The Little Guide to Customer Service for Ecommerce: How to Win in Every Channel

In ecommerce, you live and die by what your customers and prospective customers believe to be true about you. The perceptions they have about your company and the experiences they have with your products and your team is everything.

A series of consistently bad customer experiences can put your company on a downward spiral that most business owners find incredibly difficult to escape from.

A parade of consistently positive and delightful experiences felt by many, on the other hand, can skyrocket your company into greatness.

As an ecommerce business owner, it’s your job to proactively and strategically manage the perceptions and experiences that your customers ultimately have each time they interact with your brand, your team members, and your products.

To succeed in using customer service as a tool for growing your business and driving more sales, you not only need to be proactive and strategic—you also have to be obsessively consistent across every channel you use to engage and communicate with your prospective and returning customers.

So, how do you get started?

Here are 7 actionable tips for providing amazing ecommerce customer service across every channel:

1. Understand the Power of Customer Service

To master the art of customer service, it’s helpful to first understand its power and value in the the world of ecommerce.

These days, competition for online consumers is fierce, and only increasing as each day passes. Companies and brands of all sizes now have to work harder than ever to attract, persuade, convert, and keep new customers.

Online consumers today are armed with a powerful weapon to use against companies fighting for their attention and wallets: the ability to easily evaluate, identify, and choose the best companies to buy products from.

As a result, ecommerce companies now have to work harder than ever to both prove their value to consumers, and differentiate from competitors.

Unsurprisingly, many brands are approaching this challenge by investing heavily in building out and optimizing customer journeys, creating unforgettable customer experiences, and adopting tools that allow them to be more strategic, formulaic, proactive, and consistent when it comes to communicating with customers.

Why focus so much on these areas specifically?

Consider the following statistics shared by Help Scout on the impact that good or bad customer service experiences have on online consumers and online purchasing behavior today:

  • News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience.
  • 59% of Americans would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.
  • 7 in 10 Americans are willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.
  • 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again.
  • Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences.

Actionable Takeaway: Carve out time in your schedule over the next few weeks to evaluate your existing customer service efforts. Before you get started, read through the following eight tips in this blog post/.

2. Help Customers Understand How to Reach You

If you want to excel in serving your customers and using customer service as a tool to fuel growth, you need to do two things:

  • First, you need to understand where your customers are already trying to reach you online. Are they emailing you? Tweeting you? Sending you Facebook DM’s? Sending you a message through your live chat platform? Asking a question on Amazon?
  • Second, you need to decide if you can cover all those bases, or if you’d rather direct your customers to a few select channels for customer service. For example, if you don’t have the resources to be everywhere, consider trying to direct people toward a help center or an email address that they can use when they need to reach out to you.

As mentioned above, a big part of winning the customer service game comes down to your ability and willingness to be proactive and helpful when engaging with your customers. To do that, you need to help the people who land on your website understand where they can go to reach you. Make it crystal clear on your website and in your order confirmation emails where it is that customers can go or what they can do to reach you—visit a help section, send an email, call a phone number, send a tweet, etc.

If your customers are trying to reach you on Twitter but you’re not being responsive, it’s an opportunity for you to improve, and it also opens your eyes to channels that your customers are likely using on a regular basis. Leverage this type of information to make decisions about the underutilized channels you could be using to reach and engage with prospective and existing customers.

Actionable Takeaway: As an ecommerce owner, it’s your job to ensure that no questions are left unanswered. Spend time evaluating all the channels that people are using to reach out to you, and decide if there are gaps or areas that need better coverage. If you’re interested in adopting a tool that can help you organize incoming messages and the responses you send better, look into a tool like Zendesk Support or Zendesk Message.

3. Be Consistent Everywhere

Another big part of being successful when it comes to customer service relates to consistency. To create the right reputation among your customers and prospective customers, you have to be consistent with the way you respond to questions and address problems that people have.

In the early days of ecommerce, you might have only had to worry about the comments and reviews left on your website and the emails that showed up in your email inbox, but things are much different now. Today, customers and online shoppers can reach out to you or talk about you everywhere—Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, email, phone, live chat, Snapchat, Instagram, Etsy, Ebay. Each day new channels are popping up that online consumers are using to communicate with friends and reach out to brands.

In addition to knowing which channels your customers are using to reach out to you, you also need to ensure that you’re being consistent about how you respond to people. If you’ve made it your policy to answer every customer support email or ticket that comes in within 24 hours, you need to make sure that you’re following the same guidelines in Facebook Messenger, or on Twitter. It’s another way to be proactive about communicating with customers, and it can help you manage expectations when customers go from one channel to another and try to reach out to you for help.

Actionable Takeaway: Create guidelines that you and your team can follow when working on customer service tasks. Decide how long you want to let questions go unanswered, what kind of personality, voice, and tone you want to use in your responses, how you want people to feel when they’re engaging with you, etc. Remember: keep things consistent. You want your customers to feel like they’re receiving the same attention and level of care no matter which channel they’re using to reach out to you.

