Customer service is the heart of any business. Without your customers, your business would cease to exist. It makes sense that the most successful companies focus on great customer service. When you keep your customers happy, they will come back for return purchases in the future.
If you provide great customer service, your customers are also more likely to recommend your services to their friends and family. Word of mouth marketing has been proven to be the most effective method of business growth. Forbes highlighted the importance of word of mouth advertising in an article from 2014, stating, “According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. WOMMA and the American Marketing Association (AMA) decided to find out exactly what brands were doing about that fact. In a recent study, 64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing.”
The online marketplace is incredibly competitive. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that online shopping accounted for over half of all purchases made. Due to the rapid growth in the online marketplace, customers have a wide variety of vendors to choose from when making purchases. If your systems are outdated, or your customer service is lacking, your sales will suffer.
Keeping your customers happy should be your top business objective. If you want to continue to grow, customer service will become the lifeblood of your business. One facet of customer service is making the purchasing experience as pleasant as possible. When your systems function seamlessly it makes the shopping experience easier for your customers, ensuring that they will be satisfied by your service. Encourage your customers to become repeat buyers and increase your referral rate by improving your business processes.
1. Make sure your site is optimized for quick loading, and is mobile friendly.
Good website design is the first step in creating a positive online shopping experience. If your website takes too long to load, it will detract from a customer’s experience. In fact, if your site takes too long to load, customers may click away before they even see your homepage.
There are steps you can take to ensure that your site loads quickly. For starters, find out how long it typically takes to load, and how your site compares to others. This can be accomplished by installing a browser plugin, such as Alexa. It shows how long your site takes to load, as well as how popular it is compared to other websites.
It is also important to ensure that your website is mobile friendly. BGR reported that in November 2016 more web traffic came from mobile devices than PCs for the first time. Given the rapid growth of the mobile market, making sure that your website is mobile friendly is especially crucial. Text should be well spaced and easy to read, and images should be formatted properly for mobile devices. If you use sidebars in your desktop web design, they should be relocated for mobile to improve the user experience.
2. Include clear, visually appealing images.
Images are especially important in online transactions. Since your customers can’t see your products in person and touch them, images are the only way to convey the quality of your products. You don’t want people to avoid ordering due to poor photo quality.
Make sure that the lighting is appropriate when photographing images to list online. Low light conditions can lead to a photo being dark and grainy. You should also be sure it is crisp, and clear. A blurry image will not encourage people to purchase your product. Consider positioning as well. Take photos from multiple angles so that potential customers can get a feel for what the product would be like in person. You may want to photograph a flat lay that includes your product as well as 3d shots from various angles. Some successful online retailers have incorporated panoramic 3d images into their site design so that customers can rotate the image 360 degrees. The better your photography is, the higher the chance that potential customers will make a purchase.
3. Include POS software in your site design.
POS software can make or break your site. Good software can help your system function flawlessly. On the other hand, poorly designed software can be detrimental to the customer experience and may ultimately scare your customers away.
A good POS software will function well on a Mac, PC, or iPad. One such software is Vend HQ. Vend allows you to flawlessly process multiple forms of payments. They have partnered with merchant services providers from around the world to be able to easily process credit, debit, and gift cards. The wide array of payment options makes the purchasing experience simple and enjoyable.
4. Offer a customer review platform.
Customer review platforms are the online equivalent of word of mouth advertising. When consumers see that other customers have been happy with their purchases, they are more likely to follow through with their own purchase. Invesp highlights the importance of customer reviews in an infographic, stating, “90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”
Since online customer reviews are a powerful selling tool, you want to make it easy for your customers to review your products. Design your review systems to simplify the process as much as possible. Consumers are less likely to leave a review if there are multiple hoops to jump through, so streamlining the process is essential. Don’t require many identifying factors before allowing a customer to write a review. Remember, reviews help your business grow, so your customers are doing you a favour when they review your products.
5. Update order status often.
Nothing annoys a customer like poor communication. Make sure that you are updating your customers every time there is a change in their order status. Even if it feels like you are over communicating on your end, your customers are unlikely to see it that way. In fact, frequent updates help your business appear efficient and professional. Both characteristics help build trust, and are likely to lead to a quality customer experience.
