As the old adage goes, “Happy customers, happy life!” Okay, maybe that isn’t a thing people say, but it’s true, isn’t it? Keeping your customers satisfied is one of the most important parts of owning an ecommerce business, and considering the impersonal feel online shopping often has, having a successful customer service strategy is crucial to your business’s success. Providing your customers with excellent customer support not only leaves them feeling satisfied with the interaction and resolution, but also boosts your brand and customer loyalty.
Research has found that 89% of consumers are more likely to make repeat purchases after a positive customer service experience, whereas roughly 61% say they would switch to a new brand after just one bad experience. Skimping on your customer success strategy could really hurt your business in the long run. If you have never worked in customer service, fret not—it’s never too late to learn how to give your clients an amazing experience.
What Is Customer Service?
Customer service is the assistance and/or advice provided by a company representative to a person who buys or uses its products or services. If you have ever needed to contact a company for help or to ask a question, you probably know most (if not all) of the following ways to facilitate communications with customers, but you might not have ever given them a second thought. Welcome to business ownership!
Help Customers Help Themselves
This piece of advice will save you more time and energy spent on customer support than all of the other tips in this post, so it’s an important one: help your customers help themselves. How? By creating a self-help space on your website to answer their questions before they even think of them. There are two common ways to do this, and I highly recommend utilizing at least one of the following:
Create An FAQ Page
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is a collection of your customers’ most common queries. An FAQ provides instant answers to the questions they are likely to ask, even outside of your working hours, and can help alleviate the volume of questions you receive. If you are relying on third parties to fulfill your orders, familiarize yourself with their business policies so you know how to best answer your customers’ frequently asked questions.
For example, if you anticipate customers will inquire about their orders, your FAQ page may include the following questions:
- How do I place an order?
- When will my order ship?
- How can I track my order?
- Can I return my order?
- What is your refund policy?
- What should I do if there is an issue with my order?
- Can I exchange my item for a different item?
Create A Knowledge Base
Similar to an FAQ page, a Knowledge Base is a self-serve library of articles on topics like your store’s policies, how to place an order, shipping times, how to make a special request, product information and advice, and more.
If you decide to have an FAQ page on your website and feel that a Knowledge Base would be redundant, keep in mind that your FAQ page is for shorter snippets of the most relevant and commonly requested information. A Knowledge Base provides more in-depth information to your customers, and you can include videos, blog posts, and any information relevant to your products or brand you may want to share with your fans and site visitors.
A great Knowledge Base makes it easy for your customers to self-serve and find answers to their questions, 24/7. When building your Knowledge Base, consider the following:
- Ease of navigation – How quickly can my customers find what they need? Does the layout make sense?
- Variety and depth of content – Do the topics covered in your knowledge base answer the questions your customers actually have?
- Quality of content – Is it intuitive? Will your customers understand the answers to their questions?
Customer Support Channels
When your customers can’t find the answers they are looking for on your FAQ or Knowledge Base pages, they will need a way to contact you or your support team directly. Let’s explore some of the most common support channels below.
Probably the most familiar medium used for online customer service, email provides a quick and simple way for your customers to reach you. Utilize these best practices to set yourself up to give successful customer service via email:
1. Create Your Own Domain Name
This isn’t a requirement, of course, but it will help you maintain brand continuity. As an example, you might feel a bit strange if you emailed a big company, such as Target, and received a reply from an @yahoo.com email address. Creating a new @yourcompany.com email address through your preferred email provider solely for customer support will help keep your customers’ inquiries organized and separate from your personal email.
2. Create A Contact Us Page
Once you have an email address designated for giving support, create a Contact Us or About Me page. I strongly recommend adding a contact form to this page with space for customers to elaborate on their inquiries. Some ecommerce platforms have Contact Us forms pre-built that you can add to your site, but if you don’t have this option available to you, it’s simple to create your own contact form instead.
Once a customer submits a question, it’s important to have some sort of automation set up to reply to them. A simple auto-reply that reads, “Thank you for your question! A customer support agent will be in touch with you within the next 48 hours,” will let them know their email has been received and when to expect a response.
If you are a smaller business, offering phone support might not make sense (plus I doubt you’d want to call customers from a personal line). If you are a larger company with a budget for a support team and a phone line for your business, offering customer support via phone is an appealing option because it provides quick answers to your customers’ questions in real-time. Affordable tools like Google Voice or Zoom make it easier to offer phone support on a tighter budget, too.
Just like your email address, if you decide to offer phone support, make sure to have your phone number and hours of operation easy to find on your website; ideally, it will live on your Contact Us page along with your email address.
More than half of consumers prefer live chat over phone support, and it’s easy to see why. Chat provides customers with a simple and efficient way to get answers to their questions almost immediately. The instant gratification of being able to get help any time it is needed leads to high customer satisfaction ratings, and satisfied customers often lead to more sales.
Of course, adding live chat to your website will require the aid of outside software, and will also likely involve hiring customer service representatives. Be sure to budget accordingly when considering the types of customer service you plan to offer.
