Practical Ecommerce

5 ways to alienate your customers

In a single month, I’ve encountered the following five instances of poor customer service from online companies. All could have been easily avoided.

Silence after a payment. If you don’t contact your customers to acknowledge and thank them for their payment, you risk being seen as greedy and unappreciative at best, or a scam artist at worst.

I arranged to send wedding items to Fiji via The Freight Guy, an Australian air and sea courier. I was alarmed to discover the company’s Sydney phone number had been disconnected 10 days after my payment, in May. Its Joomla-based website is currently down for maintenance. There are online warning messages when you search the company name that his business is a scam.

Suggestion for online retailers: Set up an automated thank you message, at the very least, to acknowledge orders. Keep customers informed along the way. A quick phone call, especially when a customer has asked a question in the notes to her order, provides invaluable reassurance and may help sell more products.

Live chat is not live. While live chat helps convert many visitors to customers, ecommerce merchants should switch it off when staff is unavailable. It’s frustrating, as a consumer, to type a live chat question that goes unanswered. Some live chat boxes do not save your query or provide an email record.

When I used The Freight Guy, for example, I noticed it had live chat running all day long, yet no one was available to provide answers. I never received an email copy of my query, either.

Suggestion for online retailers: When you’re unavailable, turn off live chat or otherwise ensure the option is not visible to visitors. Make sure that your live chat system can email users copies of their chat dialog.

Autoresponder always on. Autoresponders are terrific for vacations, but some online retailers use them seemingly permanently to announce they are incredibly busy and can’t respond for 48 hours or more. One wedding stylist I correspond with has every email message bounce back with an autoresponder, which is frustrating.

Suggestion for online retailers: Use autoresponders sparingly, such as for vacations, if you’re a small business. Set up email alerts to identify specific, urgent issues via important keyword phrases, like “my order is missing,” to give them priority. Create specific email address categories, such as “new business” and “media inquiries,” to help prioritize. Unsubscribe from unnecessary, unread newsletters to stop feeling overwhelmed by email. Or hire more staff.

Subscription cancellations not honored. I cancelled my annual subscription with payment gateway company eWay well ahead of the 30-day notification period, and received confirmation of my cancellation. So I was annoyed to have my credit card charged for hundreds of dollars five weeks later. I had to make several phone calls to eWay to get my refund.

Suggestion for online retailers: Give loyal customers a discount for signing up again ahead of their annual subscription. Triple check that all cancellation requests are honored, so no erroneous credit card charges occur.

Cold, anonymous corporate messages. I have used Mail Call, an Australian courier company, for nearly five years. Mail Call sent a corporate email message yesterday with this subject heading: “Exciting announcement to our valued clients. [my (numerical) customer ID].” The email addressed me as “Valued Customer” — not by my name.

The one time the message focused on me, the customer, was in the final sentence, “If you have any questions, we would be happy to answer them for you — please contact your account manager for more details.”

But there was no list of account manager names or phone numbers to make it easy to ask questions.

Suggestion for online retailers: If you must send a corporate email, personalize it with your customer’s first name, at least, and concentrate your message on how it impacts her. Provide contact details so your customers don’t have to search for them.

What annoying issue have you encountered from an online retailer?

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