17 eCommerce Customer Service Best Practices That Set You Up For Success

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With all the available online shopping options, it can be tough for your business to stand out, especially against your bigger competitors. However, one way to instill loyalty in your customers and keep them coming back for more is by providing extraordinary eCommerce customer service, and a seamless shopping experience.

That may seem like a simple task, but it’s actually more challenging than you might expect. According to a recent article in Forbes, 80% of businesses believe that they’re providing excellent customer service – but only 8% of their customers do.  Eight percent. Let that sink in for a moment.

The penalty for that disconnect, between what businesses believe they’re providing to customers, versus the customers’ actual experience? A loss of $62 billion in business in the last year alone.

A decade ago, it was widely reported that United Airlines lost $180 million dollars over a single customer service mishap. Baggage handlers had broken then-relatively unknown musician Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar, refused to reimburse him after a year of repeated phone calls and customer service runaround, and ultimately the incident became the highly viral “United Breaks Guitars” song and video, which has now been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube.

The catchy song and relatable story was a PR nightmare for United, and perfectly encapsulated the frustrations that many customers feel when they expect excellent customer service, but receive the opposite.

That’s why customer service is one of the most critical aspects of your business.

What is eCommerce Customer Service?

eCommerce customer service includes everything from support and service inquiries, to frequently asked questions, to being responsive with a consistent brand voice across all your channels from your website to your social media.

Today’s online customers expect stellar customer service, and if they don’t receive the help they need you run the risk that your customers will abandon their carts, buy from your competitors, or worse, spread the word throughout their social networks about how poorly they feel you’ve treated them.

The solution for all of these problems is responsive customer service across the board.

How Is eCommerce Customer Service Different From Brick-and-Mortar?

eCommerce customer service presents its own unique challenges, and in many ways, is different from a customer’s brick-and-mortar experience. In a physical store, your customer has multiple opportunities to receive customer service:

  • The helpful employee on the sales floor can show your customer exactly where to find the product they’re looking for, explain the product’s features and benefits, provide options regarding comparable products, suggest additional products the customer may need to properly use, and enjoy their purchase, and answer any questions.
  • The customer service employee can assist the customer with making a return or exchange, arranging delivery for large items, obtaining an extended warranty, getting repairs, and resolving other issues.
  • The employee at check out assists your customer with making payments and provides a final check-in that the customer is happy with their purchase.
  • Finally, management is always on-site to handle any issues that escalate. 

In eCommerce, technology replaces or facilitates nearly all these various roles and functions. The helpful employee on the sales floor of the brick-and-mortar store is a knowledge base, chatbot, customer review, or live chat.

Returns and exchanges, too, are automated. Any issues that escalate can be managed by your customer support team. And while technology can provide the tools for great customer service, it does not ensure it. Online customers expect highly personalized and immediate customer service.

Here are 17 ways you can provide your customers with excellent customer service online:

1. Meet Customers on their Terms

When it comes to eCommerce customers expect an approach that has been customized just for them. It is important for your eCommerce business to interact with your customers in a way that allows you to form ongoing relationships with them, at every step in the purchase process. What this means is meeting your customers’ habits as well as their expectations.

Some customers still prefer the human touch and want to be able to talk to a real-life person if they choose, while others prefer to connect by email, live chat, or social media.

Often customers will reach out on multiple channels in order to facilitate a speedier or more desirable response. This is why it’s important to meet customers where they want to meet you, via their preferred channel or platform.

Connecting with your customers on their terms, rather than what is merely convenient for your company, is key to meeting your customers’ expectations, as well as providing them with great service.

2. Utilize an Omnichannel Strategy

Employing just a few customer service channels is not enough in the current marketplace.  Your customers expect you to be where they are, and that means having a website, in addition to a presence on their preferred social media channels. Brands that most effectively meet that customer expectation take what is referred to as an “omnichannel” approach, and the result is increased customer retention as well as revenue.

Quite simply, omnichannel means unifying all of your customer interactions, or touchpoints, across a variety of platforms, meaning your customer gets the same great service and brand experience whether they reach out to you on your website, chat, Twitter, or by phone. In fact, many of your customers will use multiple platforms throughout the process of making a purchase. The key to success with this strategy is in understanding your customers’ buying journey and ensuring they have a positive and consistent experience

3. Offer In-app Support for Mobile Users

More than 230 million US consumers own smartphones, and 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase using their phone in the last six months. You likely already know the importance of mobile-first web design for your eCommerce site, but if you’re only thinking about how your website looks on a mobile phone, you could be missing a big opportunity.

