Customer Service

The Zappos Effect: 5 Great Customer Service Ideas for Smaller Businesses

Zappos, the online retailer, has used incredible customer service to create an extremely loyal customer base. Small ecommerce businesses that want to grow would be wise to take a lesson from Zappos.

As an example of Zappos’ almost insane customer care, the company has even been known to shop at other stores for customers.

In 2009, a traveler checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. When the traveler was unpacking she realized that she’d forgotten a pair of her favorite shoes. She had purchased the missing shoes at Zappos, so she headed to its website. When she could not find another pair of the same shoes on the site, she called the company’s help-desk concierge service. Zappos no longer had the shoes, but its headquarters are just outside of Las Vegas. So the Zappos team located the shoes at a nearby mall, went there and purchased the shoes, and then hand-delivered them to the Mandalay Bay, all at no charge.

This act of customer service heroism certainly sounds crazy. It almost certainly cost Zappos money. So why is this one of the secrets to online retail success? To get the answer just imagine how the customer felt. No doubt, she’ll shop Zappos again. She probably told lots of friends, who told their friends. And the goodwill that the company generated most certainly did more for the business than any advertising or marketing program Zappos might have spent those dollars on.

The only real question is what can a small ecommerce business do to delight customers in a manner similar to what Zappos does?

Lightning Fast Response

Many large businesses do not reply to customer emails. This sort of response won’t fly in a customer-focused ecommerce business. Do your best to provide lighting fast responses to customer questions, comments, or orders.

Many small merchants cannot easily afford a call center, so they rely on email as the only means of customer communication. This is fine, as long as you get right back to the customer. Consider keeping your customer service inbox open all day when you’re sitting at your desk. When an email comes in, treat it like a fire alarm. Also, after hours, have a means of monitoring customer service emails from your smartphone.

Define what lighting fast response means in your company — perhaps five minutes or less — and track your response times. You want to get back to every customer before that customer starts wondering what’s going on.

Never Argue About Returns

Zappos has a 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed return policy. The company will never fuss about any return. In fact, Zappos actually encourages customers to order several products, check them out, and return what they don’t want.

Consider implementing a similar policy. It will make customers feel more comfortable buying from you, and if your ecommerce platform will support it, consider offering the refund in the form of store credit.

Treat Good Customers Well

Another Zappos customer service tactic that translates well to small online retailers is the concept of treating loyal or new customers well. Specifically, Zappos often upgrades good customers to next day or second day air shipping from standard ground shipping. This policy encourages customers and rewards those customers that frequently shop your store.

You might also consider offering coupons or other bonuses to your best customers.

Expect Problems, Be a Solution

Next, expect problems. Remember, you’re selling products via mail, often on images alone. Lots of things could go wrong, from shipping problems to the customer ordering the wrong size.

Knowing that there will be problems, you should be prepared to handle them when they come. If a certain type of problem — perhaps packages damaged during shipping or something similar — be sure to take some action to prevent this sort of problem in the future.

Customers that have had problems and believe they were treated fairly will often be your most loyal customers in the long run.

Treat Customers Like Individuals

Finally, learn to treat every customer like an individual with a unique story, challenge or problem. Imagine what you would do if a customer called you and said she had forgotten to pack her favorite pair of shoes.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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