by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

5 ways ecommerce businesses can improve customer service

Mar 02, 2016
CRM SystemsE-commerce SoftwareInternet

Ecommerce and customer experience experts discuss how mobility and younger consumers have changed the nature of online customer service – and how companies have responded.

customer service ts
Credit: Thinkstock

As more consumers, especially millennials, shop online, whether from a laptop computer or a mobile device, ecommerce retailers and service businesses have had to adjust their customer service strategy. Instead of adhering to the traditional reactive customer service model – waiting for customers to contact them – online retailers have taken a more proactive approach, engaging customers on a variety of channels.

[ Related: How ecommerce businesses can beat the competition in 2015 ]

What specifically have businesses done to improve the online customer service experience? Following are the five key trends.

1. Online self-service. “DIY succinctly describes the rise of the millennial mentality: they want to be empowered to get things done at their convenience,” says Jeff Platon, CMO, Interactive Intelligence, a provider of customer engagement, communications and collaboration software. “Recently, we’ve seen the DIY culture move into customer service. Today’s customers are busy and often mobile and need to be able to solve a problem quickly and preferably independently. Customers’ demand for better self-service experiences, as well as expanded channels for self-service (Web, SMS, mobile), is driving higher investments in this technology,” he says. “For example, today you can change your address with a company by simply going to the website, without interacting with a service representative. Similarly, you can pay a bill [via your] mobile phone.”

“Online companies are integrating predictive self-service technologies, allowing customers to instantly find answers to anything they see on a webpage with just one click of the mouse,” says Bill Colleran, CEO, AnswerDash, which provides contextual help for sales and support. So now “they don’t have to leave a webpage to visit a separate FAQ section or knowledgebase, or start a[n] online chat session. Providing answers to commonly asked questions in the right place, at the right time, [also] reduces the number of inbound support inquiries, reducing overhead costs to these organizations.”

[ Related: 12 ways to improve the customer experience for online shoppers ]

2. Email and text (SMS) push notifications. Following Amazon’s lead, many companies now automatically send customers an email or text notification when their order has shipped, if something is backordered, or when something pre-ordered or backordered is available. Similarly, many service businesses, instead of calling a home phone to confirm an appointment now send a text to the customer’s mobile phone, along with the ability to confirm, cancel or change the appointment.

3. Social customer service. “Forget phone, email and live chat: Facebook, Twitter and other [social] networks are the new front lines for customer service questions,” says Andrew Caravella, vice president of Marketing at Sprout Social, which provides social media management software. “In fact, the number of messages requiring a response that people sent to brands via social jumped 17 percent from Q4 2014 to Q4 2015.”

[ Related: 7 ways social media can improve customer satisfaction ]

“Social [media e.g., Twitter and Facebook] presents an amazing opportunity for companies: make customers happy while their friends are watching,” says Jim Rudden, CMO, Spredfast, a provider of social software. “As a result, most companies are building out their strategy and processes for social customer service.” (Airlines, such as Delta, even have separate Twitter accounts just for handling customer service and support issues.) Just remember, be cautions, “consumers on social expect an answer within an hour.”

But just having a presence on Facebook and Twitter is not enough. “For the greatest success,” says Caravella, companies should “develop and manage reactive (solving an issue), proactive (educating at scale) and preemptive (addressing potential issues before they arise) social customer care programs.” And they should ensure that the people who manage their social channels are properly trained and that the company tracks “important metrics like response rate and time.”

4. Messaging apps. “Messaging apps are ripe for customer engagement,” says Scott Horn, CMO,[24]7, a provider of customer engagement, voice and chat solutions. “They’re widely used, convenient and have an ease and informality that customers love. Expect to see more companies test the waters with messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger, as a customer service channel,” he predicts.

5. Live chat.“The standards for customer service in the ecommerce business are higher now,” says Simon Slade, cofounder and CEO, Doubledot Media. “People expect immediate help, and it’s our job to give it to them. We do that by using chat software that allows the customer to immediately connect with a customer service representative.” “[It’s] instant, personalized, online communication.”

“For the 2015 tax year, Intuit introduced SmartLook, a one-way agent video that provides customers the ability to request and receive help within the product at the point of need,” says Alex Balazs, vice president and fellow architect, Intuit. “For customer care agents, being able to see the customers’ screens and where they are in the tax filing process is critical for resolving problems faster. They answer questions in real time for free and highlight key fields and next steps so customers can complete their return with confidence.”

[ Related: 11 Tips for Improving Your Company’s Customer Support ]

Today’s online customer service is all about the customer

When it comes to online customer service, “it’s becoming more imperative than ever for brands to be where their customers are and to find new ways to reduce effort and friction,” says Horn. “From proactive shipping updates to post-purchase support, brands can [and should] leverage [a variety of] channels to offer service and sales capabilities to their customers in the channels they enjoy using.”

The result is happier customers, fewer returns and a reduction in churn and attrition.