Why E-Commerce Companies Struggle to Compete on Customer Service

I went on a trip recently and needed some travel items that I couldn’t find locally. I found a company online through a banner ad that came up as a result of my search terms. I liked what I saw and so decided to make a purchase. Given the importance of receiving the items in time for my trip, I selected the guaranteed shipping deadline option and then waited…. and waited. And that’s where my e-commerce shopping nightmare began.

Here is what I experienced as a new customer:

1. I submitted a ticket about the progress of my order shipping as the tracking feature wasn’t working. I emphasized the need for timely delivery due to my travel plans. Despite the promise of a prompt reply, an email landed in my junk box 3 days later, with a confusing message about delivery dates. I was reassured in the email that they had put my order on hold until they had a reply from me with instructions. What instructions? Just ship the darn product!

2. The order arrived after I left for my trip and the tracking ultimately showed it arrived almost 5 days after the guaranteed delivery date.

3. When I attempted to return both items ordered, the online processing showed an approved return for only one of the items and its related amount. I inquired about the second item being approved for return, but customer service wouldn’t give me a clear response about the return of the second item.

4. When I pursued the matter about my account not reflecting a return amount for the second item, I received a duplicate of the prior response, but this time in all capital letters. Was customer service shouting at me?

5. Instead of opting to return the items, I selected the partial refund option instead. My account currently shows that the refund amount of $0.00 was processed successfully. (Is this the e-commerce way of giving a complaining customer the finger?)

Needless to say, my first purchase with this e-commerce business will be my last. Which demonstrates yet again that companies who don’t appreciate the importance of delivering good customer service will lose customers and sales.

It costs a lot of money to acquire new customers. Good customer service is the best way to keep those new customers coming back. It doesn’t even have to be great service (although that’s the ideal scenario). Just deliver the type of service you would expect to receive if you were shopping from your own company.

E-commerce expert Meg Button says that “e-commerce businesses fear customer returns. But in reality, not making return information easy to find and readily available on the website will actually deter customers from buying at all”. The Co-Founder of Nuscreen, a Toronto-based digital services agency, stresses the importance of having return management and customer service solutions in place.

The challenge for e-commerce businesses is the lack of face-to-face contact. Brick and mortar businesses have a big advantage in this area. Just by being in front of a customer, you can more easily address their concerns in real time and thus minimize their frustrations.

The e-commerce interface, by default, allows company staff to hide from dissatisfied customers. This habit of hiding and not addressing customer service issues effectively makes customers feel unappreciated. And we all know where unappreciated customers go … to your competition.

I have actually seen an increase in profit for my e-commerce clients when return management and customer service solutions are implemented into online stores. Returning product doesn’t always mean the customer wants to end the relationship with the company. The product might just not be what they are looking for. If customer service is handled poorly for a return, it might end up resulting in a refund – and even the end of the relationship with the customer.” Meg Button, E-Commerce Expert and Co-Founder of Nuscreen

Below are 5 tips to help you retain customers in your e-commerce business and build customer loyalty:

Provide a customer support phone number

There are ways to make this a cost effective feature of your business. Don’t skimp on this. Phone chats can resolve issues quickly, give you valuable one-on-one time with customers, and are an opportunity to deliver great customer service while getting important feedback.

Provide a chat box

Many customers are happy to text chat with customer support. Customers simply want to be listened to. Give then an ear, even if it’s a virtual one. Like talking on the phone, a chat box can gather useful information from customers while resolving their issues. (Tip: If you provide this feature, make sure a rep is available during stated business hours. It’s frustrating for customers to type in a message and then realize that no one is available via chat.)

Don’t Hide from Your Customers

You need to have a customer service system in place to recognize when matters are escalating with an unhappy customer. If not dealt with quickly, that angry customer will become a lost customer who tells anyone who will listen how bad his experience was with your company.

Make it Easy for Customers to Return Products

Meg Button advises lowering the risk for customers by making it easy for them to return products. As Button points out, “when customers buy online, they are already making a less informed buying decision because they haven’t actually seen the product in person.” She advises using modern solutions to create a pleasant customer experience. Button suggests tools such as Returnly for returns management, and Drift for live chat.

Send a Follow-up Email to Your Customers Asking for Feedback

Be proactive in asking for feedback. Make it easy for customers to provide this feedback at a web page form or via a survey. It’s a great way to let customers know you care and to gather important data.

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