Automate your system to send update messages at different points in the process. This helps take the element of human error out of the question, and ensures that your customers receive prompt communication. Some of the points that it would be worthwhile for you to check in with your customers are when an order is first placed, when it is being packaged, when it ships, and when it is delivered. Make sure to include all necessary tracking information when an order ships as well so they know when to expect delivery. Most customers will also appreciate a follow up email once their order has been received asking if they are happy with their order.
6. Make it easy to contact customer service
If you want to provide an optimal user experience, make it simple for potential buyers to contact customer service. When a customer experiences a problem, or has a question they are likely to be frustrated. The last thing you want to do is exacerbate the problem by making it difficult for them to reach out for help.
Have the link to contact customer service in a prominent place on your website. It should be easy to find. You don’t want your potential buyers to have to navigate through multiple pages just to find it.
It is best practice to offer multiple methods of reaching out for support. This allows your customers the flexibility to contact you via the method that is most convenient for them. Your goal should be to make the customer service experience flow seamlessly.
Some of the most popular methods of contacting customer service are through phone, email, and instant message. Make sure that your customer service centre is properly staffed and trained. You want your employees to be knowledgeable, and able to respond quickly to any query. Long wait times can lead to customer dissatisfaction, and may lead potential buyers to make a purchase elsewhere. Do everything in your power to provide a timely, professional response.
Vend can also give your customers the option of layaway, making it simple for them to reserve items and pay over time. It also makes returns easy and painless, and can quickly process refunds.
On the backend, Vend can help you manage your inventory so you never have to worry about a customer purchasing an item that is out of stock. It also features powerful reporting options that can give you additional insight into your business and help you identify areas where you can improve and grow.
7. Provide a FAQ page to address common issues.
It is wise to give your customers a chance to help themselves before reaching out to customer service. Adding a FAQ page to your website can help answer common questions quickly, and reduce the number of inquiries being directed to your customer service team. A well-designed FAQ page can build confidence and trust in your business. It is not a place to simply dump miscellaneous information that you don’t have another place for. Rather, it should be well crafted, with the same attention to detail you pay to the rest of your site.
Shopify, a popular online retail platform, highlights the benefits of a FAQ page in a blog post, stating, “When used right, your FAQ page can benefit customers at different parts of the purchasing journey—whether they’re in the consideration phase looking to understand how you source your product or an existing customer troubleshooting a problem with their order.
In short, an FAQ page reduces the overall anxiety of purchasing online and that goes a long way in getting on-the-fence customers to buy from you.”
Just because a FAQ page contains commonly asked questions doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Allow your personality to shine through in the copy on the page. Customers will appreciate knowing that the business they are considering making a purchase from has a human side to it. This can lead to increased trust as you build a relationship with your potential customers.
8. Offer free shipping
With the advent of Amazon Prime, free shipping has become the industry norm. According to an infographic published by Newgistics, a company dedicated to omni-channel customer solutions, 87% of shoppers prefer free shipping over paying to have items shipped faster. Additionally, 77% of customers stated that free shipping was the most important checkout option. If you don’t offer free shipping, you risk losing sales to online retailers who do.
In addition to free shipping, free returns are also growing in popularity. Your customers should feel at ease with the entire purchase process. You don’t want them to feel as though they should keep items that they aren’t fully satisfied with. By offering a convenient returns process, you increase the likelihood that they will have a favourable view of your business and that they will purchase from you again in the future.
Free returns don’t have to be a hassle on your end. Most shipping carriers offer the ability to print prepaid shipping labels that can be included in the original shipment to your client. You are only charged for the shipment if the label is used, so it doesn’t add significant cost to your bottom line. Some carriers even offer the option for your customers to call for pickup. This simplifies the process even further by ensuring that they don’t even have to make a trip to drop off the package. Instead, they can leave it by the front door and the carrier will come and pick it up for them.
9. Inspire your customers by categorizing similar items together
Shopping online can lead to customers feeling disconnected if a site is not well designed. Since they aren’t in a brick and mortar location walking by and touching multiple products they may not purchase as many items online. However, if you design your site well, you can expose them to additional items and encourage them to make add on purchases.
