A Step-by-step Guide for E-commerce Customer Service Strategy
The COVID-19 crisis has pushed us all out of our comfort zones – both merchants and consumers.
What might have evolved over a decade happened within eight weeks in 2020, when retailers quickly launched e-commerce websites and figured their way through digital payment, order fulfillment, and warehouse management processes.
Consumers got equally adventurous too. A McKinsey study1 shows that 75% of US consumers tried a different way of shopping or brand during the pandemic and have found the convenience and comfort of e-commerce quite enjoyable.
With a 40% growth2 in e-commerce sales over the past year, the trend of online shopping is here to stay. However, customers are pampered with choices near and far which makes experience quotients like e-commerce customer service a core differentiating factor. 80% of American consumers say speedy and friendly service is vital to positive brand experiences, as per a PwC research.
Having a solid e-commerce customer service strategy in place goes a long way in keeping your customers happy and fosters lasting relationships with them. 26% of global consumers point to exceptional customer service as the prime reason for brand loyalty3.
We’ve listed the sections covered in the blog below for you to navigate the page easily.
- What is E-commerce customer service?
- How does e-commerce support differ from that of brick-and-mortar?
- 9 Best practices to kickstart your E-commerce customer service journey
- Know your customers and their preferred support channels
- Assemble and train a stellar customer service team
- Make it easy for your team to offer consistent and quick support
- Delight customers with proactive support
- Deliver highly personalized and contextual interactions
- Double down on live chat as a key support channel
- Deflect support tickets with exhaustive self-service options
- Ask for and work actively on customer feedback
- Measure, track and tweak your e-commerce support strategy
Before we look at how you can create your online support strategy, let’s see what customer service in an e-commerce setup looks like.
The e-commerce purchase journey is unique and complex. Every interaction you make with the customer along this journey either makes or breaks their customer experience.
You have prospective buyers searching and learning about your products at their own pace, often without your knowledge. Questions about features and pricing are easy to resolve face-to-face but can get quite tricky online. Respond a few seconds late, and you could lose a potential customer.
However, being there for your customers along the entire e-commerce customer lifecycle to resolve any hassles they face keeps them happy and increases customer retention.
Assisting customers and resolving customer queries from the discovery stage through consideration, purchase, order fulfillment, and post-sales across different channels is what e-commerce customer service is all about.
When people walk up to your store to buy a product, it’s relatively easy to sense their emotions and assist accordingly. It’s a different ball game altogether in e-commerce, where you need a deeper understanding of customer behavior and psychology.
A few aspects that stand out in e-commerce customer experience include –
- Scope of customer interactions: When your business goes dot-com, you go global and cater to a wide range of customers across different time zones. Being available and sensitive to the diverse needs of your customers is critical in e-commerce support.
- Speed of response matters more: Brand switching is highly prevalent in online businesses as customers have plenty of options to choose from. When timely support is not given, brand loyalty can go out the window as customers can easily navigate to the next best website.
- Contextual engagement is a deal-breaker: Our research reveals that 55% of global consumers want brands to know about them. Knowing purchase history and engaging in contextual interactions make customers feel valued even when they connect with you over the internet.
Now that you know how e-commerce customer service differs from physical retail experiences, let’s dive into some of the best practices you need to know while offering e-commerce support.
Before you think about e-commerce customer service operations, it’s important to know your customers’ behavior and expectations while resolving their queries.
Many of your customers may be engaging with your brand via mobile phones, as 70% of all retail website visits4 happened via smartphones in 2021. Your browsing experience should then be optimized accordingly when customers try solution articles and chat through their phones.
A generational split of customers also affects the route they take to approach your e-commerce support team. Though phone support is a clear winner, you can’t discount the popularity of messaging channels among millennials.
A Gartner study5 also reveals that 62% of Millenials and 75% of Gen Z customers look for non-company owned assistance like subreddit, Google search, or YouTube video to resolve issues on their own.