4. Be Human & Invest in Personalization

There’s a lot of tactical workflows and processes that can be leveraged when building an effective customer service strategy for your ecommerce business, but it’s not the only factor that matters.

In order to succeed in serving your customers and helping them understand what makes you different from competitors—what makes you special—you also need to have some heart.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to ecommerce, you don’t have the benefit of meeting or talking to your customers face-to-face. As a result, you really do have to go above and beyond to establish a personal relationship and rapport with the people who buy or want to buy your products.

The average consumer doesn’t want to talk to a robot when they need help. They want to feel like they’re getting attention from a real, human being.

As an ecommerce owner, you need to find a happy balance between using software and tools to boost efficiencies and making people feel like they’re still getting that personal, human touch that they crave when buying products.

Actionable Takeaway: Don’t ever trade heart for technology. Use software that allows you to streamline, scale, and manage customer service tasks, but keep the heart intact by being playful with your copy, personalizing messages with the name of your customer and the name of the person on your team who’s there to help. When you start a live chat message, ask for the name of the person you’re talking to. When responding to a Facebook message, kick things off with a personal greeting. Help your customers feel like they are important to you (because they are!).

5. Use Tools to Streamline & Scale

As mentioned, heart and personality are important when it comes to serving your customers, but so are the tools you use. In the early days of starting an ecommerce business, it might be easy to manage customer service manually on your own, but it’s not a sustainable or recommended way to manage the task. If you experience any growth at all (which you will!), you’re going to want to have the tools and technology in place before you need them.

Not sure which tools you’ll need? Start with these:

  • Zendesk: This tool can help you track, prioritize, and solve customer support tickets. You can also leverage it to set up live chat or a call center for your business.
  • Manychat: This tool helps you build automated responses and interaction drips for Facebook Messenger.
  • Hootsuite: This tool can help you track, manage, and respond to questions or comments you get from customers on social media sites.
  • Delighted: This tool can help you collect and manage feedback from customers relating to their experiences with your products, your website, and your business as a whole.

Actionable Takeaway: Evaluate the tools above, spend time searching for more online, and decide which ones you could use to manage and scale customer service efforts at your ecommerce business.

6. Delight Whenever Possible

To succeed in serving your customers AND creating memorable experiences that help you differentiate from similar competitors online, you can’t just do the bare minimum required. You have to do more.

That’s where customer delight comes into play. I’ve written about customer delight a few times before on this blog, but I wanted to bring it up again because I believe it’s so important and such a huge missed opportunity for a lot of ecommerce business owners.

The idea behind customer delight is fairly simple: Customer delight simply means to create outstanding experiences for people in an effort to create and nurture lasting relationships. It’s a way of thinking that goes beyond customer service. Delighting customers usually happens through the use of gifts, rewards, communication, and with the help of your team.

It’s a more strategic and creative way to approach customer service, and it’s a tactic that the biggest and best ecommerce brands are using to boost customer loyalty, build brand awareness, and drive sales.

Actionable Takeaway: Read this post to learn more about the value and impact of customer delight. It will also give you a number of ideas that you could use to delight your customers. Pick and idea from the list and make a plan to implement it within the next 30 days. See how customers respond and how it impacts your sales and reputation over the next 90 days.

7. Use Content to Provide Answers

Another fantastic way to ensure that your customers and prospective customers are getting the answers they need to purchase more products from you is to spend more time educating them through your blog. Your customer support or help section is a great place to share education and how-to’s with your audience, but your blog is likely read and seen by more people. In addition to providing great, valuable content about the hobbies, interests, and pain points you know your audience has, you should also be publishing guides and how-to’s that help them understand how to get the very best experiences out of your products.

Actionable Takeaway: Make a list of the top 25 most frequently asked questions you get from customers or prospective customers about your products. Turn these 25 questions into blog topics, and incorporate them into your editorial calendar. Don’t make these posts boring! A blog post where you simply post the question as the title and provide an answer in the form of a few paragraphs isn’t going to be interesting to people. Push yourself to be more creative with this type of blog post by creating original graphics and videos that you can include throughout, enlisting the help of your employees or your most loyal customers to answer questions and share their experiences, or sharing stories that compel people to want to experience your products for themselves.

Over to You

What are you doing right when it comes to serving your customers? Tell me in the comments below.

William Harris William Harris is leading content at Sellbrite and is also the Founder & Growth Marketer of Elumynt, LLC., VP of Marketing and Growth for a top 700 online retailer and former head of Marketing for When I Work, a VC backed SaaS company. William is also a contributor to leading publications like The Next Web, Search Engine Journal, Social Media Today, and Sellbrite and a speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, search engine optimization, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding. Follow William on Twitter (@WmHarris101), LinkedIn, and Google+.