Group your items on your site in a logical manner. You should have easy to navigate categories on your site that can be accessed from any page. Don’t limit your categories to the homepage alone. Once they navigate away, they may not scroll back to look at additional items.
You can also add similar items at the bottom of each listing. Post items that have a similar function, or products that complement each other. If customers can envision how other items could be of value to them, they are more likely to purchase. When you are linking items, if possible, show the star rating for other products. If your potential customers see that other consumers were satisfied with the item, they are more inclined to purchase it themselves.
10. Address issues quickly and professionally.
No matter what line of business you are in, problems will eventually arise. The way you handle them can potentially make or break your business. Since online businesses don’t have the benefit of face to face interactions with clients it is even more important to provide excellent customer care.
Train your customer service team in the proper way to respond to complaints. Help them understand that while it is human nature to become defensive when handling complaints, that this is likely to exacerbate the problem rather than resolve it. Instead, teach them to empathize with the customer. When customers feel that their problems are understood, they are more willing to be satisfied with the solution presented.
Always go above and beyond when dealing with customer complaints. While you may lose money on a single deal by issuing a refund or extending an additional credit, you may lose far more in the long run if the customer remains unsatisfied and voices their frustration to other potential customers. Just as word of mouth advertising can help build your business, negative word of mouth can also destroy it. Be proactive, and go out of your way to make things right.
You also want to ensure that your customer service team responds promptly to all complaints. If days go by and your customers still haven’t gotten a response it will deepen their frustration and make an already difficult situation even worse. Respond to all complaints as quickly as possible, ideally within an hour or less.
Finally, try to view customer complaints as a positive rather than a negative. Complaints help to identify weaknesses in your business and offer the opportunity for growth. Once a complaint is received, consider how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. By doing so, you will improve your future customer relations and further increase customer satisfaction. Once you shift your mindset to see complaints as opportunities to improve rather than an attack on your business you will be in a much better place to continue to grow your business.
Importance of Simplifying the Shopping Experience
Now that online retail is so competitive, a positive customer experience is more important than ever. If you want your business to be successful and stay afloat, you need to pay attention to ways to improve the shopping experience for your customers.
BigCommerce highlights some of the potential downfalls of online shopping. In an article titled, “Why customer service is so important to online shoppers,” it argues,
“Most people think of shopping online to cut costs. E-commerce stores relieve customers of travel time, and retailers of storefront expenses. But people seldom consider the costs that online shopping adds to their transaction. The physical distance between the buyer and seller adds risks to the customer’s plate. If you’re part of an E-commerce business, the takeaway is this: online shoppers face an added burden at every stage of the buying process, and your customer support should be there to ease their research workload every step of the way.”
As you operate your online business, your goal should be to make the experience easier for your customers at each step in the process. By resolving potential problems before they arise you can establish your reputation as an industry leader while also building trust with your clients. At a time when customers have multiple options at their fingertips, having a positive established relationship with individuals may be what ultimately sets your business apart.
Understand that your customers are just as busy as you are, and seek to take the pressure off of them. By removing barriers to purchasing you can truly achieve a win-win situation. Your customers benefit from a simplified purchase experience, and you gain their trust as well as the potential for repeat business.
In a competitive marketplace, the smallest details can make the biggest difference. While things like photo quality, website design, and customer review platforms may seem like small factors on their own, combined they can add up to the total customer experience. Whether that experience is positive or negative depends on the amount of attention to detail you have spent on each item. Don’t underestimate the impact that seemingly inconsequential items can have on the total experience.
Your customer service will also impact your bottom line. It can provide a human element to what may otherwise feel like a disconnected transaction. One of the challenges of online businesses is connecting with customers on a personal level. Since there is no face to face interaction, you should look for creative ways to build relationships. Taking the time to address concerns thoroughly and creatively can help set your business apart. Try to make your customer’s lives easier. The better service you can provide, the more your business will grow.
Remind yourself that your customers are the lifeblood of your business. Excellent customer service should not just be an option, it should be a requirement. Treat customer service as the heart of your business, and you will gain a following of loyal customers.
by Mizzy Moore