Starting a small business, whether on the high street or online, involves a series of technical, legal and financial steps before you can begin trading. But then the difference between success and failure can be customer service.
Online businesses need to get their customer service just right. Of course it's important for all businesses - you can't win and keep your customers without it. But for online businesses customer service is the only way to connect with your shoppers.
Online shopping is a more impersonal and remote experience than the high street. Nobody to talk to, nothing to see or touch. So it's even more important to use good customer service to instil trust in your company and help reassure the customer that you are genuine.
E-business customers, these days, are often extremely sophisticated, demanding instant information, multiple communications channels and a personalised and interactive service. And there's no reason not to give them what they want: the internet is open for business 24/7 and the technology you can call on allows you to interact with customers.
Delivering the goods
Fulfilment - or delivery of goods - is one of the biggest gripes for online shoppers. Getting it wrong can wreck your reputation. The key to getting it right? Communicate with your customers. Set realistic deadlines. Alert them to any delays.
Get it wrong and bad press spreads more quickly online. Social media sites, blogs, forums and user reviews are all available for people checking out your brand. Unhappy customers are unlikely to keep quiet about poor customer service - and potential customers are more likely to find out about your reputation in advance.
And of course the competition is just a click away. It's much easier online than on the high street for customers to go elsewhere.
As small businesses rely more than large businesses on each individual customer, small and individually-tailored touches can win a customer for life. This section offers you tips on how to win and retain customers by making customer service your unique selling point.