Before you started using computers in your office, and built a LAN connecting all your computers, moving files from desk to desk was a task done manually by khaki-clad peons. When they were not available for some reason or the other, important files would simply pile up on the desk for hours, until they were cleared from your OUT tray by a peon.
With most communications taking place through e-mails, those days are almost history. Of course, you still need a few peons to file and move the paperwork that is still essential; but the volume is much less.
You have got used to e-mails, without realizing that this is one of the most important e-services offered by the Internet. Realizing that you are offering a great e-service to your customers and suppliers in the shape of an e-mail can help open up a host of possibilities to offer additional e-services using the Internet and your website. As you are reading this issue of DQ Channels India, I can safely assume that you are part of an established business, in the process of being transformed by the Internet environment.
Through these columns, I have always been stressing that the Internet is not some kind of magic, which can work wonders for your business merely by being connected, or by believing all that media-generated cyber-hype. Please remember that the Internet is a great new way of communicating and it all depends on how effectively you put it to use. There are many channels of communication available to a business and the Internet is merely one of the latest entrants. It’s the media hype surrounding the Internet that makes it look something different and magical.
A business needs many channels of communication and the Internet has proved to be the cheapest and the most convenient channel known so far. The costliest channel of communication seems to be face-to-face communication, where one or more of your employees pay a visit to a customer or supplier for a meeting in person. A senior employee spending his time on a single call can cost you over a thousand rupees on that call. The channels of communication in order of their cost to you are as follows:
- Face to Face
- Postal Mail (Cheaper, but takes too much time to reach)
- Forms on website
- Self-help on website/ Autoresponders
Self-help on a website is the cheapest and most effective form of communication. This is an e-service that will save you a lot of time and money. If all the information is made available on the website in a searchable form or with a good navigational design, you can let the customers or suppliers pick up all the information they need. This could be done either in form of static web pages or in form of dynamic web pages generated by the visitors’ queries using information stored in a database. The second alternative is easier to handle for updating the information quickly when needed.
The self help need not be restricted only to general information like product specifications, stock position, pricing etc. E-services like order tracking; billing etc. can also be made part of the self-help package on the website.
Various forms can be provided on the website, which a visitor can fill up and submit. You can either respond to these queries manually through e-mail replies or through auto-responders. Auto-responders are nothing but ready-made replies to standard queries generated by a program on the web server. These replies are stored on the web server as text files, which get automatically e-mailed to the sender of the query as soon as it is received.
Product specifications and price lists are the ideal applications of auto-responders. The process is very simple. For example you can configure an auto-responder to send a file product_a.txt to the sender of the query when e-mail is received on the website addressed to email@example.com, thus eliminating any human interaction whatsoever.
A searchable database of frequently asked questions and their answers is a very useful e-service that can make life much easier for your sales and support staff. The database can be updated regularly with new questions and answers. With some intelligent programming of the search page, you can even let the visitors ask questions in simple English and then provide them with all possible related questions and answers using that question to match records from the database.
Many websites use a system of submitting what is called “tickets” on the website. These are nothing but specific requests submitted in standard forms, which are then answered manually by the staff. Technical Support Tickets and Billing Tickets are the most commonly used. A page where you can submit the ticket number and view the current status of your ticket generally accompanies these. The status can be shown as “Open”, “Answered” or “Action Taken”
Chat is another e-service you can provide on your site for the visitors. It costs more than the self-help service, as the person who will be answering the queries from visitors must be always on-line, or at least during working hours. This works out much cheaper than face-to-face communication and even telephonic conversation. Besides, just one person can reply to many visitors on the same chat channel. There are many free chat programs available for downloading from the Internet. These can be installed on your website, with the help of your hosting company.
Providing e-services to customers and suppliers, cannot and should not, be an isolated exercise. It must be part of a wider e-business strategy and incorporated into a well thought out business plan. Selection of platforms on which to offer these services should be based on the entire strategy and not merely on the basis of immediate requirements. This can help avoid a lot of re-programming at a later date.
Selecting the right team to implement these strategies is equally important. Just the mention of e-business or web enabling of business can bring forward employees who would like to take this opportunity to enhance their career options at the cost of your organization. After all, who doesn’t want an e-business project on his resumé? You must ensure that what is essential for your business gets implemented, rather than what will look impressive on someone’s resumé.
Ashok Dongre is an advertising and marketing professional, specializing in website design. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org