E-commerce customer service can mean the difference between success and failure for online stores. Consider these statistics:
- “89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer service experience. “(Salesforce Research).
- “65% of customers said they have switched to a different brand because of a poor experience. “(Khoros)
When you add to the equation that “investing in new customers is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones” (Invesp), it becomes easy to see the value of having a customer service strategy centered on providing a positive shopping experience for your customers. In this article, I will discuss five e-commerce customer service strategies we use at alphx.com to ensure our customers are satisfied and keep them coming back for more.
1. Speed Matters
- 90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as essential when they have a customer service question. 60% of customers define “immediate” as 10 minutes or less. (HubSpot Research)
Responding quickly to questions and requests is critical. It helps to build credibility with your customers. So make it a priority, set a goal for a response time you know you can achieve, and stick to it.
I always start my day by checking our hey@alphx inbox. OK, I check sales first and then the inbox. In any event, it’s a priority that I have built into my daily routine. I usually check in again at midday and then in the late afternoon. Our goal is to respond to all inquiries by the close of business on the day we receive them, on the following day when messages come in overnight, or by the close of business on Monday when received over the weekend.
For us to achieve a response time of ten minutes or less would require us to install an app with pre-selected responses to anticipated questions. We looked at many of them and decided that the gain in speed comes at the expense of personalization. For Alphx, this isn’t a trade we’re willing to make. We continue to look at ways technology can improve our customer experience.
If you miss a request, don’t panic. It happens to the best of us. Some days my inbox is flooded with third-party sales pitches masquerading as customer emails, resulting in me overlooking a legitimate question in the batch. I answer as soon as I discover the missed email, apologize for my delayed response, and move forward. It has been my experience that customers appreciate honesty.
2. Make it Personal
We live in an era of isolation, so making all customer interactions as personal as possible is essential. Personalizing your interactions is a crucial component of providing excellent customer service. In addition, it is a low-cost way to build trust, increase customer retention, and grow your business.
Let’s move from abstract concepts to a real example: A customer named John recently reached out for help. The tracking number indicates that his package was delivered, although he has yet to receive it. Sound familiar? Here is my response:
Hi John, Thanks so much for reaching out to ALPHX. I am so sorry that you did not receive your package. But don’t worry; I will get to the bottom of this for you. Let me investigate, and I will be back in touch with a resolution by the end of the day. Best, Tom.
I will come back to this email in the next section, but for now, I think it’s important to point out a few things:
- I immediately respond even though I need time to gather more information.
- I address John by name and sign the email with my name, establishing a relationship with the customer and letting him know I am committed to helping him resolve the issue. Hi, John is more personal than “Hi there.”
- I thank him for taking the time to reach out, and I apologize for the situation. Apologizing validates his issue. Even if ALPHX is not to blame, the fact that John doesn’t have his order is still a real issue. The last thing a customer wants to hear is that the company may not believe him.
- I tell him Not to worry so he has peace of mind. Only do this if you are sure you will resolve his problem. If you can’t make it right, you will have doubly damaged his trust in your brand.
- I let him know when he would hear back from me. I suggest avoiding vague statements like, I will get back to you as soon as possible. Be concrete, and then make sure to follow through.
3. Make it Right
90% of consumers worldwide consider issue resolution as their most crucial customer service concern. (KPMG)
After investigating the matter further, I reached a dead end. The Post Office says the package was delivered, and John says he has yet to receive it. It doesn’t matter whether the package was left at the wrong address, picked up by a neighbor, or a porch pirate with an underwear fetish; the fact remains that John does not have his order.
If you insured the package, file a claim, but don’t make the customer wait for the settlement before making it right with him.
At this point, there are two possible responses I can send to John:
Option 1: Hi John, As promised, I looked into the situation, and according to the US Post Office, your package was delivered, so there is nothing more I can do. Check with your neighbors to see if they received the package by mistake. Good luck, Tom.
Option 2: Hi John, Unfortunately, I cannot locate your package, so I sent a replacement order to you at no charge and have attached both the order number and tracking information to this email for your reference. I am so sorry that this happened, and by way of apology, please enjoy the code “SorryJohn,” redeemable for $X off of your next purchase at ALPHX.com. If the original order does eventually find its way to you, please let us know, and I will send you a return label to mail it back. Thanks again for your business, Tom.
