This is a guest post from our friends at BigCommerce.
To succeed as a company doing business online, you need an effective strategy for your customers’ service experiences throughout their many interactions with you.
Customers expect a great support experience. In fact, 33% of Americans say that just one instance of poor service can have them searching for a new place to get what they need.
Competition is steeper than ever, and with so many other ecommerce businesses vying for customer attention, you have to find a way to differentiate yourself. Providing excellent customer service for your online shoppers is one way to do that.
What Is Ecommerce Customer Service?
Ecommerce customer service provides a strategy and framework for providing an excellent shopping experience on your online store. That strategy should encompass where and how you deliver that support, expectations for speed of response time, and how customer support agents can rectify customer issues.
Customer service is the role dedicated to helping customers get the value they paid for from a product or service, especially when things go wrong.
When retailers invest in improving their ecommerce customer service, delivered via a call center, live chat, or other channels, they tend to be rewarded with a better brand reputation, more loyal customers, better conversion rates, and a competitive advantage.
How Is Ecommerce Customer Service Different?
In a brick-and-mortar shop, customer support can be delivered — ideally — face-to-face. But ecommerce support channels are often asynchronous via email, delivered via live chat or by phone calls. In addition to other challenges unique to ecommerce, you’ll need to monitor multiple channels and offer lightning-fast response times.
In written conversation, tone becomes even more important, because it can be so easily misunderstood. Even if your customer service representatives have the best intentions, if responses are unclear or interpreted negatively, it doesn’t really matter.
Choosing the Right Customer Service Channels
To best serve your customers, you need a multichannel approach — but exactly what that means for your business may differ from others. You need to know your customers, where they are, and where they prefer to engage.
Once you establish the best channels for your business, make sure you’re offering a consistent, proactive support experience across those channels.
In a survey run by NTT, U.S. respondents were asked to name their top three most important customer experience factors:
- 75.8% named ease of customer resolution (customer effort)
- 55% named agent knowledge
- 45% named ease of contact (choice/accessibility)
1. Social media: Show customers you care.
Meet your customers where they are. For many retailers, answering customer inquiries via social channels can provide a quick and easy way for customers to engage with you to provide feedback and address concerns.
Social media monitoring is important, too — some customers will discuss your business and your service on social channels instead of engaging with you. Being aware of those customer interactions can help you adjust your processes, if necessary, and respond proactively.
2. Email: Provide fast support.
Email templates are a great place to start if you’re trying to speed up your customer service game, but make sure you don’t sacrifice too much of that personal touch. Customers still want to know they’re communicating with an authentic human that truly wants to help solve their problems. Don’t be afraid to treat it like an actual conversation between a real customer and a real support agent (not a company).
We’ll talk more about various software options that can augment your customer service strategy, but if you adopt one, make sure it integrates well with your email inbox.
3. Live chat: Fix customer issues in real time.
Customers’ have high expectations for quick support. Live chat can help you respond in real time — and it enables your team to handle multiple issues at once, rather than sitting on hold for the next available representative.
Customer satisfaction seems to be holding steady at a relatively high rate, reaching about 83.04% globally in 2019.
Chatbots are also used to streamline customer support as they are enabled to provide information around the most common questions.
4. Telephone support: Offer a direct line to your business.
Many younger shoppers may prefer online messaging, but offering phone support is still important. If you have someone available to answer telephone calls from customers, be sure to include your phone number clearly on your website — in as many places as possible.
5. Help content: Provide your customers with answers.
Some customers may prefer to seek answers to their questions without having to contact a customer support agent — particularly if live customer support isn’t available 24/7. Make sure return policies, details on billing and payment, and shipping and delivery information are clearly communicated on dedicated pages of your site or on a frequently asked questions page.
If you have a lot of information to share, you may need to build out a solid knowledge base to help enable self-service. This will be more appropriate for some brands than others. For instance, CBD retailers may want to include overarching information on changing legalities and test results confirming the quality of the product.
As you receive customer feedback, you may find other topics that need to be added. Respond to common issues preemptively by clearly providing the information customers need.
7 Best Practices to Build Your Ecommerce Customer Service
No matter what customer service channel you choose, there are a few overall best practices to keep in mind. Let’s dig into some best practices for your help desk.
1. Offer simple return policies.
72% of shoppers say they look at return policies before ever completing a purchase.
Potential customers don’t want to read lengthy terms of service just to find out whether or not they can return a product. Make sure the information they need is clearly and simply stated, in a place where customers can find it easily — and maybe even in more than one place.
