Improve your e-commerce branding and online reputation by embracing these 3 e-commerce customer service tips for 2021.
One of the biggest takeaways from 2020 for business owners was understanding the necessity—and power—of a robust e-commerce platform. The COVID-19 pandemic made online shopping even more of a fixture for most consumers, and many companies had to scale up their ability to meet demand from web orders.
The trend toward online shopping was already well in the works prior to 2020. In fact, 40% of U.S. shoppers prefer to make purchases online rather than in-store, according to one recent survey. In the wake of the pandemic, this figure is projected to grow significantly across nearly every sector. As e-commerce increases in popularity, so too does competition: another recent study reported that 36% of online shoppers have tried new product brands; of this group, more than 70% stated that they would consider trying out new brands in the future as well.
These challenges make it all the more important for businesses to build a robust, customer-centric e-commerce strategy in 2021. Knowing where to begin or what to prioritize can be a challenge, however. Here are six essential tips for optimizing your customer service online.
1. Communicate with Customers on Their Terms
It’s easier to answer customer questions when face-to-face communication is possible. For many businesses, this isn’t an option at the moment. That means offering a multitude of communication methods for customers to voice their concerns or ask for more information is crucial. This also means making it easier for customers to reach out via phone, text, email or live chat.
As customer expectations about communication have evolved, so too have the technologies that make it easier for businesses to provide a variety of contact points. For example, chatbots can answer many common questions on their own, reducing the wait time needed to get a human response (and reducing your customer service team’s queue as well). Social media messaging makes it easy for customers and businesses to communicate from anywhere. Even more conventional tools such as email or phone service come with automation opportunities to make your business even more accessible.
2. Survey Early and Often
Online shoppers are more inclined than ever to express their feedback—whether about their shopping experience, shipping time or the quality of the item purchased. Keeping on top of external reviews takes a certain amount of responsiveness that some businesses are wary of spending on this additional work. Failure to do so, however, may result in negative feedback across public forums—and can have a significant impact on brand reputation.
It is more important than ever to solicit customer feedback within your own ecosystem before customer issues get aired out in public through reviews. You can stay ahead of negative reviews by taking steps to measure customer satisfaction yourself. This means sending surveys after customers receive their goods, placing a feedback button on your site for pre-purchase issues, and by soliciting surveys after customer service interactions. Plus, you can always reach out to satisfied customers to ask them to provide reviews, which can go a long way toward generating new clientele.
3. Reward Loyalty More Than Ever Before
Online shoppers have a multitude of options when buying online. Plus, online shopping tends to decrease brand loyalty, meaning that even your most loyal customers may opt to buy elsewhere if the price (and online experience) is right. That’s why it’s critical to offer unparalleled customer service and to incentivize repeat business.
Businesses can reward loyal customers through early or exclusive access to sales, discount codes for future purchases, referral codes for existing customers to share with others, or even just a heartfelt note inside an order’s packaging. Each of these efforts helps demonstrate your appreciation of your customers’ business—and don’t have to cost you a fortune in the process.
4. Availability Is a Must
In the world of cutthroat competition online, a business’s best advantage is having as many items in stock as possible. This may pose a challenge, depending on a company’s supply chain and lingering pandemic-related manufacturing delays, but businesses that can put a priority on keeping their inventory replenished will be rewarded with sales.
The best thing businesses can do in a competitive online marketplace is to keep their inventory stocked and readily available for purchase. Buyers are more inclined to shop around when searching the web for goods, so businesses need to do what they can to keep their wares in stock.
5. Keep Your Pricing Competitive
E-commerce retailers aren’t only expected to keep their inventory full; they’re also obligated to keep prices low in order to stay competitive with their peers. Online shoppers have the patience and means to shop around for the best price, which often drives their purchasing decisions more than loyalty does.
Businesses can deliver value to customers through low, competitive pricing. This doesn’t always have to mean low list prices, either. Instead, you can offer discounts by way of loyalty initiatives. Common examples include discounts and sales for newsletter subscribers (including introductory discounts for signing up) or for following your company on social media. Referral programs are also a popular option as they incentivize existing customers to recommend your company to their friends. You can offer referrers a discount, as well as those who they refer to your business.
6. Optimize Your Shipping Options
Online shopping behemoths have changed the public perception of shipping costs and speed, for better or worse. The proliferation of free shipping might pose a challenge to your business, especially if competitors offer it. Still, there are ways in which businesses can overcome these challenges.
If offering free shipping on any item doesn’t fit within your budget, you could always set order minimums as a qualifier for free shipping. Incentivizing customers to purchase anywhere from $40 to $60 worth of goods can make free shipping more worthwhile, even if doing so still cuts into your margins. Many retailers also offer slower shipping speeds for free, which some customers might be comfortable with. Lastly, you can also offer shipping discounts for customers who create accounts. This gives you more information about who they are, helping your marketing and sales strategies.
E-commerce customer service might be more of a challenge for most businesses than in-person retail, but it’s by no means impossible to scale up and improve as consumers move toward buying online in greater numbers. With a few alterations to your existing customer service framework, you can position your business to put its best foot forward, both retaining and securing new clients in the process.