October 22, 2013, 12:16 PM

Four steps to improve customer service for online retailers

Start with hello, as a retailer would in a physical store, and keep communicating clearly even beyond delivery.

While a growing number of shoppers are choosing the Internet over the mall, their desire for quality products, fair prices, and good customer service remains unchanged. In order to capitalize on the inherent value of customer satisfaction, retention, and loyalty, online sellers must be proactive in their approach in applying tried-and-true retail service fundamentals to the modern marketplace.

Study after study confirms that customer service is a key factor for generating online retail sales and achieving a high rate of return business. In order to keep pace with the competition, it's essential to make customer care a focus of priority. By taking a comprehensive approach to cultivating a more advantageous service experience, you can improve conversion rates, boost repeat patronage, and discover new ways to dynamically grow your business.

1. Start With a Hello
Just about every successful retailer with a physical location makes it a priority to present a welcoming environment for their shoppers, and to make sure visitors are greeted upon entrance; yet it is a practice that's rarely used online. It should be your focus to make sure your shoppers feel welcome when they arrive on your web site, and an effective greeting lets them know that their business is appreciated and that there's someone present to attend to their needs.

Focus on cultivating a welcome experience on your web site that sends the message that you are open for business and eager to help. One strategy to consider is preparing an automated pop-up message that offers greetings, informs shoppers of promotions, and presents a set of options for accessing support. By taking the initiative to make contact with visitors you effectively break the ice, making them more likely to reach out for assistance in the event they require it.

  • Rather than place a tiny help button in the top corner of your web page, make your customer service features a visual, central element of your design.
  • Greet your visitors with active language and compelling imagery. Invite them to "shop now," or to "learn more" about the products you are featuring.
  • Present an on-page search option to help customers quickly and intuitively access the product information or logistical details they require.

2. Get on the "Sales Floor"
There comes a point when a customer either finds what they are looking for and heads for the checkout, or (for one reason of another) lingers and heads for the door. This is a critical moment where revenues are won and lost, making it optimal to develop a system that monitors your web site for such instances. By pinpointing when customer interaction is optimal through tracking and analysis, you can reduce your bounce rate and cart abandonment, making proactive contact in an effort to address needs and lend support.

A real-time customer service representative is effective in mirroring the personalized attention shoppers receive on the sales floor of a physical location. Study your visitor's experiences and tendencies to learn how and when to approach with the product guidance or logistical support to help usher them through moments of uncertainty and toward final conversion.

  • Include a picture and name of your live online representatives to establish a personal connection that relays trust and accountability.
  • Give customers options on how they wish to receive support. A sizable percentage of individuals prefer to communicate by email as opposed to a live connection, while a mobile shopper may require a phone call when their hands are occupied.
  • Utilize real-time promotions and incentives. A well-timed offer for free shipping or additional discounts might provide the nudge necessary to complete a sale, while at the same time leaving a positive impression that promotes loyalty.

3. Harbor a Service-Oriented Culture
To create a successful brand, it's essential to put your finger on the essence of what your business is all about, and ensure that your image is consistently supported through design elements, marketing strategies, and the contact you have with your customers. Create a code of communications cut from the core of your brand mission that emanates throughout your organization.

By providing well-defined protocols for customer interaction and maintaining high standards of product knowledge, company representatives are better prepared to communicate your message effectively. Every point of contact is an opportunity to prove your dedication to customer satisfaction, and display a human element the public is ready to buy into.

  • Hire knowledge, cheerful, and responsible representatives who are capable of maximizing the benefits of direct client interaction.
  • Monitor and grade customer service communications in order to maintain standards, motivate, and make improvements.
  • Challenge yourself to do better, setting lofty, yet attainable goals for answering a higher percentage of live calls, reducing waiting times, providing fast responses to emails, and resolving complaints on first contact.

4. Go the Distance
For many online stores, the real challenges for winning loyalty start after the purchase is completed. In theory, the hard part is over; however the following sequence of actions are rife with pratfalls and pitfalls that can quickly turn into relationship killers. Strive to stay a step ahead by placing an emphasis on continuing support, clearly communicating information to buyers that guides the experience from purchase through order fulfillment, shipping, and delivery.

Supply the technical proficiency to deliver up-to-date information from representatives as instantaneously as possible, and give the customer the power to efficiently rectify issues on their own. Amazon.com is a top online retailer that's earned a sterling customer service rating by offering features like single-click tracking, pre-printed return labels, and flexible policies.

When one door closes, another opens, so send a communication following a completed transaction to plant the seed for your next sale. Thank customers for their patronage and let them have a voice in shaping their future experiences by participating in an online survey. As an incentive for their feedback, give customers a reason to shop with you again through a customized offer or membership in a loyalty program.

  • Employ an automated system to supply fast and efficient answers relating to shipping and delivery statuses.
  • Structure your logistics chain to triggers alerts when there is a potential issue with an order, preemptively reaching out to customers to keep them informed.
  • Give latitude to your representatives when resolving issues, whether it means waiving shipping costs or bending return policies, in order to increase customer retention and loyalty.
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