A great website, low prices, and a wide selection of products – these things draw in shoppers. But even more important is your customer service. Because if your customer service stinks, shoppers aren’t likely to buy from you – at least, not more than once.
The good news is that it’s possible to almost guarantee customer satisfaction when running an ecommerce business. Many of the same principles that apply to physical stores also apply to online ones.
Let me share a story.
Last week, I visited my local Hobby Lobby to get some supplies for my child’s teacher. I couldn’t find lanyard hooks, one of the main things she needed. I stopped an employee and asked for help locating them. He literally rolled his eyes and clearly was annoyed at my question. I’ll probably still shop there for some things, but the encounter soured my opinion of the local store and the overall Hobby Lobby brand.
Now, it was clear this employee was having a really bad day. He probably isn’t like that all the time. (If he were, I doubt he would still have a job.) But when you’re having a bad day and you still have to deal with customers face to face, keeping a smile on your face can be hard. There’s a little less pressure for online retailers, when you and your employees don’t have to see customers in the flesh. But courtesy and efficiency still go a long way to making sure your customers have a good impression of your business.
Before we delve into what you should and shouldn’t do in order to make customers happy, let’s consider what happens when you have an UNHAPPY customer.
- Loss of a sale: A bad service experience can cause a buyer to run for the hills. According to a 2011 report by American Express, 78% of shoppers have not completed a purchase they intended to, because of a bad service experience.That’s a huge number that indicates how important customer service is to shoppers.
- Negative word of mouth: These days, it’s really easy for people to share their bad experiences. Social networks make it easy for dissatisfied customers to reach a large audience. And review sites, including Google, allow that dissatisfaction to become permanent. But it’s more than just avoiding bad reviews – good ones are important too. In fact, 67% of consumers are influenced by reviews, according to Moz.
- Loss of positive word of mouth: Even if a shopper doesn’t say anything bad, they may not say something good. And word of mouth is really important to online businesses. In fact, 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family over any form of advertising.
I bet you’re convinced now.
So how can you have super satisfied customers? Read on.
Make Sure Inventory is Correct
Tracking inventory is a complete PITA sometimes, but it’s so important. People don’t want to trust you with their business, only to find out their order is delayed or even cancelled. That can ruin a gift, a vacation, or a planned project. So make sure your stock counts are right, and that the status is clearly displayed to the customer on the website. If you take preorders or backorders, make sure that’s extremely clear to shoppers!
Offer Multiple Types of Support
Not everything likes to use the phone – it takes extra time. For many people, an email or other type of support request is easier. That said, some people want immediate feedback and DO want to call. So offer multiple types of support, including phone, email, social, and online chat. When you get a question or problem, respond in a timely manner.
For phone support, make sure you have enough staff to actually answer the phone. Voicemails suck. Queues suck too, but they are better than having to leave a message. So present your operating hours on your site and have someone available to field calls during that time. For after-hours support, a voicemail system is ok, but make sure you check and return calls in a timely manner the very next business day.
For email or social media responses, create templates you can use as an easy starting point. You might even want to consider automating this type of service. For emails, there are tons of options for helpdesk software, and for Facebook, there’s a great Chatbot API. Have you ordered from Zulily recently? When you do, you’ll get Facebook messages from them with things like order confirmation, shipping notifications, and more. You can respond to those messages to reach a real person. It’s pretty cool.
Offer Self-service Options
Speaking of automation, make it easier for customers to help themselves through self-service options. If you link your order processing software with your website, you can easily provide order history, status, and tracking information for your customers. And when the order ships and a tracking number is created, make sure an email goes out to the customer with that information.
A FAQ is another good idea. If you keep a knowledge based of frequently-asked questions, and refer customers to that before routing them through to a contact option, you may be able to avoid some of those repeat questions. That has the double benefit of freeing up your staff and increasing customer satisfaction because they can find what they need easily.
Honor Coupons After the Fact
It’s so easy for customers to forget to apply a coupon. They may be running around looking for their wallet or purse to get their credit card, double-checking addresses and sizes, and thinking of everything else going on in their day, all while they’re trying to check out. Don’t be stingy even if it takes a little extra work on your part. If a customer asks you to apply a coupon after placing the order, do so.
A few weeks ago I ordered my family Christmas cards from TinyPrints.com. I forgot to apply the free shipping coupon, so I hopped onto their online chat and asked if they would still honor it. Not only did they agree, but the service representative also applied a coupon I wasn’t aware of that saved me even more. I ended up paying just over half what I thought I would! You’d better believe I’ll get all my cards from them from now on. I also gave them a shout out on social media (and obviously, here on this blog.)
Offer a Generous Return Policy
OK take a deep breath because I know this one can send retailers into a panic. But returns are a HUGE part of customer satisfaction. Your business is likely competing with other e-retailers who offer free return shipping and/or returns for a full 365 days. If I remember correctly, this started with Zappos, a company who has built their brand around customer service.
The problem, of course, is that it can be expensive. Statistically, about 30% of all products bought online are returned! That’s huge, and it can definitely cut into your bottom line. (Apparel returns are even higher.)
However, a generous return policy encourages customers to buy, because they know there’s little risk involved.
So exactly what do I mean by a generous return policy?
- A long window – limiting customers to 30 days makes it especially hard for gift recipient to return an item. The buyer may have purchased the item on Black Friday, and the gift not given until Christmas, as an example. Depending on the year, a 30-day window may have passed before the recipient even takes ownership of the product.
- Offer free return shipping – It goes without saying: Shipping is expensive, for shoppers as well as retailers. Chances are it’s cheaper for your business, which likely has negotiated rates, than it is for the customer paying counter rates to return the package. If the cost is too high, consider offering store credit instead of a refund.
- Make it easy – Don’t make customers jump through any more hoops than they have to. Put a pre-printed return slip in the package, or at least give them the ability to automate their request for a return.
- Be clear on your policies – Whatever you decide, make it clear on your website and on your packing slip. Tell customers how long they have to return the item, where the item should be shipped, who’s responsible if the package is lost, who has to pay for return shipping, and how the refund will be provided (credit card refund, store credit, etc). If there’s a restocking fee make that absolutely clear prior to the sale.
Say Thank You
Be gracious in explicit and implicit ways. You might include a hand-written thank you card in the package, particularly if you ship orders yourself rather than relying on a fulfillment house or Fulfillment by Amazon. Also make sure the items are packaged well, with plenty of filler to protect them from damage.
If you don’t pack orders yourself, you can still follow up with a friendly email. Even Amazon sellers can contact a buyer directly to say thank you and request a review.
Another idea is to offer a discount on their next order. Artbeads.com does a great job by putting a business-card sized coupon in each shipment. It encourages shoppers to come back and make additional orders. Loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their initial purchase!
Always Be Friendly
Occasionally your relationship with a customer is going to go south, no matter how hard you try. Some people just like to pick a fight. But no matter how rude the customer gets, you should remain cordial and friendly. You don’t have to give in to unreasonable demands, but don’t get be rude. Remember, how you affect reflects on your company and brand.
Is customer satisfaction easy? No, not really. It takes hard work and dedication. But it’s worth it in the end.