We can all agree that customer service is one of the most important aspects of ecommerce, but it’s possible the techniques have gotten stale over time. How many times have you reached out for help with a product you purchased online, only to be led in circles by an automated phone system? How many emails have you received thanking you for your purchase in which you were greeted as “customer” instead of by name?
Automating the process is great for saving time and effort, but you probably stopped seeing results a long time ago. Consumers are more likely to share their bad customer service experiences than they are the satisfactory ones. We think it’s because all creativity has been stripped from customer care. If you agree, here are four ways to breathe new life into your customer service tactics.
1) Know Your Customer And Know Yourself
My colleage likes to tell the story about when he called DirecTV to cancel his service. The representative reminded him that the Packers still had a shot at the playoffs and he'd lose his NFL Sunday Ticket access which, since he lives in Boston like us, means he'd have a hard time finding a place to watch.
The fact that they had in their notes that his favorite team was the Packers was a huge step. They weren't just focusing on what he bought -- they focused on why he bought it. If you have a centralized database where you can manage your customer's information, including use-case information you gathered during the pre-transactional buying cycle, you can create a highly customized service and retention protocol for when customer's call, email, or tweet at your for service.
Make sure that you track a customer's interactions with your brand across all of the communication channels that they have access to reach you in. Email, phone calls, and even tweets are something that you should log on their record and provide access to for anyone that has to interact with that customer. Nothing frustrates customers more than having a Twitter conversation with your company and then having to explain it all over again to someone on the phone.
2) Get Proactive
Don’t wait until a customer contacts you to ask for something. Instead, anticipate their needs and offer solutions. One very real way this tactic might be used is with abandoned carts. Seventy percent of people who abandon their purchases just before the transaction say they did so because of prohibitive shipping charges. Instead of sending the generic “Forget something?” email, maybe you could reach out with solutions for shipping so the charges might be reduced.
In one very memorable exchange with Home Depot, I started to order a new bathroom sink for delivery—until I saw the charges added almost a hundred dollars to my purchase price. After I walked away, I received a message with this solution: Ship to the store, which is free, and then use the store’s new delivery service for $19.95. In the end, they sold me a sink, and 200 square feet of tile, and pretty much everything else I’ve needed for our bathroom remodel.
3) Default to “Yes”
Sometimes your customers will come to you with the smallest of requests. You should make it your mission to say yes to every one of them. What if someone calls and tells you they realized the address in their profile is incorrect, and the order they just placed is about to ship to someone else? Could you spare a few minutes to contact your shipping department to have that address changed? Say a customer lets you know she dropped the costume jewelry bracelet she purchased immediately after opening the package and one of the stones fell out. Would it cost your company too much to simply replace it at no charge? Not if you knew for sure she’d be back for many more purchases in the future, it wouldn’t.
You can’t always honor your customers’ requests, but you can work hard to fulfill the small ones. Sometimes it's the little gestures from a company that has a large impact on a customer's perception and loyalty. If you can, empower your customer service personnel to solve as many problems in the customer's favor as possible. You’ll get a reputation for always making it right, and that’s the kind of customer service people want to talk about.
4) Go Off Script
Does your customer service team have a script to help them sound more professional? Did you develop standard responses for a more uniform appearance? If so, think about tossing them all out. Your customers will feel much more important if they feel they’re talking to the “real” person on the other end of the line and not some pre-programmed robot.
One of the most famous examples of going off script comes from Netflix, which makes a point of really knowing each and every customer on a personal level. That personalization doesn’t just help Netflix make the best recommendations; it also helps them communicate when customers call in. What do you want to bet the customer from this chat transcript has hours of Star Trek viewing under his belt?
Even better, the Netflix customer service rep in question also provided a full transcript of the interaction, which you can read for yourself. The most important part, however, is the obvious happiness of the customer.
5) Answer Before They Ask
Believe it or not, your customers don’t want to talk to you. They will if they have to, but they’d much rather figure things out on their own time and in their own way. The best way to provide customer service to buyers like this is to anticipate their needs and then answer all the questions they could possibly have before they ask.
You can provide these answers in dozens of different ways, and all will help elevate your ecommerce website to new levels. Many implement an FAQ page with the questions they feel most buyers would ask. Tutorials and how-to videos are also great ideas for solving problems before they happen. You might also provide PDFs of installation or assembly instructions to back up the videos, just in case the customer lost the copy that came with the product.
Blogs are another great way to answer all the customer questions—even those questions the buyer doesn’t know he has yet. Not only can you provide a customer care experience without ever communicating with the buyer, but you can also benefit from some serious SEO through the answers you give.
Have you worked this hard already to provide excellent customer service to your ecommerce customers? Do you see ways you might implement these creative ideas into your stale and boring customer service program? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Originally published Apr 18, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016