The Key to Ecommerce Differentiation: Customer Service and Satisfaction


The growth of online retail in emerging markets will fuel global ecommerce sales, which are projected to pass the two trillion dollar mark in 2017. Anything and everything is available on the Internet – remember the guy who tried to sell his soul on Ebay many years back? If you search for something, you will find it. And then you can buy it.

Many of us believe that online shopping is popular because it is cheaper and more convenient. Customers save on travel time and retailers save on storefront expenses. This, obviously, gets the prices of products down by a fair margin. But what most people fail to understand is the intangible, invisible costs that are added to an online shopping transaction.

Due to the physical distance between the organization behind the online store and the customer, risks and uncertainties are added at every step of the buying process. This is where customer support can help ease the shopper’s workload as well as anxiety. Research has shown 85% customers are willing to pay up to 25% more just to get a superior customer service experience.

So why should customers shop with you? And why should they keep coming back to you? The answer is – customer service and satisfaction.

For most customers, there are three points of interactions with the online retailer – at the point of sale, at the point of delivery, and if they face any problems with the product (after sales). This means that the company has three opportunities to make the customer happy, thereby gaining their trust, confidence and loyalty, and creating a lifelong relationship with them.

Customer support is critical at all three of these touchpoints. You mess up any one opportunity and you’ve, in all probability, lost the customer. Every year, companies lose a whopping $41 billion due to poor customer service. Further, in a survey of 400 Americans, SurveyMonkey discovered that customer service was the most important attribute in their online shopping experience according to 97% of respondents. This makes it abundantly clear that excellence in customer service will differentiate a successful ecommerce venture from its competitors.

See it the customer’s way

While building an online business, it is imperative to think from the customer’s perspective – what they want and expect. Right from the design of the website to its usability, from technology to nudging customers down a deliberate sales process, everything has to be made and achieved by putting the customer’s perspective first. Customers’ experience will affect their shopping journey, influence their behavior, anger or delight them. If you want to make loyal customers and brand advocates, you need to invest in customer experience.

Know your customer like the back of your hand

There’s this perfect, unforgettable example of how a Netflix Customer Support Rep handled an issue raised by a customer who had hundreds of hours of Star Trek viewing under his belt. While chatting with him, the rep assumed the role of “Captain of the good ship Netflix” and went on to chat with the customer who, too, responding in kind, became Lt. Norm from Engineering.

The customer, obviously, became a fiercely loyal brand ambassador for the company, the support rep became an overnight star on the internet and everybody went gaga over the customer support rendered by Netflix, which quietly added another couple of million viewers to its database from all the publicity it received. This is also a great example of “going off script.” People wish to hear from “people” and not a robotic voice following instructions from a template.

Empower your support teams

Salesforce’s State of Service report, which surveyed close to 2000 customer service leaders found that fully empowered service agents are the key to successful customer service. 65% of high performing service teams said that their agents are completely empowered to make customers happy. Here are some practices that truly empowered teams apply.

  • The Head of Support reports directly to the CEO – Unless the voice of customer support isn’t represented (and heard) in the boardroom, there cannot be true empowerment, of either customers or employees. When the Head of Support is in direct contact with top management, they get unfiltered input on customer sentiment, and any remedial strategies needed can be put in place without waste of time.
  • Support teams work closely with Product and Procurement teams – Support teams get invaluable feedback from customers about the company’s products. If they cannot direct these feeds back to the Products or Procurements Team, the issues and concerns raised by customers will never be resolved if there are inherent faults in the product.
  • No hard rules or templates – Guiding and training support teams on what to do, how to talk, and who to talk to under uncertain situations is an integral part of good customer service. You also need to give them the freedom to help customers any way they choose to in unforeseen situations. Give them guidelines around which to base their support. Do not give them scripts. This autonomy will give them the flexibility and motivation to go over and beyond the call of duty.

Anticipate customers’ needs

The last thing your customers want to do is to talk to a service rep on the phone. Given that they’d rather figure things out on their own, it is best to anticipate their needs and be proactive in answering them.

Give comprehensive product descriptions, product pairings, recommendations, FAQs, and upsells. How-to videos and tutorials are also a great way to answer any questions that customers might have. This is where your content takes center stage. It is impossible to underestimate the value of customer-centric content. For instance, Shopify has a whole business encyclopedia that answers any and all concerns and doubts their customers (online retailers) might have.

The tactic of being proactive can be used to lower the rate of shopping cart abandonment. 86% of customers who abandon their carts do so because of prohibitive shipping costs. We know that most of the time, a generic “Did you forget something?” email is sent to the customer. Instead, call them up and offer shipping solutions that help them save money.

For example, Greg Wise revealed how he bought a bathroom sink from Home Depot, but at found out at checkout that the shipping costs were around $100. Abandoning his cart as he walked away, he got a message from them offering to ship the item to their nearest store, which could then deliver the items to his house for just $19.95. Unsurprisingly, Home Depot not only made the sale but also a lifelong, loyal customer.

Be transparent

Be transparent in all your dealings with your customers. Transparency is a key element in building customer trust in ecommerce. UCB professor, Steven Tadelis, in his research on factors that encourage trust, showed that anonymity and secretiveness were the worst, while transparency was the most positive.

Transparency in pricing, product availability, payments, and shipping will lead to fewer abandoned carts and happier customers.

Over to you

Examples abound of customer service where support teams went beyond the call of duty to render exceptional service to the customer. However, exceptional customer service should be the norm and part of the company’s culture rather than a one-off incident. Be proactive, creative, and transparent. Remember, empowered support teams perform way better than their moderately performing and underperforming counterparts. If you fail to deliver exceptional customer service and satisfaction, you’ll be delivering your customers to your competitors. On a platter.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Tracy Vides
Tracy Vides is a content marketer who started off doing a little social media and community management at The Hartford Business Insurance to increase their online visibility. Although new to the digital marketing scene and working in a saturated niche, Tracy capitalized on her writing acumen and is now a "serial blogger" with posts featured on Business 2 Community, Sprout Content, Steamfeed, and elsewhere.
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