"When customers with an urgent issue want to get hold of you and can't, they may become frustrated and angry," writes Marsha Collier in The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with Your Customers to Sell More!   According to Collier it is imperative to let customers know that they can reach you easily and in a variety of ways, since this "goes a long way towards preventing them from reaching the boiling point."

Companies can include limitless information about themselves on their website, but to ensure an engaging customer experience there are six key ingredients that are imperative to have on the site, including two things far too many companies hide from customers: a mailing address and a phone number.

In this excerpt from The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide, Collier describes the six website must-haves:

Using Your Web Site to Connect With Your Customer

No matter how simple it may be, most businesses need a Web site. If you don't have a Web site, you should begin creating one today. If you do have a Web site, you are either selling your products or services there—or you're not. Being online (even if you're not selling products) is important so your prospective clients can get a clear picture of you, your staff, and your offerings.

If you're selling on the Web, your site is your home base for customer service connections. And since shoppers are notorious for abandoning orders pre-checkout, you must make sure you have done all you can to ensure that they click that Pay Now button. It's not just about offering quality merchandise; it's about establishing trust with, and inspiring confidence in, your buyers.

Here are a few things you should make sure to have on your Web site to help you gain your customers' trust:

  • Include a mailing address. Web sites that do not include an address tend to look suspicious to prospective buyers. And, note, an actual address is often better than a post office box number. If you run your business from home and have security issues, you can always rent a mailbox at a UPS store or the like. This will give you a physical location to attach to your business name; and the reassurance that you work in a physical space really helps customers regard you as a reputable business.
  • Provide a phone number. People like to know that they can reach a human being if they have a question on an item or a problem with an order. A Live Chat button is a nice addition for those who don't want to pick up a phone. (Don't forget to post the hours customers can reach someone through chat or phone.) More on how to set this up further on.
  • Include pertinent company information. If yours is a family-run business, say so! Tell the background story of your company, and provide information about the people involved. Customers like doing business with individuals like themselves. Also, tell them you are focused on customer satisfaction.
  • Link to a page of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Many Web shoppers have questions about the policies and logistics regarding how, when, and where you'll ship their purchase. Include information about your return policy as well, and whether you offer gift wrapping.
  • Feature testimonials from happy customers. Including previous customers' positive comments on your site makes current and potential customers feel that they're in good company when they shop with you. Of course, to accomplish this, you need to . . .
  • Encourage customers to post reviews. Many sites contain a special section for customer reviews. If that's too complex for your site, consider linking to a noncommerce site that posts product reviews for your industry. If, for example, you sell cameras, you might link to sites like www.ivillage.com, cnet.com, or steves-digicams.com, where your customers can read unbiased reviews of the experiences of others, then click back to your site to order from you. Keep in mind that while it's critical to allow customers to comment, you must be sure to moderate this feedback. Respond when necessary, and don't take negative remarks personally; simply try to view criticisms as suggestions for improvement.

Whether your online presence is an e-commerce site, a general site about your business, or a blog about what you do, you must always include a "Contact Us" or comment form. Do customers have the option of getting in touch with you in a variety of ways, beyond a phone number? Providing e-mail addresses and social media links are important, as well. Keep in mind there's a growing trend away from placing phone calls to companies, so show customers where they can reach you for swift attention when they want to solve a problem.

Web Site Alternative

If you're a professional who feels that having a Web site is not something you'd like to do, there is an alternative. You can have a Google profile. A Google profile can serve as your online resume or calling card—however you wish to format it. Anyone who searches your name on Google will find it on the first page of search results. It features a "contact" link that, when clicked, opens an e-mail window and sends the resulting e-mail to a free Gmail account, which you can set up to forward directly to your computer's inbox.

Go to www.google.com/profiles and fill out the form; your profile will be live in moments. As a matter of fact, having a Google profile is important for anyone in business, as it gives people an alternate way to find and contact you. For an example, check out mine at www.google.com/profiles/marsha.collier.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with Your Customers to Sell More! by Marsha Collier.  Copyright (c) 2011 by Collier Advertising and Promotion, Inc., and Marsha Collier.