When launching your online business, customer service isn’t probably the first thing you will have in mind. Making sure the product or service you are providing is on point will always have the first priority. But every organization should strive to excel also in their customer service.
Here’s why: customer service is often overlooked, even though it is one of the most important aspects of any business. Excellent customer service leads to higher new customer acquisition rates and customer retention rates. What is more, providing excellent customer service is even more important in ecommerce due to rising competition online – recent figures by BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows that in May this year almost 40% of retail sales took place online.
But, there is always a but…it is easier said than done. The challenges of customer service management that businesses have to overcome are not easy, adding the element of operating online and not being able to provide face-to-face customer service. So, in this article we discuss the most common obstacles in customer service online + how to solve them.
Customer service in E-commerce and in Retail – how are they different?
Briefly on the main differences between retail and online customer service. Although traditional brick and mortar stores and their digital competitors have the same end function, some obstacles in customer service vary. The key differentiator is the lack of face-to-face interaction and readily available customer support.
Let’s bring an example here: if you are shopping for a TV in store, the customer sales representative will be there to tell you all about the differences, answer all of your questions and directly show you the products. Whether you’re deciding between the flat screen and curved screen, LED and OLED, or want to know about different resolutions or features of the TV selection they have in store, a sales assistant will be there to help you out.
Over the screen, however, the customer will have to do the work instead. Therefore, it is essential to implement, for example, live-chat functions, thorough knowledge bases or FAQ pages that can easily be found on your website. Furthermore, implementing customer loyalty programs and making sure your services are personalized can go a long way.
Why can working in customer service be challenging
So, let’s do a little deep-dive into the most common challenges of customer satisfaction that online businesses, large and small, have to deal with on a daily basis. And more importantly – how to overcome them.
#1 Customer service for Dropshipping Stores
Challenge: Global drop-shipping market size is expected to grow by 28% between 2019 – 2025, going hand-in-hand with the explosive growth of ecommerce. While dropshipping sounds easy and a safe option due to available content and no stock obligation, there are several technical aspects involved to get it right. Margins tend to be rather low, so it is crucial to get things right when you want to raise your chances of succeeding. But despite that, it is important not to forget customer service – lack of customer support is named as one of the biggest hurdles for businesses operating in this model.
How to overcome it? The answer here is really quite simple – treat your customers with respect and the way you would like to get treated. Dropshipping sites that haven’t saved from their customer support are for example Amazon, Wish and Bluecrate, offering low prices without sacrificing customer service. The main suggestions would be to follow up after sales, handle returns effectively, create a good knowledge and FAQ page, and make sure your customers leave positive reviews. The best drop-shipping apps, such as Dropified or Oberlo usually offer solutions for customer service as well.
#2 Impersonal customer service
Challenge: Not being able to offer face-to-face customer service can make it difficult to provide a personalized approach. Customers nowadays expect a tailored approach and they want to feel special, even if they shop at home over a screen. According to a consumer survey by Accenture, 91% of consumers have said they would “shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations”. What is more, in a recent study by Ultimate AI in 2021, 80% of the respondents have said they would spend more with brands that personalize their customer service approach, with personalized service being more important than personalized marketing.
How to overcome it? The plus side of online shopping and online business is that there is more customer data available that can be used to tailor your customer service approach. It can enable you to get to know your audience, develop more meaningful relationships and increase customer satisfaction. The key is collaboration between departments, such as marketing, sales and customer service. For example, getting your chatbot function to ask the customer something based on their previous purchases, or direct them to the closest store based on where the customer is.
Integrating CVO – Customer Value Optimization into your e-commerce growth strategy is also a good idea. CVO software can help in analyzing all customers in your database by gathering insights that then allow you to improve customer acquisition, experience and retention rates. Integrating CVO can streamline all e-commerce processes across departments of your business to enable growth.
#3 Not having a human agent to respond to customer queries
Challenge: Similarly to the previous point, compared to normal retail, online stores don’t have a sales assistant readily available to help out visitors with advice regarding their products or services. Besides this, many businesses now automate their customer service processes and pay less attention to human support. Automation does make sense – it can help businesses achieve higher sales, rise in customer satisfaction rates and reduce costs. However, it is extremely important not to lose the human touch.