Here is where I apply the Golden Rule. How would I like to be treated if I were in John’s shoes? While option 1 seems logical and makes short-term business sense, it will not make John particularly happy. Moreover, this resolution will likely drive John directly to a competitor for future purchases. Option 2 is, of course, the better choice. I assume that if your B to C business involves high-value items, you are using a different class of shipping service that requires a signature when delivered.
Even though it costs more, if I am re-shipping an order to a customer who did not receive the initial one, I pay the upcharge to request a signature as proof of delivery.
Unfortunately, fraud happens, so I suggest noting the transaction.
Consider adding a bounce-back offer as part of the resolution for the customer’s inconvenience. It shows you care and helps ensure that the customer will purchase from you again soon.
Creating a positive customer service experience not only helps to ensure the customer returns, but he is likely to tell others of his positive experience or write a glowing review, creating opportunities to attract additional customers to your site.
72% of customers will share their good experiences with others. (Salesforce)
4. Be Proactive
Being proactive can go a long way in building trust and brand loyalty with your consumers. For example, I recently noticed two identical orders from the same person come through our system. I reached out to the customer to ask if this was intentional. It wasn’t, and I was able to cancel the duplicate before it shipped. The customer was grateful and emailed me the following:
“Thank you so much, Tom! You saved me a lot of troubles. You are the best!”
Being proactive saved us from the expense of a return and established goodwill with the customer. Guess who has placed additional orders since this incident?
Shipping delays create opportunities to initiate a positive customer service experience proactively. Apologizing for the delay and offering a bounce back for your customer’s inconvenience goes a long way in showing you care.
Messaging errors also provide opportunities to initiate a positive customer experience proactively. For example, we recently left a promotional call-out on our site for several hours after the event ended. Even though the end date had passed, the verbiage was still visible. As a result, we adjusted the prices on the orders that came through during this time period because we believed it was the right thing to do. The customers appreciated the gesture and will no doubt purchase again from us.
5. Play the Long Game
- Shipping $7
- Average Order Value: $100
- Cost of Goods $25
- Customer Lifetime Value $675
View each customer service experience as an opportunity to create long-term growth for your business. If you focus on the short-term economic metrics of an individual event, you may miss the more significant opportunity over the long term. Here’s what I mean, using our friend John’s situation as the example and the following assumptions:
Doing nothing for John would have saved me $32.00 ( the cost of goods on the order and the additional shipping fee). These savings are deceptive. The net effect of doing nothing will likely cost the business much more. We will probably lose John to a competitor and thus lose the lifetime value of ($675). Net loss ($643) This loss is understated when we consider the customer acquisition cost of replacing him. John’s experience will most likely affect other potential customers: the friends he tells about his horrible experience and the people who decide not to purchase from us after reading John’s less-than-stellar review of his experience.
While the reverse is also true, by replacing the order, John is happy; he writes a positive review and tells others about his experience, which results in new customers coming to the site.
Now multiply these outcomes across multiple customer service experiences over time. You can see why my initial statement that E-commerce customer service can mean the difference between success and failure for online stores is true. Enough negative experiences can decimate a business, while positive experiences will help your business grow exponentially.
13% of customers tell 15 or more people if they have a negative experience. (Esteban Kolsky)
36% of consumers will share their customer service experience, whether good or bad. More than one-third report posting on Facebook, followed closely by Instagram. (CFI Group)
87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020. (Bright Local)
E-commerce, success requires a customer service strategy that builds trust, draws in new customers, and keeps them coming back for more. Building an excellent customer service reputation will differentiate your business from competitors and increase repeat purchases. These five easy-to-follow e-commerce customer service strategies can create a positive customer experience and increase sales.
- Respond to all inquiries quickly
- Establish personal connections wherever possible in all of your customer interactions.
- Make it right. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask how you would like the situation resolved.
- Proactively addressing issues you see tells customers you have their backs.
- Play the long game. Making one existing customer happy establishes trust, builds brand loyalty, and increases top-line sales and bottom-line profits over the long haul.