Offering in-app support for your customers is crucial in meeting them where they are, and an important part of an omnichannel strategy to provide excellent customer service.

4. Enable Customer Self-service

Customers want to resolve their purchase issues in the easiest and quickest way possible, which is why self-service is a key component of superior eCommerce customer service. Tools such as Live chat, FAQs and knowledge bases, customer reviews, and other easy-to-use options provide your customers with the answers they need without tying up your customer service agents. Tools designed to provide your customers with quick answers and easy solutions to their problems both improve your sales and provide high customer satisfaction.

One important key for success here is in keeping your self-service tools simple. If your self-service options are too complicated to use or too difficult to find, your customers will seek out an easier option. Make it a priority for your customers to be able to find their own answers easily and with little effort on their part. They’ll thank you for it with improved sales and lower customer service costs.

5. Make Your Knowledge Base Central to Your eCommerce Site

Your customers want to help themselves, and your self-service knowledge base empowers them to make informed purchases by providing tutorials and detailed answers to commonly asked questions.

To make your knowledge base a useful resource for your customers, ensure it is highly searchable, well organized, and includes clear sections for different stages of the buying journey so that they can access the information they are seeking quickly and easily. An effective knowledge base doesn’t just save your customers time, it saves your support team time as well.

You’ll want to make certain that your knowledge base is Google-friendly as well, to ensure the experience of finding answers to common questions is as frictionless as possible.


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6. Personalize Your Customer’s Experience

eCommerce companies have a tremendous opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competition by providing a personalized touch. Customers love an individualized approach that shows your company understands them and what they need.

eCommerce customer service isn’t just about tracking packages, providing answers to frequently asked questions, and processing refunds. It’s about truly understanding your customers and meeting their needs in real-time. The ability to understand your customers comes from building the relationship over time, through every purchase and interaction.

The Accenture Strategy 2017 Global Consumer Pulse Research study reported that 48% of customers expect specialized treatment for being a good customer, and 33% had abandoned a business relationship in the last year because of a lack of personalization. Companies that tailor their customers’ experiences based on their deep understanding of a purchaser’s wants and needs, preferences, and past interactions will be rewarded with increased revenue.

7. Utilize the Power of Customer Reviews

Your customers have never been more empowered to make informed decisions about their purchases. They want to hear other customers’ opinions about your products and services, as well as their buying experience. They want to see “unboxing” videos from other customers and read or hear about whether others are still satisfied with their purchases weeks and months later. What’s more, is that they want to be heard themselves via their own reviews.

Customer reviews are generally a major factor in a customer’s purchase decision process, and companies that proactively ask for customer feedback earn more trust from buyers.

In addition, honest customer reviews give your company the opportunity to solve problems in real-time by monitoring what your customers are saying about what they love about your products and services, as well the elements of your business and products that are frustrating to your clients or make them unhappy.

8. Improve Your Support Response Time

Customers love the speed, convenience, and ease of eCommerce.  As such, when customers shop online they have an expectation of fast answers to their questions, and prompt responses when they require customer service.

While a multichannel approach is key to meeting their customer service expectations, your customers also look for a consistent level of quality in your business’ responses across every channel, and they expect to have their issues solved quickly.

A lack of speed when resolving customer issues is frequently a source of frustration.  eCommerce companies have an opportunity to provide better customer service merely by improving their response time.

9. Measure and Optimize Customer Service Data

Your company’s approach to customer service should be ever-evolving. In order to continue meeting customers’ expectations, companies must be proactive when it comes to solving customer problems, seeking new ways to make them happy and satisfied, while constantly utilizing available data and technology to improve and refine both internal processes as well as the customer experience.

Use your data to track your company’s performance, measure the success of new initiatives, and continually work to optimize your customers’ experiences throughout every step of the buying process.

10. Automate to Give Your Customers the Personal Touch

While customers want and demand an individualized buying experience, automation is actually your most effective tool when it comes to giving your customers a personalized touch. The good news is that if you make the most of automation, you can provide your customer service team with the opportunity to provide a higher level of individualized support to even more of your customers.

Common questions such as ”Where is my order?” and “How do I get a refund?” should be automated so that your customer service representatives can focus on more challenging customer issues.

The truth is, your customers don’t actually want to deal with the inconvenience of calling you to find out when their order will be delivered.  Use automation whenever it is appropriate not only to solve customers’ most common questions and issues but also as an opportunity to check-in with customers to let them know they’ve been heard or that you are still working on their issue.

While creating your automated responses, you’ll want to make sure that even your automated customer service agents give your customers the human touch. This means utilizing responses that are intuitive, thoughtful, creative, and reflective of your brand’s voice.  Automating these common tasks is good for your customers and your bottom line.

