While e-commerce sites can be extremely convenient, they may come up short in certain areas. Most notable is the inability to provide the same personal customer service you would find in a brick-and-mortar store.
If you want to surpass the competition, though, your business can still find ways to improve online customer service.
What is e-commerce customer service?
E-commerce customer service revolves around addressing customers’ questions, needs, and concerns before, during, and after online sales. It means replying to messages you receive on e-commerce marketplaces or social media channels (or by email, text or phone) to quickly capture leads while they’re already engaged. It can also mean hiring customer service agents to ensure proper attention is paid to your customer communications across multiple channels.
Did you know? Customer service teams should no longer be focused on customer satisfaction. Customer delight is the new standard they should be striving for.
How to provide great e-commerce customer service
When you’re selling products online, you have distinct advantages and disadvantages. While the pros typically outweigh the cons by far, your inability to interact with customers face-to-face is usually viewed as a negative.
However, e-commerce businesses can still offer good customer service; it just takes a little extra work. Here are a few tips to improve how you interact with customers through your online storefront.
1. Ask for feedback.
You need to develop the habit of asking for feedback. While it might not always be positive, it is always helpful. If you truly want to offer the best customer service, knowing what your customers think about your brand, business, products and service is of the utmost importance.
2. Offer options.
The fact that a customer is shopping for your products online is proof in itself that they enjoy having various options. When it comes to customer service, make sure you give them the same opportunity to choose. Instead of giving them a boring contact form, offer additional options, like live chat support, text message customer service and toll-free numbers to call.
3. Be clear.
According to Magicdust, a full-service internet marketing and web design firm, “Unhappy customers are unfortunately inevitable in any kind of business. To avoid any conflict, include as much information on orders as possible.” This means providing detailed information on such matters as shipping and return policies, warranties, guarantees, and other information that could affect a customer’s experience.
4. Invest in quality site search.
Much of your customer service relates to how you design your e-commerce site. To keep customers happy and convert shoppers, invest heavily in high-quality site search functionality. This will help to keep customers satisfied, and you will avoid unnecessary interactions that waste your time.
FYI: Great e-commerce customer service means making your online store’s search function highly user-friendly.
5. Provide valuable follow-up.
We’ve all received those annoying emails from companies after we’ve purchased one thing from their site. Don’t be that company. Instead of sending lazy promotions for months after a purchase, shoot out valuable deals and offers immediately after they buy. Shoppers are more likely to convert when you are still fresh in their mind. Additionally, good deals and free offers show you care about keeping them as a customer.
6. Offer free shipping.
One of the best e-commerce customer service tactics is to offer free shipping. It costs you a couple of extra dollars, but it goes a long way in impressing customers and persuading them to make that first purchase (and maybe others down the road).
7. Improve customer interactions.
Although your team has the skill set necessary to interact with customers, they also need to relate to the customer. For instance, try to identify common ground with the customer, such as shared interests. This step helps your team members to understand conflict and humanizes the rep-staff relationship for the customer.
8. Follow up after the problem has been solved.
It is essential that customers feel as though you were on their side when a problem occurred, so follow up to ensure the issue was fully resolved and that the customer is satisfied with the service. You can do this through an email or a customer feedback survey – the goal is to let the customer know you are on their side.
9. Actively listen to the customer.
When you’re talking with customers, it’s important to clarify and rephrase what they are saying to make sure you understand them correctly. Showing empathy and reflecting their feelings will also help you turn the conversation in the right direction.
10. Be available.
Part of the personal touch necessary for customer satisfaction is making sure your customers can reach you. For instance, if you’re in different time zones, be available on their time. This will help to build their trust and remind them that your business isn’t programmed.
Customer service may not be most companies’ favorite activity, but it should be a major point of emphasis. When you’re looking for ways to improve your e-commerce site, analyze your customer service and look for areas where you can improve.
How does customer service for e-commerce differ from brick-and-mortar?
There are some key differences between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar customer service.
- Face-to-face interaction: E-commerce inherently lacks the face-to-face interactions that define brick-and-mortar storefronts. Good e-commerce customer service teams attempt to replicate this face-to-face structure and value. Phone calls, live chat and chatbots are some tools an e-commerce business might use to achieve this goal.
- Opening hours: Brick-and-mortar stores have set opening hours, so their employees aren’t typically expected to interact with customers after hours. The internet runs 24/7, though, so consumers may contact you around the clock. As a result, you might quickly find yourself behind on replying to customer emails, texts and the like.
- High expectations: Since e-commerce giants like Amazon have branded themselves on excellent customer service, many consumers may also expect the same level of care from smaller e-commerce businesses. This expectation poses a substantial challenge for small e-commerce businesses. Falling behind on customer communications is almost inevitable with a tiny staff, yet it has greater consequences for an e-commerce business than for a standard retail storefront.
Bottom line: E-commerce customer service lacks the in-person interactions of brick-and-mortar customer service, and it often comes with higher customer expectations and nonstop communication.
What is the value of customer service?
Whether you realize it or not, customer service plays a significant role in most purchases you make. Think about when you’re looking to buy a particular item that multiple brands sell for roughly the same price. What sets the one you select apart from the ones you pass up? While brand equity and familiarity often play a role, it often comes down to how quickly you’ll get the product, what support it comes with, and how comfortable you are with the brand.
Each of these aspects falls under customer service and indicates the importance of selling service to customers instead of just products.
Drew Hendricks contributed to the writing and research in this article.