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Customer Service - Part 1: Getting great at customer service for ecommerce growth

The ‘Customer is King’ maxim encourages sellers to remember that everything good for ecommerce businesses stems from happy customers. The kind of business logic can’t be argued. Once the customer clicks the submit button to buy their goods online, this is the moment when their expectations and the waiting kick in. They have the potential to buy from us again and again and so we work hard to delight them and build their lifetime value with us. It’s much easier to sell to someone who has already bought from you and it’s far preferable to cultivate existing customers than having to constantly go in search of new customers.

Should we disappoint our customers in some way, they could look for a refund or to return the item. This unfortunate process starts to eat into our hard-earned margins. We work hard to make sure that returns and refunds don’t happen, but when they do we have to work hard to recompense the customer as soon as possible so that we might win them back to the ‘delighted repeat customer’ camp.

Working from the principle that we all agree customer service is of paramount importance, here are 4 challenges to overcome:

1. There’s cost. Customer service is a cost centre, not a profit centre, for the business. The more people you have in customer service, answering phones, reading and sending emails, locating orders, checking their status, processing refunds and returns, the higher your costs and the more pressure on your margins. It’s no use hiring so many customer service staff that you lose money on every transaction you make. At the opposite end of the spectrum, an under-resourced team means a seemingly unending stack of customer issues to resolve, slower response times, disgruntled customers and poor ratings. The alternative is to invest in better processes and technologies that automate some of the areas for you, save your staff time and make them more productive.

2. There are your products themselves and how you list them. Your customer service, to a degree, is a function of the quality of goods you are supplied and the quality of your suppliers. If your products are good quality, from reputable suppliers, with accurate descriptions and perform as advertised, providing you have good control over your fulfillment and dispatch process your customer service costs will be lower. The converse is also true for shoddy products and unreliable suppliers. Furthermore, the more accurately you list your products, with realistic and accurate pictures, the more buyers’ expectations will be aligned with the actual products and the lower your resulting customer service overheads.

3. There are processes to think about. The more organised your customer service is, the lower your costs and better you can service your customers. As you might expect, this is easier said than done. Customer service staff have to check multiple systems in multiple places to do their jobs, and this takes time. Sales orders, finance, emails, the website, payment gateways, the marketplaces; these are typically separate systems. There’s also an awful lot of repetition, as customers tend to have the same or similar questions about their order.

4. As we have already alluded to, there are the multiple ecommerce channels on which you sell. You decide the customer service rules and standards for your own website; that’s entirely down to you and the expectations of your customers. Each of the channels or multi channel marketplaces where you sell, however, has its own ways of working, its own customer service requirements, and its own ratings for how it measures and prioritises seller performance. You need to be very close to how performance metrics and seller ratings are calculated in each marketplace, so that you maximise your sales here and don’t fall foul of their service levels. The last thing you want is to be removed from a marketplace and see a major source of income compromised, because you have failed to maintain a certain service standard.

We've shown you 4 challenges that surround customer service, but the main thing to remember is that customer experience is key to business success.

If you'd like to read more about best practice customer service tips in ecommerce, read back for the second part in our blog...

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