Everyone has been frustrated by an unhelpful salesperson in a retail store. In some cases, these experiences may have been enough to prevent the offended party from ever coming back. Virtual storefronts are just as vulnerable to losing would-be buyers if they provide poor customer service. In an online environment, the implications of inferior customer care are even greater than they are for a physical storefront. This is because it is easy for a virtual customer to buy from another online vendor. The competition is only one click away.

On the positive side, offering superior customer service is a great way to set your e-commerce web site apart from the competition, and your company's success can be directly linked to how you manage your interactions with clients. Use these do's and don'ts to make your Web site the first place your clients think to visit when they have a need for your product or service.

DO be responsive

Part of the attraction of the Internet is its immediacy. In the online world, a long wait between inquiry and answer is treated with suspicion. If you make current and potential customers wait too long for a response, they may begin to fear that your business is not legitimate or that it is no longer in operation. Check Web generated emails and orders at least daily to allay users' fears that they are lost in a technology gap. Knowing that a human has seen and acknowledged their request will make them more comfortable with the professionalism of your business.

DON'T hide important information

Most Web users want to hone in on the facts they need quickly. Provide a link to commonly requested information about your product or service on the first page of your site. Ideally, users should be able to find the details they need within one click of your home page. Direct navigation and simple answers will close many more sales than cool animations and colorful page backgrounds.

DO the unexpected

Your willingness to go the extra mile will put you a mile in front of your competition. Try to identify a gesture or product bonus you can offer online customers that will let them know you understand their needs. For instance, if you sell camera equipment, offer free film with purchase. Or if you are a travel agent, offer free travel guides with ticket purchases.

DO ask for feedback

Turn to your customers to find out why they choose to do business with you and how you can improve your products and services. You can solicit this information by adding an online survey to your site, or by integrating customer service questions into your online order form. You can also use surveys to get clients involved in new product development, which will keep them turning to your site for updates on current offerings. Asking for customer input has an additional benefit: it will prevent you from investing in unsuccessful new offerings.

DON'T ignore privacy concerns

Web users often feel manipulated when a company asks them for personal information that is not needed for the purchase process. Show respect for your clients' concerns, which are usually focused on whether or not the data they give you will be released to a third party. Don't ask for more information than you need and state your policy clearly about sharing customer data.