By Blaine Greenfield

As more business is conducted online, retailers are less likely to have face-to-face contact with their customers. But that doesnt mean you can scrimp on customer service.

If anything, customer service has never been more important, according to Mike OMalley, a 40-year veteran of the fashion industry.

Customers are much more demanding than they were just 10 years ago, OMalley says. Theyre more sensitive to what they feel they deserve and, in some cases, what they feel theyve earned by shopping at a particular retailer.

Studies have found that customers are willing to pay a premium to ensure quality service. Just as important, many are also more likely to recommend a company for providing outstanding service than for attributes such as product or price.

Meeting and even exceeding these increasingly high customer expectations is easier than you may think, and it begins with a well-designed, easy-to-navigate and fastloading e-commerce website. Make sure all the basic information about your business and what it offers is clear and easily found. A comprehensive FAQ page is a good way to help guide customers through the purchase process and explain product aspects they may not be fully aware of.

Another thing to consider here is whether you want to offer something to all those who visit your website and Facebook page. Apex Brain Centers in Asheville does this particularly well, sending out an informative e-book, 10 Tips for a Better Brain, to all those who request it when visiting www. apexbaaincenters. com.

Also make sure product descriptions are timely and complete, including any items that may be out of stock, and detail any additional charges and fees (e.g., shipping and handling) up front. Few things are more frustrating to an e-customer than surprises that appear during check- out.

Though you may never actually see your e-commerce customers, you should still encourage their feedback via a comments section on the website, or a post-sale follow-up email. Incorporating easy-to-create online surveys (e.g., Survey Monkey, Client Heartbeat or Survey Gizmo) is a good way to collect information as long as they are brief and the questions are specifically focused on the customers experience.

Facebook, Google-Plus, Twitter and other social media sites are also good forums for interacting with customers, as are online rating sites such as Yelp!, Google Local and City Search. Even if customers dont contact you directly, you may still spot trends or issues in need of improvement. Also, thank customers who provide positive feedback and encourage them to visit your site again. That will provide extra incentive for them to recommend your e-commerce site to others. Despite your best efforts, youll likely still have dissatisfied customers. Respond quickly to complaints or negative comments, including offering to speak to the unhappy customer by phone to get the full story and resolve the problem more quickly. If the complaint appears in a public online setting, move the conversation offline as quickly as possible. Then be sure to post a follow-up note about the complai! nt on the forum explaining your perspective about what happened.

Blaine Greenfield is a SCORE mentor who also publishes Blaines-World, a free blog that can be obtained by sending an email to bginbc@aol.com with subscription in the subject line. To learn more about e-commerce or other small business issues, contact asheville.score. org. SCORE is a nonprofit organization providing free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners.