Ecommerce businesses have been booming over the last few decades due to their accessibility and the power of globalization. It’s estimated that there will be 2.14 billion global digital buyers by 2021. That means almost one-quarter of the world’s population is shopping online! With so many online shoppers, and with starting up an eCommerce business being easier than ever, more and more people are starting their own online business. These online businesses have the potential to be extremely lucrative when they are done right but getting them right is key.
Just because it’s easy to start a business in 2020, doesn’t mean it’s easy to make it successful. In large successful businesses, there are usually people with a high level of business experience or credentials. These can help the business reach new heights and continue to thrive, even in adverse times. With small online eCommerce sites, the barrier to entry is much lower. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. A lot of the skills needed to run a successful business are innate or intuitive. Others can be learned and implemented. The key is to be pragmatic and purposeful with how you approach running an eCommerce business. Customer service is one of the key ways you can make a business successful and lucrative, so that’s what we’re focusing on today.
Many businesses try to hide their contact details many pages deep into their website to discourage buyers from reaching out. This is a bad strategy. When something goes wrong, most customers will be open to one of two things:
If you cut off their ability to contact you, then you also cut off these opportunities. Customers who have a problem with your product or service but can’t get in contact with you easily will likely not do business with you again. If you don’t fix the problem then you appear incompetent, or worse, malicious. If you don’t explain yourself, then the customer will make up the explanation for you – you lose your chance at controlling the narrative.
You should provide many ways for the customer to contact you. For example, you could provide Live Chat, Chatbots, a phone number, contact form, and so on.
One of the worst things you can do when confronted by a customer is to be defensive. When you get defensive, you go into protection mode and shift the responsibility of the mistake away from yourself. This is almost always harmful when it comes to building bridges and finding a solution.
When a customer comes to you with a problem such as a late delivery, they want you to take responsibility and fix the problem. They want your assurance that they will still get the product they paid for. You might feel that this is not your fault if it involves factors outside of your control. For example, maybe you prepared the order straight away, but there are staff shortages at the warehouse that you are not responsible for. Or maybe there are workers strikes happening in the local postal service. These things aren’t your fault, but you won’t win any arguments by telling the customer this.
We already established that the customer wants reassurance and the problem to be fixed. If you say, “I’m sorry your order has arrived but it’s not my fault the postal service is slow right now”, you are making the customer feel more anxious. They now feel even less certain about getting their product. They may also feel embarrassed about contacting you and want to cease contact with your business to avoid negative feelings.
It’s also worth considering whether you could have taken more responsibility, even for situations outside of your control. This is called being aggressively responsible. Sure, it’s not your fault that the postal service is slow, but did you know about the strikes? Did you warn your customers that they might experience delays? Did you update your delivery times to reflect these delays?
Many eCommerce sellers feel uncomfortable with giving out their phone numbers. There is a wide spectrum of eCommerce sellers out there. It could be someone with their eCommerce website, or it could be someone who sells their products on Amazon, eBay, or another eCommerce platform. Wherever you sell, you should have a phone number.
Many sellers don’t like to do this because they figure that if they are an online business, then there’s no need to have a phone number. Everything can just be settled online, right? In truth, most customers will not use the phone number option, and will instead opt for email or another digital channel. However, providing a phone number can give your company more legitimacy and give customers more confidence in your products.
eCommerce sellers are usually offering products that customers can get elsewhere, so it’s a good idea to sweeten the deal. For example, you could throw in a free product or give the customer a discount on a different product they have shown interest in when they communicate with you.
Will some people try to exploit this to get free products? Probably, but you shouldn’t worry about these people. There are always people out there who want to get a little more for their money than they are entitled to. Some people try to scam companies. But these people represent such a tiny percentage of your customer base that it’s not worth focusing your energy on them. If you act accusatory to good customers because you mistakenly think they are trying to scam you, then you will sour the relationship.
Sometimes problems with products are inevitable and outside of your control. Maybe the product is delivered unreasonably late due to shipping delays, or somethings the product becomes damaged in transit. If you tell the customer “sorry but there’s nothing I can do, it’s not my fault”, then there’s a good chance you will get a 1* review. If you resolve the issue promptly by delivering a replacement or offering them a voucher, then you could turn that 1* review into a 5* review. This will encourage more customers to buy from you in the future and encourage that customer to buy your products again.
Customers become increasingly frustrated the longer they have to wait for an answer. If they are waiting for a product, they are probably anxious that the product won’t arrive and that they have wasted their money. They want to know whether they should apply for a refund or continue to wait. In this scenario, the longer you make the customer wait, the more they feel that their money is being held hostage.
Sometimes the emails we get are nonsensical, but it doesn’t matter. You should set aside time every day to answer your emails from customers. Set a goal you know you can stick to you, for example, “customers will always get an answer within 12 hours”.
Shipping issues are inevitable in eCommerce businesses. You must have a plan for when this happens. For example, you can include lost shipping or reshipping into your monthly budget. You can respond to customers quickly and try to work with the courier to see what the problem is and whether it can be resolved. You can send out a replacement item. You must not leave your customers feeling abandoned and uncared for by not having a plan and not responding to their concerns.
Even if your plan is to tell customers that reshipping isn’t possible, that’s okay too. For example, you might sell handmade one of a kind items. In this scenario, it might be unfeasible for you to make and ship the product again. If this is the case, then you should have clear policies outlined on your website or storefront, so customers are aware of this.
There’s an exception to “respond to all emails quickly”. This exception is when you are angry. If you receive a strongly worded email from a customer that makes you feel angry or upset, then you should take some time to breathe before you respond. Responding in anger can seriously harm your relationship. Even if you’re not interested in a relationship with this customer, consider that they might post your response to social media and you might come out looking like the bad buy.
There’s a quote from the movie The Social Network that applies here. The movie is about Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to success through his creation of Facebook. In the movie, he goes on a date with a woman that does not go well. Afterward, he starts to blog about it, saying mean things about her character and appearance. Later in the movie, he attempts to apologize to her, and she says:
“The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in Ink”.
The things you say on the internet are permanent.
If you are confused about what a customer is trying to say or what they are asking for, then try to clarify. You should be careful not to come across as condescending, but rather to stress that you just want to be 100% clear on what they are asking for so you can fix the problem.
Wherever possible, you should aim to solve the problem with only one interaction with the customer. Speedy responses and speedy resolutions immediately put the customer at ease and reassure them. If you end up in a long back and forth with the customer, it means there’s something wrong with your communication style. Are you being concise enough in your responses? Are you being clear? Are you offering multiple solutions for the customer to choose from or simply asking for more details about their problem?
You should always follow up with customers after you have solved their issue. A lot of customers won’t respond to these follow-up emails, and you shouldn’t repeatedly send them if the customer doesn’t respond. However, giving the customer the option of telling you about more problems allows you to fix more problems and impress the customer.
Consider how you want to talk to customers before you start interacting with them. Will you use emojis? Will you ask them about their day? Do a basic template or script to ensure that you bake friendliness into all of your replies. Sometimes when things are hectic, we have a tendency to rush out our responses in the quickest way possible. They are abrupt and to the point. They might contain all the necessary information, but they are missing that human element.
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