7 Best Practices for Effective Ecommerce Customer Service
Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet

Digital natives consider technology an integral part of their lives. When they want to solve a problem, get an answer, or purchase something, they turn to their devices to get instant gratification.

As a result, online shopping is growing at breakneck speed. In 2019, there were 263 million digital buyers in the United States. This figure is projected to grow to 282.7 million online buyers by 2024.

That said, there’s no longer a product or category that doesn’t belong online, and online marketplaces are witnessing record-breaking numbers. For example, every month, over 206 million people around the world visit Amazon.

All these numbers illustrate how the battle for consumer attention has moved online. The question is, what can businesses do to be more competitive?

The short answer is ecommerce customer service.

What is ecommerce customer service?

Ecommerce customer service is how online businesses provide assistance to customers with everything from making online purchase decisions to resolving issues — all while creating a seamless customer experience across channels and platforms.

In this digital-first world, ecommerce customer service is not simply nice to have, but rather a prerequisite for success. Data from Microsoft shows that for 95% of consumers, customer service is important for brand loyalty.

However, it’s not enough to say that you have customer service. Bad customer service is worse than none at all. There is a significant discrepancy in the perceptions of companies and buyers when it comes to the quality of service, as 80% of businesses believe they provide excellent customer service, but only 8% of customers agree.

Today’s customers have sky-high expectations. Even though fewer customers may be experiencing problems, more customers are inclined to complain about customer service problems than ever before.

The good news is that Millennials are ready to pay 21% more to do business with companies who excel at customer service.

7 ecommerce customer service best practices

Companies must adapt to the changing buyer landscape. Being at the forefront of a business, the customer service team plays a key role in building relationships and trust with customers. That’s why creating stellar customer service can be a game changer for your business.

Here are seven ways you can step up your ecommerce customer service game.

1. Get organized

One of the essential aspects of a successful customer service department is organization.

You might have an efficient process and a highly motivated team, but without organization, things will likely fall apart. Keeping track of customer conversations and equipping your team with tools that help them collaborate keeps everyone on the same page (so nothing slips through the cracks).

Using a shared inbox, saved replies for repeated questions, and collision detection will empower your customer service team to solve customers’ requests in an organized, efficient manner.

2. Meet customers on their terms

In ecommerce, one size fits none. Customers expect a personalized approach that makes them feel special. Businesses today have to interact with their consumers to get to know them better and form meaningful, ongoing relationships.

Embracing “Me-commerce” means meeting a customer’s ever-changing and increasingly demanding expectations and habits. While there are customers who still want to call to talk to a customer service representative, others are interested in live chat or email, while some simply want to send you a tweet.

According to Forrester, 31% of customers report reaching out to a company via Twitter, 33% have contacted a company using Facebook, and 45% have used online chat.

Juggling devices to complete tasks has become our reality. Data from Microsoft shows that 66% of consumers have used at least three different communication channels to contact customer service. Therefore it’s no surprise that more than half of companies report their most critical customer experience issue is “providing a seamless experience across multiple channels.”

That said, you need to serve customers via their preferred communication channel. Setting a cohesive multi-channel customer service strategy is crucial if you want to meet and exceed customers’ expectations.

Bringing social into your inbox

Staying on top of social media support used to be a challenge. It meant manually logging into multiple accounts or using marketing tools not set up for customer support.

These days, supporting customers through social is much more accessible.

Features like Help Scout's Facebook Messenger integration make it easy to manage all of your customer communications from a single platform.

Bringing social channels into your help desk or shared inbox creates visibility for your team, saves time, and helps you meet customers where they are.

3. Enable self-service

One of the most underrated tactics of good ecommerce customer service is self-service. Over 60% of U.S. consumers prefer automated self-service, such as through a website or mobile app, for simple customer service tasks.

What’s more, 77% of consumers have used a self-service support portal. According to Forrester, among all self-service channels, customers prefer knowledge bases the most. With a knowledge base, you can create and publish answers for customers and reduce your customer support volume by at least 20%.

Customers unconsciously look for the line of least resistance, so if something is too complicated, they will likely quit.