Tree of Life – an online bookstore based out of the US, saw significant changes in customer behavior and purchase habits after the pandemic set in. They observed a 45% jump in support volumes, and the number of chat conversations rose by 56% compared to just a 5% increase in calls and emails.
Realizing the preference for messaging by the newer generations over traditional calls and emails, Tree of Life implemented Freshdesk’s AI chatbot Freddy which enabled them to maintain their support SLA of 12 hours and saved up to 5 minutes per ticket for their agents.
Understanding your customers’ needs and knowing their preferred communication channels for multichannel support, including phone, email, social media, live chat, web portal, or messaging channels, helps you narrow down your primary service channels. Customer journey mapping also enables you to see where online shoppers commonly run into problems so that you can take active steps to avoid them.
How your ecomm customer service team interacts with people on every support channel greatly influences brand perception. A PwC research shows that 80% of consumers value knowledgeable help and friendly service when they engage with a brand.
While local and small business owners have the upper hand in giving personal and satisfactory customer care to their customers, the onus of maintaining the same level of service as your business scales lies in your team of customer service agents.
Hire and choose agents with a friendly and upbeat attitude who’d go the extra mile to delight your customers. Crafting a well-thought job description that clearly states the role expectations and the specific customer service skills required — like how Apple Retail does — helps attract the right kind of people.
Spend some time and resources to then train the agents on support etiquette, product know-how, internal processes, and customer expectations in your domain. Your customer service representatives also need to get familiar with the help desk and CRM tools you use at your e-Commerce business.
Once you have the core customer support team in place, you can always source extra help during holiday seasons and peak sales months to handle the demand spikes. Businesses also consider outsourcing their e-commerce support division while scaling or prepping for the holidays. Weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing before you decide to do so.
Providing coherent and speedy support across channels shouldn’t overwhelm your service reps.
Here are a few best practices in e-commerce support that simplify the day-to-day activities of agents.
a) Organize and take the omnichannel route to unify customer interactions in a single screen
When close to 67% of consumers regularly use three or more channels to engage with a brand and expect a similar experience in every channel, support teams can’t afford to lose either time or context.
Going omnichannel addresses major challenges of both customers and agents. The biggest frustration of repeating themselves across channels and agents gets resolved when conversation and order history is captured and stored in one place.
Whether it’s emails, phone calls, or Facebook messages, unifying and streamlining support interactions as service tickets onto a single screen improves the productivity of customer support agents. Robust integration with CRM software gives a better view of the customer and empowers agents to deliver an excellent customer service experience.
“People would be looking at the same email from different places, and the customer would end up with multiple responses to a single request,” says Charlie Cross, Chief sales manager at Axminster Tools – a UK-based, family-run business selling tools and other accessories to amateur DIY and hobby enthusiasts.
Online selling contributes to 75% of their sales, and they see an average of 10,000 support tickets per month and about 500 customers a day. “Customers want us to deal with their order or issue in a reasonable and transparent way. Freshdesk Omnichannel really helps make that transparency easy to provide,” remarks Charlie.
b) Simplify collaboration within your teams
The e-commerce supply chain has multiple players along its way. Manufacturers, dealers, warehouse managers, shippers, and the finances team work together to deliver a product at the customer’s doorstep. A simple return or exchange request placed by a customer would require movement across all these functions.
To the customer, your agents represent just one brand and not your individual shipping or billing departments. Redirecting customers to different agents as per their function would result in slower resolution rates and a drop in your customer satisfaction scores.
Give support agents the option to loop in and collaborate with different departments in your e-commerce business without losing context of the customer’s problem. This will help them communicate across functions and present a feasible solution for your customers without making them go in circles.
c) Use automation and templates for faster responses
Segment the common issues that land at your customer service department. Set up customized templates and canned responses that’ll save agents precious time for more critical conversations.
