“It’s just not the same anymore. What happened to customer service?”
As the economy has struggled and business has become increasingly competitive, consumers have watched customer service standards slide. Many online business owners think that doing business over the Internet is supposed to be inherently impersonal.
Others simply spend less on customer service because they argue that service can’t be measured accurately and, therefore, doesn’t provide a legitimate return on investment. While measuring the value of service isn’t an exact science, its value is evident when sales are lost due to a lack of service.
The perplexing thing, though, is that we know without a shadow of a doubt that it’s much cheaper to market to our current customers (resulting in repeat purchases) than it is to attract new customers.
Bain Consulting has suggested that it’s over six times cheaper to retain customers than to attract new ones, and that repeat customers spend more than two times as much as new customers. Looking at the numbers, it seems obvious that businesses would do well to invest in customer service that will drive repeat purchases. Yet we frequently see businesses reducing service standards while simultaneously spending a fortune attempting to attract new business.
Providing Better Online Customer Service
The key to creating a better customer experience online is connection. Consumers who want the lowest price and an impersonal shopping experience can take their business to Amazon.com or Walmart.com. These sites can get away with not connecting with customers on a personal level because of their breadth of product availability and low prices.
The rest of the online business world has to instead compete on service or be driven out of business by one behemoths. Small e-commerce businesses must absolutely develop a connection with customers in order to keep them from leaving for the cheapest alternative (i.e. Amazon).
Here are a few simple ways that online business owners can offer better customer service and build a connection with customers:
1. Consistently provide order updates.
Customers hate being left in the dark in regards to the status of their orders. Make sure customers have an easy way to check on the progress of their orders–especially when the product is “made to order”.
2. Properly educate your customer service team.
There are few better times to develop a human connection with customers than when they call customer service to ask about a product. There are also few better ways to lose customers than to have customers feel like they know more about your product than your customer service team does.
3. Skip the customer service script.
Let your customer service representatives spend as much time as it takes to answer a customers’ questions. Many companies aim to minimize time spent on the phone with customers due to the cost.
However, you might consider looking at the cost of lengthy phone calls as an investment in customer retention. Zappos has a cult following for this exact reason — it believes that spending time on the phone helping customers in any way possible is going to drive repeat sales (even if that means spending over 10 hours on a marathon call with a customer).
4. Be available.
Provide a direct line for customers to get in touch with you if they need to follow up for any reason. One surefire way to make a customer feel disconnected from your company is to make him use an automated phone system. Small online businesses can win through good customer service, and making customers talk to a computer (as if they’re calling a large corporation) is certifiably bad service.
It’s easy to get caught up in cost-cutting and focusing on efficiencies when running an online business that never actually meets customers in person, but be wary of scaling back customer service. Great service may not be explicitly measurable, but it’s the best way to build a loyal following and drive repeat purchases which are, after all, the most valuable of all sales.
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Tyler Shearburn is the CEO and Founder of Comfy Sacks, an online retailer of over-sized beanbags. In order to really know his products, Tyler owns every size Comfy Sack his company sells. On the side, Tyler consults with e-commerce platforms on their structure and strategy. He encourages readers to reach out to him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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