11. Outsource eCommerce Customer Service at Your Own Risk

The quality of your customer service has a direct effect on the success of your online business.  Many eCommerce companies outsource customer support, but this can be a big risk when it comes to optimizing your customer’s experience.

Why? Customer service is generally the first, and sometimes the only, communication that your customer has with your company. As your company grows, these initial buyer interactions are crucial to building a strong and lasting customer relationship.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that until your eCommerce company reaches $10-$20 million in annual sales, your best strategy is to manage your own customer service team in-house, with the exception of keeping customer response time low and service high by outsourcing during holiday or unexpected sales surges, when you need to scale up quickly.

12. Deliver Immediate Support with Live Chat

Customers prefer live chat over other channels because of the immediacy it provides when done well.  Live chat allows the customer to get quick answers to their questions and resolution for any purchasing roadblocks, as well as resolving many of the issues they may experience after making a purchase.

As compared to other channels such as email or social media, live chat offers some key advantages.  First, live chat allows customers to connect in real-time at their convenience, helping them to resolve even complex issues at first contact, and improving customer satisfaction. Second, live chat allows you to increase the efficiency of your customer service representatives, allowing them to serve multiple customers simultaneously. Third, live chat is the preferred channel for most customers due to both its speed and convenience.

13. Act on Customer Feedback

Paying attention to and acting on your customer feedback is one of the most significant growth opportunities your eCommerce business has. Your customers’ feedback provides you with your greatest opportunity to improve your products and services, improve retention, optimize your communication throughout the buying journey, measure satisfaction, and deliver a better customer service experience across the board.

To harness the power of feedback, don’t just rely on what your customers say to you directly, but employ a listening campaign on social media to learn what they are saying about you as well. Customer feedback offers a clear view of what your customers think about you and your products, from opportunities for improvement to all the things they love about your brand.

Whenever your customers tell you about a problem, solve it for them. Sometimes your most loyal customers start as unhappy ones.

14. Maintain Consistent Customer Service

Whatever customer service experience your customer has at first contact is the same experience they expect to have going forward. If the customer’s first contact is with a friendly, helpful agent who resolves their problem, their perception is that your company offers great customer service. In contrast, an unhelpful first contact poisons the customer’s experience company-wide. Providing a consistently positive support experience is critical to increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction. Every interaction counts, across every channel.

15. Track the Entire Customer Journey

Make certain that you fully understand your customers’ experience, throughout their entire buying journey. You’ll want to ensure that you map out your buyer’s touchpoints in order to optimize satisfaction at each step. You’ll also want to identify any common customer pain points, focusing on improving any areas where your customer is likely to become confused or frustrated. Once you’re clear on areas that need improvement, you can remove any barriers to your customer’s joy and satisfaction.

16. Make Your Shipping and Return Policies Clear

The best way to solve a customer service problem is to avoid it in the first place. One simple way to do this is to make your shipping and return policies crystal clear.

At a minimum, you’ll want to include order processing times, your policy on shipping to alternative addresses including APO and PO boxes, your shipping options and their respective costs, delivery times for various shipping options, whether or not you ship on the weekend, as well as taxes or additional charges. A key tool for customer satisfaction is the ability for customers to track their own packages in real-time.

As far as returns, you’ll want to clearly communicate the step-by-step process and the customer’s options, as well as any deadlines or fees. Making these policies clear and easy to find keeps customers happy and often prevents the need for customer support.

17. Take Every Opportunity to Delight Customers, Because the Big Brands Don’t Bother

If your brand can provide an outstanding customer experience, you can maximize your opportunity to create a loyal customer that will buy from your company for years to come.

While the speed of your customer response is absolutely critical, your customers care about other factors as well, including the friendliness of the customer service representative that helps them to get an accurate and satisfactory resolution to their problem or issue.  In order to meet these expectations, hire empathetic problem-solvers on your customer service team, and empower them with the time, flexibility, and opportunity to delight your customers.

Final Thoughts

From assisting with your customer’s purchase decision-making process to the resolution of any problems or issues that may arise to their final purchase satisfaction, outstanding customer service means giving your online customer everything they need along their buying journey. Providing spectacular customer service creates happy, loyal customers and strong sales for years to come, and gives a competitive advantage to your company, helping you stand out and grow in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

While a desire to create a top-notch customer service experience is a great place to start, companies need to effectively take advantage of all of the tools, technology, and techniques available to ensure a great experience throughout the buying journey.  For more on how to “wow” your customers, read 6 Ways to Delight Your Customers With Each Purchase.

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