Now more than ever, consumers have high expectations. Regardless of demographic, customers demand fast, reliable, impressive service. And, in some ways, the e-commerce world is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to customer service. Brick-and-mortar stores benefit from the living, in-person, human component that simply can’t be recreated in an online setting (though one can come close with video or live chat).
Despite this, e-commerce stores still have to live up to high customer expectations in order to remain competitive. Without excellent customer service, it will be impossible for your online business to thrive. Customer service is the heart that keeps blood pumping through your business.
Prepare for sacrifice
Like any healthy relationship, effective customer service requires a little give and take. Always be prepared to be lenient with customers and grant as many wishes and requests as possible. The cost of keeping your customer happy should be built into your budget with allowances for discounts, replacement items, coupons, returns and refunds.
Customer service representatives should know exactly what they can give away, how much and in what circumstances. Whenever possible, allow customer service reps the authority to dole out benefits. The process of these reps obtaining permission creates hang-ups in the system, delays customer care and generally makes things less pleasant and more complicated.
Understand first, solve second
Customer service is a delicate balancing act. In order to handle a customer service request, it’s important to have as much information as possible to develop an appropriate solution. But you also don’t want to overwhelm a frustrated customer with inquiries, or take days to offer a fix for the customer.
It’s important to gather as much information as you can prior to even entering into a customer engagement. This is where detailed data becomes hugely valuable. You should be able to enter an order number and see all of the items that customer has purchased, when those items were delivered, and how much they paid for those items. Then, when you enter into the conversation with this data, it will not only reduce the barrage of questions you have to ask the customer, but it will also demonstrate commitment and effort that the customer will appreciate when it comes to solving their problem.
Consistent policies and training
Your customer service representatives need to have a tool box and understand how to use it. Each representative (even if you’re just a team of one or two!) needs extensive training on how to approach both potential and existing customers.
There should be clear and obvious steps for handling an unhappy customer. While some of customer service will naturally be circumstantial, you should at least have a framework in order to remain consistent. If one person calls about a late shipment and gets a full refund, but another person calls with the same problem and that refund isn’t offered, you have a major inconsistency. That won’t reflect well for your business if those customers choose to get vocal on reviews or social media.
Keep it private
Some of your customer service will have to happen publicly. You will need to respond to questions and feedback on reviews and social media. These public interactions can actually be very valuable, offering an opportunity for you to show your customer appreciation and willingness to fix errors. That said, it’s important to keep customer service conversations private whenever possible.
Address all contact on social media as quickly as possible and direct the customer to a private conversation, such as an email address or direct messenger.
Always follow up
Always follow up. Whether you’ve received a complaint, a sale, or an inquiry, every type of contact requires a follow up. While many customers won’t respond to a follow-up contact (especially if their problem has been solved or they’ve been satisfied with service), some will. The feedback they provide for you at that point will almost always be invaluable.
You can only improve your customer service methods if you know what’s working and what isn’t. By following up, you create an opportunity to get feedback from customers that can help you optimize customer service. And better customer service means happier customers, which means more sales and word-of-mouth marketing.
Great customer service requires constant improvement
Think of your customer service interactions as opportunities for growth. With each engagement, you gain invaluable knowledge about your business, your customer base, and how you can improve.
Find a clear and thorough way to gather and aggregate the data you glean from your customers. It will serve you well when it comes to making improvements to your business, expanding into new niches, and sustaining healthy business growth.
Originally published Sept. 27, 2019.