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While ecommerce has come a long way in recent years, it still has a long way to go.
One of the main problems with online shopping is that a certain amount of guesswork is always required before making a purchase.
Customers are never quite sure about the quality of an item, since they can’t touch it like they would when shopping in person.
Instead, they are forced to rely on small photos and glib product descriptions.
Web store owners, take note! In order to compete with the in-store experience, it’s time to up your game a notch and start competing with brick and mortar stores in a real way.
Since customers can’t actually touch and see the items that you are selling, and they can’t speak to a real person to get answers that they need, you should make sure that you compensate for it by offering features that help customers to find the information that they need, when they need it.
I recently spoke to the CEO and co-founder of ROBIN, Patrick Speijers. He revealed that in order to start competing with the in-person shopping experience, there are five words that you should exclude from your customer service vocabulary.
And for more on this topic, read Econsultancy's article on emerging trends within social customer service.
The five words to avoid
Ecommerce stores that tell customers to 'please hold for an agent,' are not doing themselves any favors.
“No one wants to be handed over to an 'agent',” explained Speijers. “This word is not conducive to customer satisfaction. You can’t have a real conversation with an agent.”
To improve your customer service, get rid of any reference to ‘agents’, and replace them with the real names and faces of the team members managing support requests.
Speijers also revealed that ticketing systems should never be a part of your online customer service strategy.
“Tickets do not help to build customer satisfaction; instead they make the customer feel like a number in the system,” Speijers said. “This word is not conversation-centric, it’s process-centric.” Yuck.
People don’t want to feel like a cog in a wheel, they want to feel like someone is taking their questions seriously, and working towards solving their problems quickly -making their life easier.
Focus on developing systems and processes that eliminate the concept of tickets altogether and start answering customer questions as soon as they come up.
According to Lauren Freedman, President of the E-Tailing Group, “Stellar service should be non-negotiable and merchants shouldn't hide behind self-service tools and technology when it comes to knowing their products and taking care of their customers.”
Self-service should never be used as an excuse for poor customer service. Self-service portals often increase the amount of effort required to make a transaction, which in turn decreases customer loyalty.
Replace self service with customer service, and start initiating real conversations with your customers. This allows you to answer customer questions quickly and efficiently, helping to prevent customers from clicking away.
Need more convincing? Consider this: by communicating directly with your customers on support issues, you’ll be able to use their valuable input to improve your webstore’s usability. (Add a stock indicator, adjust confusing product descriptions, etc.)
When one of your customers contacts you with a question about a gizmo in your shop, or with an issue they are having with one of your products, it’s important to show them that you take their concerns and questions seriously – and answer their questions promptly.
Make sure you have resources dedicated to managing and responding to these inquiries, but avoid referring to your support team as a ‘helpdesk’.
Instead of using the word helpdesk, refer to your customer support as a ‘support team'.
“Customers don’t like to be told that they need help. Instead they just want fast and simple answers to their questions,” Speijers explained.
Have help readily available, with online chat or an instant email messaging system which will allow you to make sure you have the resources on hand to handle customer queries in a timely manner.
Brace yourselves. Your customers don’t want to be delighted.
Remember that HBR study? The research showed two critical findings. First, researchers found that delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty - reducing their effort and solving their problems does.
Second, the study showed that acting deliberately on this insight can help companies to improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and even decrease customer churn.
You’ve probably heard of Zappos.com, an online retailer that has built up its business based on a happiness strategy. The strategic goal was to 'wow' customers with exceptional customer service, and so the company built its systems and engineered its processes to achieve that aim.
Zappos has the basics down and can afford to focus on delight as a part of its customer service strategy.
But if you’re like most web stores, you don’t have 'delight' as part of your strategic intent; your intent is to sell that great product of yours!
Try to focus your customer service efforts on delivering on basic promises and meeting expectations, not trying to knock customers’ socks off by delighting them.
You can start delighting customers once you deliver on all your promises.
Watch Your Language
Much of the problem with poor online customer service stems from ineffective communication. As an ecommerce store, the language you use to address your customers online is directly related to the quality of the customer service that you provide.
While there is no denying there is a huge difference between shop floor customer service and online customer service, the quality of the service that you provide to your online customers should be just as high as in-person customer service.
In fact, according to a BenchmarkPortal study, people expect the same, if not better, level of service from online storefronts and service channels as they do from a visit to a retail store.
This means that for online retailers, the pressure’s on. For some businesses these interactions and the language you use affect more than just one sale, but potentially sales in major bulk.
Founder of SnDKids, a school uniform online retailer, A. Heaney stated; "Customer interactions are one of the most essential aspects of my business. Keeping one customer happy might mean a whole contract for uniforms to support a school district. Which to any online business retailer, is nothing to ignore."
Choose Your Words Wisely
Take the time to identify words that should never be used in your customer service strategy, and find words that should be used instead.
By identifying the words that are closest to your brand, and building your customer service process around them, you can help to boost customer satisfaction, and successfully grow your online customer base.
Customer experience is one of the themes at Econsultancy's Festival of Marketing event in November. The two day event will focus on the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays and FT.com.