“Several customers came back with the same questions like ‘Where’s the rest of my order?’ which became redundant for us”, sighs Victoria Stanzione, customer care coordinator at MISA – a US online fashion retailer. With Freshdesk’s canned responses, they created personalized, pre-formatted replies that could be inserted into messages with placeholders for details such as customer name, agent name, and signatures.
“Canned responses have been so helpful because we’re able to avoid typing out the same message 25 times a day but still personalize it for every customer,” – Victoria Stanzione, Customer care coordinator at US online fashion retailer – MISA.
Anticipating and offering help to your online customers before they run into an issue leaves a lasting impression on your customers and could also reduce incoming support ticket volume. You can learn why someone canceled their order and look for a workaround or extend additional payment options when you notice a payment declined error.
We’ve listed a few means to extend proactive support in your e-commerce customer service strategy.
a) Offering contextual support on your webpages
Proactive customer service is when you’re thinking a step ahead of your customers, and you can do this even when they browse through your e-commerce site. Say a customer is looking at your pricing page. If you’ve got the customer journey mapped out, you can configure a help widget that pops up on the web page with common queries and solution articles related to pricing and payments.
b) Nudging customers who’ve abandoned carts
Cart abandonment is a known e-commerce problem, but 31% of those who leave the cart waiting come back and purchase from the website6. It’s then no surprise that open rates for cart abandonment emails are at 45%7.
Through proactive outreach, you can set up Freshdesk for your website or Shopify store to automatically trigger emails to customers when they don’t complete a purchase and understand the reason behind their action. The email serves both as a reminder to finish the transaction as well as leaves the customer feeling valued.
c) Providing early updates on shipment delays and payment status
Lower customers’ anxiety about their order or payment status by providing instant updates even before they spot the issue. Don’t wait for the customer to track and reach out to you about a shipment delay. Send a word of apology along with the expected arrival date or relieve the customer’s stress over a payment status and cut down on an otherwise routine support ticket.
d) Sensing frustrations while browsing your site
Frantic clicking on your e-commerce site, repeated clicks on broken links, or rapid movement of the cursor over the site indicate frustrations in a customer’s purchase journey. The customer would then either leave your site disappointed or open a service ticket to report an issue. You can strategically slide in a help widget without disrupting the customer’s browsing experience and offer assistance.
The hyper-relevant content suggestions on Netflix and personalized product recommendations on Amazon leave customers wondering why other businesses can’t understand and value their choices better.
That strong personal connection is, in fact, the reason why customers choose small and local businesses over bigger brands, as suggested by 32% of UK consumers in the Freshworks post-pandemic global survey report.
While brands have questions about collecting and using customer data for personalized experiences, consumers are clear with their expectations as 77% of consumers are willing to trade personal information for better experiences.
A simple gesture like addressing people with their correct names during customer service interactions has a lasting impression on how a business treats its customers. Moreover, e-commerce shoppers expect businesses to have more context on their relationship with the brand to pick conversations easily and get their issues resolved faster.
Seamless integrations between your e-commerce customer service software and other systems, including a Shopify or BigCommerce store, CRM, payments provider, or even logistics partners, allow you to view order details and purchase history to have contextual engagements with your customers, no matter which channel they use to get in touch with you.
In an age where instant gratification is the norm for consumers, with 42% of them considering 1 to 3 minutes as the acceptable wait time8 to speak with a service rep, offering live chat as your first line of defense works to everyone’s advantage.
Not only does chat as a support channel give a 50% improvement in speed over email and a 24% increase9 in order values, but it also reduces call volumes by about 15%, thereby lowering the operating costs of your e-commerce service center. Incorporating smart e-commerce support chatbots within your live chat channel further deflects service ticket volumes.
Laila Halim, the quality assurance analyst at BEL USA – a printer and online retailer of customized products like mugs, drinkware, and t-shirts, explains how tough it is to handle the enormous call volumes. “Our daily email volume ranged from 1500 – 2500 depending on the time of the year. It can get overwhelming. Our team was mostly overworked,” she says.
