E-commerce customer service as a guarantee of success

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Contemporary e-commerce customer service: how to become a shopping favorite

Ten years ago, "going shopping" meant strolling through stores, trying out products and eventually coming home with a dozen shopping bags. Customer service was a matter of luck, sales assistants were sometimes more, sometimes less friendly. Depending on where you lived, however, you didn't have a choice - the store in question was sometimes the only place to go for miles around.

The change that has taken place in just one decade could not be more striking. Today, e-commerce is me-commerce for many: shopping in your pyjamas on the couch while sipping a café latte. Consumers want to shop 24/7, want uncomplicated returns, expect an unlimited selection of products and, ideally, personalized advice.

In short: quite a demanding audience. To be successful as an online retailer, you need to offer a reliable e-commerce customer service at every point of contact. What's the best way to do this? Answers can be found in the blog.

Why good customer service is crucial, especially in e-commerce

E-commerce customer service is the support you offer your customers so that they have a pleasant experience with your company and your brand. Both before and after the purchase.

But e-commerce customer service is more than just solving problems. It means providing your audience with proactive and immediate support at all times via the channel of their choice - phone, email, SMS, chat and more.

In the world of e-commerce, holistic customer service is not just nice to have, but a fundamental prerequisite for success. If you slip up in this area, you can close your virtual store. For the majority of consumers, customer service is one of the deciding factors for their brand loyalty.

There are important differences to traditional customer service in stationary retail:

  • Expectations are much higher today: even if objectively there is actually much less reason to complain than in the past, online customers are much more inclined to complain about problems with the customer service of their online store.
  • Compared to brick-and-mortar stores, there is no direct personal contact. You have to compensate for this with speed and expertise.
  • In times of brand inflation and intense competition, it has become more difficult to find a unique selling point in online retail. Standing out through price is not an option given the generally thin margins. This makes first-class e-commerce customer service a competitive advantage.

How do you provide outstanding e-commerce customer service?

Your online store's customer service acts as a brand ambassador. It plays a key role in building trust and sustainable relationships with customers.

To meet this challenge, e-commerce retailers naturally need the right tools: this starts with telephony solutions, chat programs and CRM (customer relationship management) tools. But it also includes precise shipment tracking and extends to returns management, which should be both economical and as accommodating as possible. Even supposedly mandatory tasks such as an FAQ section that answers the most important questions about shipping, payment methods and so on should not be forgotten.

But that's still not all. Outstanding e-commerce customer service requires something that no tool can do: The attitude has to be right. The idea of customer service must become part of your store's DNA.

What does that mean in concrete terms? You should internalize these four tips:

Picking up customers where they are:

E-commerce customers expect a personal approach that gives them the feeling of being able to contact your service directly and without barriers. This includes offering the communication channels they prefer.

There are quite a few customers who still like to call to speak to someone. Others prefer the relative anonymity of a live chat or email, and still others just want to send a tweet.

The biggest difficulty in this context is providing a seamless customer experience across multiple channels. To ensure this, you should be aware of the tonality with which you want to communicate and how you want to be perceived across media - and implement this consistently.

Approach customers proactively

Most online retailers focus on reactive support: they take action when customers encounter problems. For example, they only confirm a delivery delay when customers ask about it. However, an appreciative e-commerce customer service also - and especially - addresses such unpleasant incidents.

If you recognize that delays or the like are looming, prepare your customers for them. This way, you can solve problems before they even arise.

Keep response times as short as possible

E-commerce is all about speed and convenience for shoppers. This also applies to prompt responses from the online store's customer service team. Being able to reach the service team via various channels is great, but it's not enough. The team must also quickly signal that it has acknowledged an inquiry.

If the problem cannot be solved in the course of the first response, you should ideally hold out the prospect of when enquirers can expect concrete help.

Measure, optimize, repeat

No approach to customer service is set in stone. Companies must take a progressive approach to optimizing existing structures and processes and improve them on the basis of continuously collected data. This means, among other things: Evaluating inquiry volumes, analyzing peak times and observing trending topics.

Do it in-house or commission an external service company?

All of this sounds challenging, and it is. So the idea of getting help from an external service provider for your e-commerce customer service is an obvious one. The advantages are obvious: you don't have to take care of an enormously complex range of tasks yourself, so you don't have to hire additional staff and can concentrate on what's most important: increasing sales.

However, the hope that you can outsource customer service for your online store and deliver top performance at the same time often proves to be deceptive. Because customer service should be second nature to you, it is a contradiction in terms to outsource this task.

With an external service provider, you lose control of the customer experience. The employees of an e-commerce customer service provider are never driven by the motivation with which you yourself pursue your goals. Anyone who has ever had experience with a telephone service knows what is meant.

You also deprive yourself of the opportunity to suggest unorthodox solutions. However, it is precisely this certain extra in service that makes customers remember you and can turn them into brand ambassadors.

5 no-gos in e-commerce customer service

The importance of excellent customer service cannot be emphasized enough. The vast majority of customers are even prepared to pay a little more for a better shopping experience.

Conversely, it is rigorously penalized if prospective customers have the feeling that a store is not making too much effort for them - the next store is only one SERP entry away.

These are some of the biggest customer service blunders that you should avoid at all costs:

Customers do not reach you

The biggest and most fundamental mistake in e-commerce customer support is not being available at all. Customers should be able to contact you at any time with problems, concerns or feedback.

You take too long to answer

It's good to offer several contact options. But if it takes days to get back to you, that's worse than not being available at all.

Dealing with customer requests should be part of your daily routine. If it's not possible to solve a problem immediately, let customers know that you're on it and get back to them as soon as possible. If customers are ignored, they will never come back - and will tell others about their experiences so that potential new customers don't find you in the first place.

Returns are too complicated

While it's understandable that you want to avoid returns, it's not a good idea to hide the return policy somewhere on the website or offer restrictive terms for returns. A generous, easy-to-find and easy-to-understand return and refund policy is crucial to encourage customers to buy.

The more transparently you communicate the returns process, the more you signal to prospective customers that they can't do anything "wrong" when they order from you.

You want to prove customers wrong

E-commerce customer service is all about satisfying customers - even if the fault lies with them or the problem is beyond your control.

Return deadline exceeded by one day? It can be worthwhile not to insist on your rights in such a case. A little flexibility on your part gives customers a shopping experience that they associate with something unusual and positive.

Ignore social media

There is no way around social media when it comes to customer contact. More and more customers are choosing Facebook, Twitter or Instagramto get in touch with companies. So keep an eye on your social media channels to respond to questions or problems. Under no circumstances should you publicly discuss or even dispute customer statements.

Conclusion: Good e-commerce customer service is not enough - you have to excel

The days when stores could treat their customers like supplicants are long gone. Today, customer focus can no longer just be lip service, but must actually be practiced. This is especially true for e-commerce, where it is so easy to click away.

To score points with customer service for your online store, it is crucial to keep track of inquiries, respond quickly and always remain friendly and flexible.

Yes, it costs time, energy and money. But you can consider every person who walks out of your online store happy and satisfied as a potential mouthpiece for your cause. And good word of mouth is still priceless.

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