Customer service is the backbone of any business. Businesses that simply hand a customer a product without any interaction ignore all of a customer’s feelings, opinions, and thoughts. Anyone in customer experience, however, knows this must be taken into account when selling a product. Customers want to feel understood and assisted, never frustrated or confused.
Traditional customer service in brick-and-mortar stores relied on face-to-face interaction to create a positive customer experience – a friendly face and tone of voice, a salesperson’s speed in noticing when a customer needs assistance, and many other nonverbal cues. These tactics, of course, are useless when dealing with customers through a digital interface.
In some ways, e-commerce customer service is even more important than in a face-to-face setting, because verbal cues are hard to communicate through a live chat, web page, or even a phone call. However, there are many ways that e-commerce stores can integrate customer service principles throughout their website and customer assistance protocols to ensure that customers always feel that the help they need is available.
Let’s take a look at some key strategies that increase the quality of customer support.
Knowledge Bases and FAQs
FAQ and help pages are found on most websites, and they are the foundation of an e-commerce customer service strategy. This content provides immediate 24/7 assistance to any customer and can handle high volumes too. Since more and more people – especially young people – are phone call-averse, creating thorough and robust help content is one of the best ways to help customers before they even ask for it.
The exact nature of your help page will vary based on the kind of business you run. If you sell a variety of products, you will likely want to have answers to common questions. This should include answers about products, your business policies and practices relating to returns, shipping information, and more. If you sell a service, or particularly a software as a service, you will want to have step-by-step instructions for troubleshooting issues with the software.
Here are two examples to highlight how different help pages can be structured:
In the first example, Guava Family sells travel cribs and bassinets. Their FAQs are divided into categories that cover both the logistics of purchasing and information about the products themselves:
In the second example, TransUnion’s ShareAble for Hires offers a background check software. Their help page consists of general questions about the background check and employment policies, as well as a series of short tutorial videos walking users through the logistics of using the products:
Both of these are great examples of anticipating customer questions and providing the answers easily and in an accessible format for customers. They effectively convey the importance of crafting a solid help page strategy that meets the unique needs of a target audience.
For more complex companies, a knowledge base can be an immensely valuable tool. Knowledge bases may include FAQ content, forums for discussion, articles, white papers, and more. Making these publicly available for customers and visitors can have great SEO and lead conversion benefits, but they are also a great resource for customer service agents working to solve customer problems. Maintaining a knowledge base ensures that all customers will receive the same answers to the same questions, whether they look for the answer on their own or communicate with customer service representatives.
Dropbox has a great example of a knowledge base:
In addition to the search box, users can also browse by category, view featured articles, and explore the forums to find their answer.
For more on creating a knowledge base, check out this guide from Salesforce.
Social Media Support
When customers cannot find the answers or support they are looking for on a website, it has become increasingly common for them to resolve their issues on social media. Since this is a primary mode of communication for much of the world, customer service via social media can be very effective when done correctly. Since all interactions will be public, they provide a valuable illustration of what your company is truly like, which may endear you to new customers. If handled poorly, however, those interactions are also public and may have an adverse effect.
To make social media an integral part of your customer service strategy, you must first direct customers to your primary customer service channels and maintain an active presence there. A small but easily visible row of social media icons in the header of your website is usually sufficient, like in this example from VitaMedica:
To provide excellent customer service via social media, check your social media comments and mentions at least once a day, and respond as soon as possible. This goes for questions, problems, and reviews, good or bad.
Some companies respond to every social media query with a directive to call the support line or fill out a form for assistance. While this may be the only customer service channel your business can currently handle, it will likely frustrate customers who are hoping for a more immediate resolution. Whenever possible, answer the question as directly as possible, as quickly as possible.
Apps like Seamless tend to be great examples of social media customer service. In this example, a mild customer complaint is noticed immediately and tended to by the customer service team:
Empathy goes a long way in making customers feel heard, and direct information and solutions are also key. For example, if a customer asks, “What is your return policy?” they likely want a specific and immediate answer rather than a link to where they can find the answer. There is a big difference between “You can read our return policy here,” and “You can return items for up to 90 days. Here’s a link to our full policy.”
Sometimes, customers have h trouble navigating the knowledge base or help pages to find the answer to their individual problem. In this case, a customer service representative is e most useful. They can provide the specific tutorial or article that walks the customer through the problem.
For more examples of great social media customer service, check out this article from Buffer.
Smaller companies may not always have the resources to provide immediate customer service via social media, but dedicating a little bit of time per day can lay the foundation for a strong customer service strategy as your business grows. If done well, it will leave a positive impression on current and future customers.
Live Chat, Email, and Voice Mail Support
Of course, some customers still find it necessary to contact your business through more traditional means. To make this as easy as possible, there should be at least one available method to contact your business at any time of day. It’s usually difficult for smaller business to respond immediately, especially to inquiries in the middle of the night, so their best course of action is to assure customers that their question will be addressed within 24 hours – and then follow through on that promise. Without the follow through, however, you have already failed the customer.
With these approaches, the response a customer receives will likely be automated. Great customer service is always personalized, but in the case of emails and voicemails, and immediate response detailing next steps is paramount. After this initial response, all other coordination should be personable, and from a real person. Automating every step for the sake of efficiency is tempting, but the personal touch is the key to providing excellent best customer service.
Be sure to list the methods of contact very quickly, and in multiple places on your website so customers can always reach out as soon as they need help. If phone and chat support are only available during certain hours, make that very clear as well, with details about how they can find assistance after hours.
Achieve3000 does an excellent job of this, clearly denoting the available hours for both domestic and international customers:
Customer service is essential for any business, but e-commerce companies face new challenges in this arena. Face-to-face interaction traditionally allowed to customer service through a smile and friendly demeanor, but the principles of virtual customer service are efficiency, personalization, and anticipating customer needs. eCommerce stores must have 24/7 support for their customers, whether through FAQ pages, social media service, or email and phone support, and have ways for customers to both find the answer themselves and ask for help when they need it.
Author Bio: Sophia Conti is a contributing editor at 365 Business Tips, a website curating the best ideas for small business owners. She specializes in marketing and helping businesses improve customer experience.
eCommerce Customer Service Strategies