How to overcome it? Automation is an excellent way to increase customer satisfaction, however, there should always be a limit to which extent processes are automated. Making sure there is a human agent at the other end of the automated live-chat is crucial – a research paper from Forrester found: “44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer”. Until machine learning and artificial intelligence have developed to the extent that they can mimic actual human conversations, the need for real human support will remain.
Furthermore, not having face-to-face service doesn’t necessarily mean that your staff can be untrained. Similarly to physical retail, offering comprehensive employee training programs will make sure your customers get the level of support they deserve and need.
#4 Responding to customer queries on time
Challenge: Customers want answers right at this minute, and no later. Speed in customer support creates trust that your business is reliable and that the consumers are guaranteed help when they need it. If your support is available 24/7, they are more likely to come to you over your competitor. Online competition nowadays is though, and consumers prefer to shop across various sales channels. Meaning readily available support should be provided also across all of these platforms and sales channels.
How to overcome it? This is where customer service automation can help – there are several excellent customer service software tools out there for every budget. And you can really choose what suits your business needs: whether it is a ticketing process you have to implement, are thinking of setting up a self-service base or setting up an omnichannel contact center to have all queries answered on time.
#5 Providing answers to common questions on your website
Challenge: From a customer service point of view, unlike in physical retail, you customer service staff can’t approach your customers. Therefore, even for simple issues like having the information regarding any restocks or sizing, e.g. whether their correct size will be available soon, for example, online customers will have to reach out to the customer service teams online.
How to overcome it? You will want to make sure that your customers can easily get in touch with your customer service team. If all the necessary information is easily searchable on your website, it reduces time and effort on both sides. For example, having a self-service portal or knowledge base, including a FAQ page, or a live-chat function implemented and easily findable on your web shop can really help.
#6 Multi-channel retail requires multi-channel customer support
Challenge: Customers nowadays expect to be able to shop across various channels and platforms. Combining your sales channels through social media platforms, marketplaces and web shops will soon become a necessity.
Consumer buying journey often starts with research, typically done online, then continued to various sales channels. A study into multichannel retailing by Business Insider found that 82% of buyers have researched products online before purchasing in-store. In order to survive in the competitive retail market, businesses should implement a multichannel strategy – to be available across web shops, marketplaces, apps, social media platforms, and also offline. And this doesn’t only include sales, but also customer service.
How to overcome it? Customers expect the same from customer service – for it to be provided across the same channels and multiple devices. Whether it is apps, social media or your own web shop. Managing customer service across multiple platforms may sound like a tricky task, or more like a strategy fit for larger businesses. However, luckily there are several multichannel customer support software available to streamline and automate your processes, from the industry-leading Zendesk, to other excellent alternatives.
#7 Going the extra mile
Challenge: For some specific product or services, traditionally sold offline, operating online can pose even tougher challenges. For example: selling eyeglasses online or selling perfume online, without customers trying them first. Without the extra care from the customer service teams, and without added attention to the details and added services, it can be detrimental for your business.
How to overcome it? Putting effort in the additional services that can enhance the customer experience – aspects that are necessary to properly present and sell your product. For example, have a thorough self-service portal that describes your products. Or make sure extra services that you can offer are visible on your online store, whether it is free samples, free returns or extra services. A great example is Brille24, where they offer to find you a partner optician nearby in order to get your prescription, or at Mr. Specs where they offer a virtual try on or “try on at home” service.
Working in customer service is challenging and frustrating, there are several obstacles in customer service that businesses come across. From retaining the customers, providing personalized approaches in an online environment, dealing with niche customer issues and problems, to the usual response speed and having all the answers available to make sure customers keep choosing you over your competitor.
Today’s online and retail environment is extremely challenging, especially due to the increased competition and the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, each customer has to be treated with excellent care, hopefully the above tips on how to overcome these challenges can help.