Some of the most desirable return policies include:
- Providing refunds instead of store credit,
- Allowing ample time for customers to return the product, and
- Offering guarantees.
2. Forecast inventory needs.
When a customer wants one of your products, it’s incredibly frustrating for them to find that item out of stock. Some customers might even vent that that inner frustration outward, criticizing your brand on social media and via word of mouth across their networks.
Inventory forecasting can be challenging, but there are a lot of resources out there to help guide you along the way.
3. Use customer service tools.
Customers want personalized service, but especially for large brands, that can be near impossible. With customer service tools to support your efforts, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, you can keep notes and details about each customer so their interactions with your business can be tailored to them and their experience across the customer lifecycle.
A good customer support solution can create a solid foundation, but how should you decide which one to use? Start by asking the following questions:
- What tools do my agents or representatives use the most?
- How does each tool enable response? Are those responses sent via the same channels through which they were received?
- How can each tool handle prioritization of issues, based on severity?
- What features does this tool provide to ensure no customer service request falls through the cracks?
4. Consider the entire customer journey.
Don’t wait until customers reach out with an issue — engage them across the customer journey to strengthen your customer service and drive more sales.
5. Communicate with customers proactively.
Keep customers up to date on their order status — before they have to ask. They want to know where their orders are and when they’ll be delivered. If you anticipate a delay in the shipment for any reason, let your customers know before its originally expected delivery date.
6. Act on customer feedback.
You have to give customers clear opportunities to provide feedback. This is a great opportunity to gauge customer satisfaction and increase customer loyalty. But you can also gain some insights into your customers’ satisfaction and/or frustrations by measuring KPIs through analytics.
When you identify issues, make sure you address them within your business so you can keep improving. If you’re able to address common customer issues, this can also reduce the burden on your customer support team.
7. Build a great ecommerce customer support team.
Patience, authenticity, and friendliness are some of the top traits you should look for when building your customer support team. Once you’ve hired them, empower them with the tools and training they need to serve your customers in real time.
They should also be thoroughly trained on your products and business processes so they can provide thorough answers to as many questions as possible, without having to escalate the issue to someone else on your team — or you.
2 Examples of Great Customer Service
Here are a couple of examples of how other ecommerce sites are providing great customer service to their loyal customers.
Ministry of Supply.
Vend customer Ministry of Supply, an apparel store specializing in professional wear, works hard to ensure customers have the information they need before buying.
In the footer of the site, which follows customers through every page on their shop, they include direct contact information in the form of a phone number and an email address. They also have icons indicating their products’ lifelong guarantee, assurance of sustainable production, and a clear return/exchange policy.
Clicking on the FAQ link goes to a robust page full of frequently asked questions grouped by topic. This provides an easy-to-navigate experience for customers looking to find an answer without having to engage support agents.
The page also includes a search bar, which further helps the customer but can also provide valuable data to the retailer about what questions aren’t being answered or can’t be easily found.
Makeup retailer Sephora does a lot of things well, but what I really love about them is their customer service. Not only are they fully communicative about orders — an email to confirm the order was received, and another to let you know your order shipped.
That’s why, when I didn’t receive my shipment email, I reached out to customer service via email. Here’s the response:
The tone of the message was spot on, and the representative was empowered to make it right with me — by giving me 100 extra reward points. And then, the rep told me how many points I was up to, which is an example of simple — but impactful — personalization.
While Sephora is an enterprise-level retailer, these are small, accessible customer service touches that even the smallest shop can learn from. Giving me 100 beauty points is no great expense to them, but for the customer, it ended the interaction on a positive note. “Making it right” doesn’t always have to mean a grand gesture. Sometimes it’s an authentic, sympathetic note with a little “we’re sorry!” treat.
Providing great customer service can serve as a growth engine for your brick-and-mortar and your ecommerce store alike. Ensuring a seamless experience no matter where your shoppers engage or shop with you will increase your customer retention rates — thereby reducing cost of acquisition — and give you a significant competitive advantage.
Follow these best practices to streamline customer support processes in your ecommerce company and see your loyal customers return again and again.
Victoria is a content marketing writer, researcher, and content project manager at BigCommerce. Specializing in writing and web content strategy, she previously spent eight years in public relations and marketing for Tier I research universities. She holds a B.A. in English Writing and Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University and a Master of Liberal Arts from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.