that your customers were now able to find the answers to their questions automatically.
Having an online helpdesk is also of benefit if you travel around a lot or if you are away from the office on vacation etc. Instead of having to take a laptop loaded up with previous emails from customers, you can simply login to your helpdesk admin page and all of your previous correspondence will be online and at your fingertips. It also means that you won't have to spend hours in an Internet cafe deleting a days worth of spam at a time just to get to the important emails since only the important emails will have made it through to the helpdesk in the first place.
As with most things, setting up a customer service helpdesk is one of those tasks that is always better done when you first start your online business. That said, it is fairly easy to integrate such a feature into your existing set up and that is exactly what I have done for all of my websites...
Over the next few months, I will be phasing many of my email addresses out - I simply can't stand the spam any more! With immediate effect, all customer support issues for all of my products and websites will be handled via a central Customer Support Helpdesk.
I am confident that this will improve the overall 'support experience' for both my customers and me :-)
If you are interested in installing a similar helpdesk on your own website/s, there are numerous options when it comes to suitable software. I chose a product called eSupport (link below) and whilst this is a very powerful script, I am hesitant to give it my full recommendation since the installation/set up process was, how can I put this, slightly painful. It doesn't help that there is no manual for the software which means that new users are left to figure out how it works by trial and error or by trawling through hundreds of posts on the company forum. That said, I am advised by the software creator that a manual is in the process of being written and will be available soon. As I say, an excellent and powerful script once installed and configured but definitely not for those lacking patience (and indeed, some computer knowledge). If you opt for this script, my advice would be to get the publishers of the software to install it for you. You can find out more about eSupport at: http://www.kayako.com
Other alternatives (neither of which I have tried myself) include Perldesk ( http://www.perldesk.com ) and Cerberus ( http://www.cerberusweb.com ). One advantage of Cerberus is that there is a free version :-)
Copyright 2005 Richard Grady
Richard Grady has been helping ordinary people earn online since 1998. He writes a free newsletter which is published every two weeks. To subscribe (and claim your free gifts), visit: http://www.thetraderonline.com/newsletter.html