Practical Ecommerce

How to Make Your Customer Service Shine

As a small e-commerce store, you can’t compete against the big boys in many arenas. However, one arena where you can outduel them in is customer service.

By definition, you are a specialist in your product category and therefore should be an expert in all things that you sell. You can provide more detailed product information, helpful recommendations, well thought-out opinions, and expert insight. You should also include more photographs than the big boys and even a question and answer section for every product you sell. This should give you an edge as far as merchandising is concerned.

Beyond more thorough merchandising, your customer service should far exceed the low standards set by most large e-tailers. At minimum, you should provide customers the ability to call and speak to someone knowledgeable regarding all the products, policies, and procedures of your store — without needing to be transferred.

You may be competing against Amazon, but can a customer call Amazon and ask questions about a particular product? Never. This is an opportunity for your store to shine!

Essentially, customer service needs to be the #1 priority in your business. Here are a few suggestions for spicing up your customer service:

Make sure that every staff member knows your website inside and out. They need to know every product, every policy, every feature, and every last detail of your site. If your staff hasn’t used every product you sell, you should start now! Have weekly meetings where new (and old) products are shared, discussed, evaluated, and tested. Therefore, when they answer the phone, they can instantaneously solve the customer’s problem and answer their questions. Unless the situation is very rare, your CSR should never say, “Oh, um, I’m not sure. Let me check.”

If you don’t currently do your customer service yourself, do it yourself for an entire week at least four times a year. This allows you to understand the most common problems your customers are experiencing and the complexity of the system you have in place to solve the problems. Like every area of your business, you need to know how to do it in case of an emergency. This also gives you a chance to improve your systems.

Never blame the customer. I’ve run into this countless times when dealing with manufacturers who don’t interact directly with customers. Any time we relay a complaint, they instantly assume that the customer is either incompetent or lying. Rarely is this true. If customers are confused, figure out why and try to solve the problem at the root. If the manufacturer can’t fix the issue, include helpful information on your site. This is so easy to do when you’ve become an expert with a product and your customers will appreciate you for it.

If a majority of your customer correspondence is being done via email, you should invest in a help desk system. Not only does a ticket-based system prevent emails from falling through the cracks, but most systems provide for time-saving features such as macros, canned responses, and triggers. You can also check in on your reps to see how they’re doing by analyzing closed tickets. We use ZenDesk. It has been great.

You should also ask friends or family members to test your service. Have them randomly call your customer service reps and report back to you on the experience.

Create an insanely simple procedure for defective claims. At our store, if a customer’s product arrives damaged or non-functioning, we offer two choices: refund or replacement. If they choose refund, they are given back their entire purchase (including shipping).

If they choose to have a replacement sent, we ship it at our expense. We don’t ask any questions unless their order value is over a threshold amount. I HATE the idea of making the customer return the item — even if you pay for the return shipping. This policy implies that you don’t believe the customer, makes them do more work, and costs them time in both having to ship the return and wait for the replacement.

Recently, I purchased a battery backup for a computer. I plugged it in and it started smoking! Yikes. I called the company from which I purchased it and they made me box it back up and return it (at their expense). However, they wouldn’t ship the replacement until they “evaluated” the product. This makes me wary of purchasing from them again because I don’t want to go through that hassle. I was already pissed off that the item was DOA. And of course, I’m more pissed at the retailer than the manufacturer. It’s human nature. Use it to your advantage.

Your goal should be to wow customers with every interaction. You must always over-deliver! Do everything in your power to reduce inconvenience for your customers. Solve their problem quickly and without difficulty and you may have earned yourself a customer for life!


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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Trelos June 9, 2013 Reply

    I understand your points but I don’t agree that they apply universally. My company supplies (amongst other things) power supplies and chargers. If one of those smoked we would definitely NOT ship a replacement until we understood what went wrong. If there’s a faulty batch and we didn’t investigate, "Health & Safety" would crucify us. Not only would we NOT ship a replacement, we would quarantine any stock in our warehouse, pending testing – and that could take some time. We’d definitely require the return of the faulty item in order to determine the mode of failure and, hopefully, the cause.

    However, for low-cost, lightweight items where safety is not an issue, we ship a replacement and tell the customer to keep or trash the incorrect or faulty one.

    For higher cost items with high shipping charge, our response would depend on the nature of the problem. As many of our products are technologically challenging, we supply comprehensive instructions. However, many people simply don’t have the necessary knowledge or skill. If the problem was one of lack of understanding, and educating the customer was not viable, we’d offer "return for refund" only. No point in replacing an item if the customer simply can’t understand how to install or use it. We’d recommend he employ a local professional.

    BTW I, personally, run the "Technical Help Desk" via phone, Skype and email, so I’m continually encountering and (usually) solving problems.

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