But, ah, you''re not Amazon.com yet, and you don''t have all that much cash lying around to buy all the latest applications or to outsource your customer service function. What''s a little Webmeister to do?
One possible solution is being offered by a start-up called HumanClick, which recently launched a free software and service solution for live, real-time chat interaction with customers.
Smaller online retailers can get what the company calls "a sophisticated ''click-to-chat'' customer service solution," free for the download. Site operators can install a button on their sites that offers to link customers to a live, real-time chat session with a customer service representative -- which in this case means you or an employee -- without requiring any downloads by the customer.
"Humanclick.com helps merchants transform their site atmosphere from that of a vast, impersonal warehouse to a cozy, friendly shop around the corner," said Eitan Ron, CEO and co-founder of HumanClick. "By delivering sophisticated customer service functions free of charge, we expect to play a key role in the success of many a small Internet businesses."
The HumanClick Java app offers:
- Real-Time Traffic Notifications, including audio signals and instant messaging, whenever a visitor enters or exits the site -- just like the bells you see on store doors that notify brick-and-mortar retailers when customers have entered the shop.
- Anytime/Anywhere Customer Service, enabling site operators to make themselves available for dialogues simply by maintaining an Internet connection from any location.
- Online Tracking and Reporting, which helps small Web merchants identify and play up the most popular offerings on their site.
- Proactive Customer Assistance, allowing site operators to initiate dialogues with individual visitors at their discretion ("Hello, how can I help you?") and offer personal assistance comparable to that of a brick-and-mortar store clerk.
HumanClick says it hosts all communications free of charge, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain an in-house server.
As a tool for answering customer questions and recommending products, the application would seem to fill a need, especially for small mom and pop e-tailers that have yet to receive much in the way of brand recognition.
The HumanClick site offers a free demo and a bunch of testimonials from operators of user sites including SkiMall.net, where CIO Al Heirich says: "SkiMall.Net considers HumanClick an indispensable customer service tool that translates directly into increased sales."
One thing to keep in mind if you install this app, however. Be sure to have somebody to answer the inquiries. As a typical impatient Net user, I bailed out of the SkiMall site after waiting about 30 seconds for a company representative to answer my query. Human Click itself, however, was Johnny-on-the-spot when I went there.
As of now, a HumanClick spokesman said the company is venture capital funded for approximately $1 million. CEO Ron said that the revenue-generating model is based on a future offering of a premium professional version of the service that includes various customer relationship management features. Internet telephony apps also are on the drawing board. "We will continue to provide the basic version for free," Ron said.
Also on the revenue horizon: A two-tier banner advertising model within the chat windows and on the operator windows. Site owners will be able to choose to pay a minimal fee to avoid having these banners.
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