“We needed a channel for real-time assistance. Being able to chat with a company instantly from your phone is something that people love,” – Laila Halim, Quality assurance analyst at BEL USA.
Selling on two e-commerce brands – Discountmugs.com and Belpromo.com, BEL USA implemented Freshdesk Messaging – our live chat tool. Integrating live chat allowed them to handle more customers simultaneously with personalized assistance and brought down phone calls by 40%.
BEL-USA implementing Freshdesk Messaging
Customers prefer human interactions to resolve a problem on any day. But not all queries and issues need a support agent’s assistance.
By empowering customers to find their own solutions for commonly asked questions and known issues, you’re saving them from longer waiting and resolution times. Our research10 indicates that 39% of global customers find that they can resolve issues much quicker than any other customer service channel.
Careful thought and execution are needed to succeed in self-service implementation. You don’t want the customer to leave confused and frustrated when they land at one of your self-service channels.
Create and organize solution articles and frequently asked questions (FAQs) specific to your e-commerce under different sections like billing, refund and returns policy, product exchanges, etc. Centralize the documentations under a single knowledge base so that it stays accessible to customers on the website and mobile app, can be populated in help widgets, and also pulled into chatbot workflows.
Make e-commerce chatbots a key ingredient of your self-service strategy and route issues to agents with context when the bot can’t resolve the issue. Juniper Research reveals that e-commerce transactions via chatbots are expected to reach $112 billion by 2023, yielding cost savings of up to $11 billion.
Freshdesk allows you to create, arrange, and tag solution articles. You can also embed these articles in the help widget on your Shopify store. With our Freddy self-service bot, you can customize chatbots and configure natural conversations in multiple languages as distinct workflows to assist your customers virtually.
Make your e-commerce customer service experience complete by requesting your customers for feedback or a public review of your business. Customers feel valued and important when you ask them to rate their experience and share their suggestions after brand interactions.
You can specifically ask for feedback on areas you feel need improvement. As an e-commerce retailer, you can ask how the shoppers felt about your products, order fulfillment process, or support team response. Tell them why their feedback matters, and you’re sure to hear more responses.
You can also use surveys that measure specific parameters like customer satisfaction – CSAT, or the likeliness to recommend your business via Net Promoter Scores (NPS). Auto-triggered feedback forms integrated with your customer service software enable you to capture customer responses right after their issue is resolved.
Once you’ve collected the feedback data, look for trends and underlying issues for future customer experience decisions. Customers appreciate seeing their feedback resulting in meaningful changes to your offerings and their experiences in doing business with you.
Now that you’ve set up the e-commerce customer service engine, it’s time to measure and monitor how your operations are performing. Different customer support metrics help gauge the performance, productivity, and quality of your e-commerce support team.
Choose and prioritize the metrics that matter most to your business rather than running behind all the numbers. How is the response time on your hottest support channel? How is your team faring in the resolution SLA %? Does customer satisfaction see a steady rise over time? Frame the right questions and use the metrics to spot the answers in your help desk reports.
Support metrics of an e-commerce store on Freshdesk
Take the lead in delighting your customers
Contrary to popular belief, our research on deconstructing delight shows that only 14% of global consumers expect to be wowed by companies. With such lowered customer expectations, there is enough room for your business to seize the opportunity and delight your customers.
And no, delight here doesn’t mean a fancy bouquet that lands on a shopper’s doorstep when that odd refund error is rectified. Delight in e-commerce customer service is the consistent, contextual, and quick support customers expect every time they interact with your business across channels.
Freshdesk makes delight easy with its range of help desk ticketing and automation capabilities, messaging channels support, AI-driven e-commerce chatbots, extensive self-service options, and seamless integration with leading e-commerce platforms. Sign up for a free trial today and make customer delight a reality at your online store.
Originally published on October 25, 2018. Updated on September 14, 2021.