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Five Key Ingredients for Effective Ecommerce Customer Service

December 6, 2017 in Ecommerce Tips

Guest post by: Simon Wright,

The customer is king in the ecommerce age and delivering great customer service is – along with great shipping and price – becoming one of the defining factors that sets you apart from your competitors. Give consumers what they want, and do it with style and great service, and they are more likely to come back for more.

But how do you make your customer service second to none? Well, we believe there are five key ingredients (well, there is a new sixth one – chatbots – but we’ll come to that) that are the key tools for making your customer service a winner.

So here they are…

1. Live chat

When people want to talk to your business they usually want to talk to a person and they want to do that right away – especially if there is a problem. The most effective way to soothe customer service brows and deal with people who have encountered some sort of hitch with your service, is to let them talk to you. In the good old days, this would involve having a call centre, hundreds of staff and a long wait to get through. Today, live chat can help handle the volume of enquiries you may have received in a timely and efficient way – often with far fewer staff. And customers love it.

Live chat, for those of you not familiar, is a pop up box that sits on your website and which, when clicked, connects the customer to a live agent. The interesting thing is that it is via text (not SMS, but typing, like Skype) using instant messaging. The shopper types in their question or complaint and the customer service agent can answer it.

What makes it really interesting is that it means that each agent can have many of these chats going on at once – so handling many customers in one go yet, with a personal touch.

Now at the start I mentioned a sixth, mysterious, customer service tool: the chatbot. Increasingly, live chat (and SMS and email to be fair) are being augmented by artificial intelligence. No, the robots aren’t taking our jobs, but they are making customer services easier. Chatbots can automatically handle some simple text-based inquiries and so are being used to front live chat and wheedle out – by answering – key questions such as “what time do you close?”, or “can I talk to someone about my bill?”. In this way they can handle some customer service issues without the need to interact with a human agent (though the customer is unaware that it is a machine!) or to root others.

In this way, live chat is, I believe, going to become the customer service tool of choice in the years ahead.


2.Transparent delivery process

While talking to consumers is a key way to interact with them and soothe them, delivery of ecommerce goods is rapidly also becoming a battle ground to win hearts and minds of shoppers. And so, transparent delivery processes are becoming a key part of customer service.

Firstly, having clear delivery options when they buy is a must to make the checkout process as simple as possible and as unlikely as possible to be abandoned. Similarly, free shipping – even if baked into the cost of the goods – is also vital. As is rapid delivery.

However, making what then happens transparent is really vital to good customer service.

Making sure that the customer is appraised of every step of the process may seem like overkill, but it really helps build confidence and trust. Seeing that the order is being processed, that it is out for collection by courier and is then out for delivery, all add to the sense of being looked after.

But it goes way beyond that. Allowing the user to know when the delivery is being made and allowing the user to control that part of the process – retiming the delivery, redirecting the delivery and more – are all now vital parts of offering great customer service. This ability to be part of the delivery of their goods is a boon to consumers and makes them feel in control.

And while today this is a ‘nice to have’ in a year or two’s time, this will be what consumers expect from delivery – so you better get on board and make that happen.

Here you need to decide whether to manage delivery processes yourself, or outsource to a dedicated ecommerce shipping and customer services provider.


3.SMS Notifications

Keeping delivery transparent needs SMS. In fact, it is largely where businesses use SMS: keeping customers appraised of the delivery of their goods. And it is a great tool for making this happen. Most people have a mobile and it is with them all the time. Most people – more than 90% – will read a text message no matter who it has come from, and so it has an almost guaranteed hit rate. But above all it is personal.

A person’s phone is a very personal device, and that screen is your personal conduit to that customer. When it comes to information about deliveries, not only is it ideal for getting the message there and seen, but it also adds that cache of being personal: of not only helping the customer, but caring enough about them to tell them in such a personal way.

For these reasons SMS is ideal in the delivery transparency role within customer services – but it shouldn’t end there. All these attributes also make SMS an ideal customer service tool across the board. Much like live chat – and with the rise in instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage being treated by many consumers as SMS – SMS and Instant Messaging offer a really personal way for dealing with all consumer interactions.

An irate customer is going to be much happier if they know they can text, IM, or Live Chat to someone when something goes wrong or if they have a question. Again, chatbots are going to help you here – answering the FAQs and filtering message to the right place as they come in, making SMS something that is personal, but can be done at scale.

But be careful. Customers are going to be really happy to hear from you when something they covet that was out of stock comes in to the store or warehouse. They may even be inclined to cheer when you send them a super-relevant offer just when they need it. But if you overdo it by contacting them via SMS at the wrong time or just appear annoying once, you may have lost them. If SMS is used carefully, this very personal way of messaging can yield great customer interaction and service; get it wrong and it will cost you.


4. Email 

In many ways email is the old boy on the customer service block, but while it is getting long in the tooth, it still has much to give. Back in the early 2000s, email as a marketing and customer contact tool was losing its way: it was seen as spam and annoying. The arrival of the smartphone – with attendant email facilities – changed all that. Email was still spam, but because it was on the phone it saw an uptick in read rates and generally got some more love.

And this mobilisation of email is why it is still a good customer service tool. In reality, with IM, SMS and live chat all knocking about, email isn’t going to be the main way customers contact retailers, but it does offer a great and more considered channel for retailers to contact customers.

Extending the idea of email marketing to customer service, email makes a great way to follow up on abandoned carts – “We noticed you like these shoes, well buy them now and we’ll give you £5 off” – as well as to follow up on purchases to assesses customer service, to offer advice on after care and to garner more data about the shopper without them knowing it.

Here email helps you create a rapport with the customer and keeps you front of mind when they are looking to buy. It marks a new world in customer service marketing that pulls together how you offer them the personal deals and interaction that they crave.


5. Social media

The final tool in our armoury of customer service tools is social media. As we have mentioned, some social media channels – Facebook in the main – feature chat/messenger facilities, and these are being used as customer contact channels and ways to service customers.

Social media sites are also increasingly featuring as shop-fronts for some organisations and so the social media page and the messaging here have to work together as the main (and sometimes only) channel of customer interaction and communication.

However, more typically, social has been used by consumers to either boast about what they have bought from you (#good), or, more often, to vent their utter frustration when things go wrong (#bad). Many consumers have used social to flame brands and retailers for poor service – especially using the channel to berate poor customer service after something else has gone wrong.

This is all well and good: it makes them feel better and as such shouldn’t be avoided. The trick is how you respond and how you use social media to handle your customers.

The best examples of social media customer service lie around taking a vitriolic compliant, dealing with it privately through direct messaging, then letting the now satisfied customer talk about it on social – and the brand then talking about the success on social.

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is the name of the social game. It is the most public way that people interact with brands and so you have to handle that knowing that all eyes are on you. Do it carefully, politely and well.

So there are five tools that can help you in the battle to win over customers with great customer service. The important thing to remember is that, whatever channel you use, you need to treat them politely and with respect and do your upmost to fix the problem or issue over when they are contacting you.

Aside from this, you must look at the channels available to you, as well as where you customers tend to ‘hang out’, and use those to talk to them. Technology can help, but it really does need the human touch to make it feel good.



How are you differentiating your customer experience this holiday season? We are giving free Distance Selling Health checks for all online sellers that are selling across European borders! Contact our team today or schedule a call to receive information to help you with the stress of VAT, so you can focus on your customers!

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