If an outside software for live chat doesn’t fit your budget, social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram are a great (and free!) way to chat with customers. If you decide to go this route, be sure to create a business page for your company outside of your personal page.
Deliver And Maintain Customer Satisfaction
Now that we’ve discussed the different ways you can offer customer service to your buyers and prospective buyers, it’s time to talk about ways to provide, improve, and maintain customer satisfaction. It’s one thing to create ways for your customers to get in touch with you, but the outcome of those interactions is the most important part.
One of the most frustrating things a person can experience in a customer service interaction is a lack of follow-through. If you tell someone you are going to do something for them, be sure to not only do it, but to also do it within the timeframe you guarantee.
For example, if you make a promise on your website to reply to an initial email inquiry within 48 hours, aim for 24 hours or less. If you plan to have a flash sale on your website, be sure to honor your discount and make it clear if any items are exempt from the discount. Staying consistent will create customer loyalty, and maintaining a reputation for having dependable customer service will help with customer acquisition, too.
There is no better way to destroy a potentially positive interaction with a customer than to come across as flippant or uncaring, even if it’s completely unintentional. Nurture your brand’s reputation and build strong customer relationships by showing empathy in your responses to their problems.
1. Use “I” Statements
Instead of placing the blame on the customer by saying something like, “You’re probably confused,” or even, “That must be confusing,” say something like, “I understand this can be confusing.” This shifts the blame off the customer and helps validate their feelings.
2. Stay Calm—And Don’t Get Defensive
When a customer is angry, allow them to vent without interruption. Listen to them carefully, take some deep breaths, and be respectful when you reply. You’re only human, so it may be tempting to match their tone, but doing this will eliminate your chances of turning their bad experience into a positive one.
3. Make Their Problem Your Problem
Take ownership of customers’ questions, especially if they’re making a complaint. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but in showing an eagerness to help by owning their problem, you are building rapport while working towards a resolution you can both agree on. Responding to problems with positive statements such as, “We can definitely fix this for you!” or “Let’s get this taken care of right now,” help show you are taking ownership in a positive way.
4. Practice Active Listening
Practicing active listening can be difficult when you are faced with confrontation, but don’t ever assume you fully understand the problem. Help your customers know you are really hearing them by asking follow-up questions and relaying the situation back to them before offering a solution. This will help your customers feel truly understood and taken care of.
Make It Personal
No one likes talking to a robot because they know they aren’t really being heard. Make your customers feel like you see them as people—not just a potential sale—by doing one or all of the following:
1. Greet Customers By Name And Use Correct Pronouns
No one likes being misgendered, so using correct pronouns along with their name are small gestures to help let customers know the email was written for them (and not just copy + pasted from a script).
2. Add Some Character To Your Emails
Be yourself, and make sure your emails reflect the same voice as your brand. If your brand has a casual, fun voice, don’t reply to an inquiry with a formal, stuffy answer.
3. Ask For Feedback—And Really Listen
This works to your advantage in many ways. Asking your customers for their feedback or to leave a review will make them feel special and it will show them that you are willing to listen.
Don’t just listen, though—put good feedback to action to improve customer satisfaction (and feel free to remember that rhyme as a rule of thumb). If you receive feedback in the form of a review, display your reviews on your website as a way to attract new customers and reinforce the loyalty of existing ones.
FAQ and Knowledge Base pages are proactive, but you should also be proactive in the moment.
For example, did you recently find out that one of your fulfillment providers is experiencing shipping delays? Notify your customers before they have a chance to get upset about them.
Are you planning to run a promotion for Labor Day weekend? Let potential buyers know about it ahead of time so they can plan to visit your website on the day(s) your sale is happening. Keeping customers in the loop as pertinent information becomes available will help you prevent what could have been a frustrating experience for them.
Own Your Mistakes
Swallowing your pride is rarely easy. That being said, mistakes happen, and it says a lot about a company when they own up to them. Whether you misspoke in an email, or you gave frustrated customers the wrong dates for your next sale, being able to say “I was wrong, and I’m sorry” is an important skill to have when providing customer service (and in general, too).
Evaluate Your Strategy, Optimize, and Prosper
No customer service strategy is set in stone. If you find that something isn’t working for your business, don’t be afraid to change your approach. Have a process in place for tracking performance, then use that data to make informed decisions about what’s going well and what can be improved.
If you want to thrive in the competitive ecommerce landscape, having a great customer service strategy is crucial. Providing your buyers with excellent customer support throughout their path to purchase will create loyal, happy customers, and ultimately, a more successful (and profitable!) business for you.
Kristen is an Ecommerce Specialist at Lulu. Her role focuses on helping clients utilize Lulu's direct-to-consumer tools to grow their businesses. She is passionate about giving everyone the opportunity to have their voices heard and believes self-publishing presents the perfect opportunity to do just that. When she's not at the office, Kristen is likely chasing her toddler or working on a DIY project in her garage.