Antonio King, the director of experience at Shinesty, has built this principle into every piece of the Shinesty customer service strategy. Through measuring customer effort alongside customer lifetime value, King has been able to showcase the impact of great customer service on their bottom line.

“We’ve focused on customer effort rather than customer satisfaction, as a low effort experience is a much bigger indication of customer loyalty,” King said. “Being able to associate customer retention directly with customer support has been an eye-opening move for everyone in our organization to the extent of identifying ways, across the org, to continue to minimize the customer’s effort.”

Using a live chat tool like Help Scout's Beacon, which is designed to surface instant answers, can help companies keep up with demand during high-volume stretches or when customers look for quick answers. When you’re preparing for busy sales seasons, anything that helps customers find their own answers will improve your sales.

4. Stand out from the crowd using personalization

Unlike situations when customers just want quick answers to basic questions, there are times when they are looking for a personalized approach and expert advice.

Rachel Thaw, customer experience and logistics manager at Andie Swim, knows that ecommerce customer service is more than just tracking packages and processing refunds. To provide the best experience, agents need to offer guidance to help customers make the right purchases for them.

“Oftentimes our customers look to us to be experts when it comes to swimwear, fit, and all things Andie. And we are! At Andie Swim, I can tell women who love playing volleyball in swimwear what style works best for me when I’m running on the beach,” Thaw said. “We’re all more alike than not in most cases, and putting that front and center always leads to a memorable (i.e., reputation-building) customer service experience.”

According to Accenture, 33% of customers who abandoned a business relationship did so because personalization was lacking. Consumers in general expect a personalized approach, and a report by Segment found that 71% of respondents are frustrated by impersonal experiences.

Introducing a personalized, knowledgeable service is what sets leaders apart from other online businesses.

5. Harness the power of customer reviews

Today’s customers are more empowered than ever to make informed decisions. They want to be heard, and they want to hear other customers’ opinions about products and services. Besides the fact that reviews are among major purchase decision factors, they’re also a great source of ideas for customer experience improvement.

Brands are viewed more favorably by 77% of consumers if they proactively invite and accept customer feedback. What’s more, 52% of people around the globe believe that companies need to take action on feedback provided by their customers.

Laura Marciano, Head of Customer Experience at The DB Method, says that implementing Yotpo for customer reviews had the biggest impact on their growth. Not only are customer reviews powerful social proof, but they also provide the customer service team with more insight into the customer journey.

Marciano explains that The DB Method’s negative reviews are a huge source of learning:

“Implementing Yotpo has influenced many of our shipping flows and customer experiences. For example, one of our customers was unhappy with the notifications during the order process (i.e., they didn’t realize their package was going to be delivered, didn’t have tracking, etc). Because of this feedback, we changed our email provider, which totally improved the overall experience for customers who are waiting on their shipment.”

6. Improve your response time

Ecommerce is all about speed and convenience. Customers who choose to shop online are expecting a fast reaction and prompt answers. According to Statista, 12% of Americans rate their number one frustration with customer service as “lack of speed.”

Allowing customers to reach your customer service team using different channels is not enough. The key to a well-performing team is the balance between speed and convenience.

When you’re able to serve customers with a consistent level of quality in a short period of time across different channels, you’re on the path to providing a fully functional, multichannel customer service strategy.

7. Measure, optimize, repeat

No customer service approach is set in stone. Companies have to be proactive in solving customers’ problems while constantly improving processes based on data.

Evaluating your team’s volume by channel, tracking busiest hours, and following trending topics among your customers are just some of the things that you can refine by measuring and optimizing results.

Having a process in place to track performance will serve as a foundation for making future decisions, which is the first step toward successful customer service.

Customer service is the backbone of your ecommerce business

As customers’ expectations for the ideal online shopping experience increase, customer service becomes essential to thrive in a competitive ecommerce landscape.

Reinventing the online buying journey and incorporating some of these highly efficient customer service best practices will pay dividends across multiple parameters. It’ll help you retain customers and grow their lifetime value while also acquiring new customers, which is crucial in any industry.

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