At your service? How putting Customer Service at the heart of your eCommerce operation will make you larger profits

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photo-1450151156983-86161cfa704dCustomer Service = Customer Traction = Customer Retention = Sales = Money = Profits

Therefore Customer Service = Profits

You would think then that designing an effective Customer Service program would be at the forefront of eCommerce website owners minds when they are overseeing the construction of a new website for their online business. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. In our experience, so many e-commerce website holders forget about this aspect of their business and it ends up being an afterthought. They think they’re just going to build a website, they’re going to turn it on and the money will magically come flowing through the internet, and all they have to do is put their product in the box and ship it off.

Well, that is not how it works, because in today’s highly competitive marketplace there is no room for “average” or “good”, you have to be “GREAT” and to be GREAT you have to have a high level of customer service from the outset!

Great Customer Service provides 3 keys to Customer Traction:

a) It will improve sales
b) It will generate customer loyalty
c) It will generate referrals

If you don’t have Customer Traction then it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is you’re never going to build compound traffic. You are always going to be getting new customers and losing them, burning through them and eventually you will burn through your marketing….and then, more than likely you are DONE! We can all recognise that it’s almost impossible to pull back a bad customer service experience. Step away from your own business and think about a bad experience you may had with say a utility company eg a phone provider. That one bad customer service experience can sour you for life, and if at all possible you will transfer your business to a different company. And whilst your account may only be a drop in the ocean for the utility company and they won’t be too concerned at losing you as a customer, if a similar scenario happens in your eCommerce business and you lose a customer due to poor customer service then that could have a much more detrimental effect, and with the power of social media and word-of-mouth today it could snowball quite quickly to really hurt you.

Customer service is all about customer relationships, it’s about having relationships with your customers that are really exemplary and in the same way you look for perfection in your marketing you should be looking for perfection in your customer service.

As an eCommerce business owner you have to identify clearly the various points of contact your business has with your customers, and that includes addressing such elements as accurate product description, secure payments system, hassle free shipping, customer support etc, all of the things that create a smooth customer experience.

When we think of customer service most people automatically think of a human interaction, about having properly trained staff to deal with queries and faults etc, but in an eCommerce scenario it is much much bigger than that. We are talking about how you build your website and it absolutely has to be built with the customer in mind. Customer service runs through all strands of the business, it’s everywhere you interface with the customer, including on your side when there isn’t a human there to do so.

If you are not doing so already, You should start thinking of customer service in terms of making sales. It’s not just about dealing with clients, it’s about ensuring that when you build your e-commerce website that there are as few obstacles in place for your customers as possible for them to fail in their quest to purchase your product. Ideally you want to never have a customer complaint, but to do that you actually have to provision some of your time and effort into ensuring that’s what’s happening on your website isn’t just for your convenience, it’s for your customers.

Examples of some obstacles to a great customer service experience:

a) Shipping & Refunding
b) Warehouse Logistical Presentation
c) Auto-generated Emails

One that we come across quite regularly is that of Product Shipping, whereby an e-commerce website owner is not really too bothered to work out proper rates, relying on a flat fee per item. So a customer that comes and purchases three or four products can end up being charged three times as much shipping as they should. Instead of spending a day working out the proper rates they just say let’s just charge at tenner for everything the customer buys. As a result their best customers are the most penalised, and that’s bad customer service.

The thing to realise is that the right users are looking for value messaging (crafted messaging which demonstrates the value of your particular product from the customer’s perspective) on your website, and value messaging will pull them through your sales funnel, and then they will buy more as a consequence. So to ensure you have customer retention, i.e. people coming back again and again, you must have exemplary shipping standards and no quibbles refunding. In the case of a customer wishing to return a product your first response to them should be we’re going to replace this immediately and see where we fell down, even if you don’t think it’s your fault.

Another obstacle that we come across is where products are organised in a warehouse logistical setup, rather than set up for customer browsing. Website owners who have grouped products together because that’s how their inventory is done instead of actually grouping them together with the customer in mind. This leads to frustration because buyers can’t quickly find the things that they want.

Another obstacle to consider is auto-generated emails, such as “we got your inquiry and will be back to you shortly”, then you don’t hear anything for two days. Shortly should mean quickly. As a customer I want that follow-up email within 10 minutes, even if it is just an acknowledgment that the website is dealing with my enquiry.

Ideally you have a good automation system in place, but oftentimes that’s not achievable for a lot of people. But as a customer if I get that automated email and it has the hours of business in it then that’s okay. For example if I am shopping online and I know I’m not going to hear anything until 9 o’clock tomorrow morning EST then that’s okay. One last thought with regards to automated emails, don’t say you’ll do something and then you don’t do it. That’s a sure fire way to lose a customer!

In general it’s about staying on top of your sales funnel and ensuring a customer has a smooth experience when passing through it. A customer gains confidence as they move through a sales funnel, with product search, product selection, adding to cart, and finally check out. You want to fulfil your browsers expectations so that they can find the product they want fast, they want it accurately described, they want anything you’re saying about the delivery of the product to them to be backed up in actual practice.

Far too many business owners abdicate the responsibility of customer service to the wrong people, to their web developer, or to a marketer which is even worse. We know that a large percentage of start-ups fail through poor marketing. If you completely abdicate that responsibility to somebody else, someone that does not have a key involvement in the business then it’s a recipe for disaster. You have to have a symbiotic relationship with your advisers, and you have to have someone who will lead you through that process responsibly, and with your customers in mind.

We’ve had clients in the past who wouldn’t even proof read their websites, they didn’t want to know or check what it was we were doing. And it’s not because it was too daunting for them or they were lazy. People who are self-employed running their own businesses tend to operate at the limits of what is feasible in terms of time and management. A lot of people, particularly makers and manufacturers have a whole different set of imperatives that are all based around deadlines to production. Anything that is service based or administrative, they are used to handing off to accountants and logistics people so that they just deal with production. But the thing is if that someone is the originator of a product, or specifically people making their own stuff and not someone else’s product, then they are key to the marketing of the product, but most times they often don’t realise that.

Generally a large proportion of product makers start off their careers in a wholesaler environment before they went out on their own. And people moving from a b2b to a b2c situation, a lot of them have no idea about customer service. Some people even if they own their own shop have no idea of the huge pain it can be to talk to Joe Public, and if they are moving from a b2b to a b2c situation they can be in for a big shock.

True customer service is knowing your market, it’s knowing how you can better fulfil your potential customers expectations, and it’s knowing about how to give good value for money. You have to be learning from your interactions with technology, applying what you learn from really successful eCommerce operations to your own customers, otherwise people are going to think what you are doing is amateurish.

One final thing to consider is that you must be able to measure it, so you must have reporting in place. You must be regularly polling at least once a year, polling your customers and asking them about their customer experience on your website.

There’s no good reason why you can’t aim for a service level that is commensurate with the leaders of your sector, even as a small business. You should be aiming to achieve a similar customer experience, after all that is a small and controllable interaction – it’s your website and you do have control over it. There’s no point in saying “my competition have got hundreds of people in a call centre and they’ve got hundreds of clients and hundreds of customers, so therefore I can’t compete against that”, it’s still all about controllable interaction and you should be ambitious with that. Aim for what you would want done as a customer, you know, do onto others as you would like done unto yourself. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. It is a hard thing to do but that’s why you should poll regularly. You need to know where you can improve things and make for a better customer service experience.

Because at the end of the day….customer service = profits.

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