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6 Tips to Improve Your Internet Retail Business’s Customer Service

by Guest Post

This post is from our friends at MoneyCrashers

Just about everybody has had enough experience in the world to have good ideas for face-to-face customer service. Whether you’ve worked a job in retail, or just experienced the receiving end of both terrible and excellent service, you have an idea about the “steps of the dance.” When it comes to internet retail, though, things are less intuitive.

Lucky for you, that little factoid doesn’t mean that there are no established prior experiences, best practices, and rookie mistakes. Here are six of our favorites, gleaned from the advice, regrets, and celebrations of experts in the field.

The Golden Rules of Online Customer Service

Each of the six tips you’ll read below are based on one or more of the following three basic truths of internet retail customer service. Experienced business owners and managers will recognize them from their in-person analogs, but, as you will see, the differences lie in the application.

Rule #1: Be Available. One oft-repeated frustration with ecommerce is the anonymity and unavailability of vendors. If you are easy to reach all the time, you’ll stand out.

Rule #2: Be Transparent. Honesty and openness are keys to online brand building, even when it comes at the expense of traditional professionalism and appearing always right.

Rule #3: Be Personal. Online customer service is harder because it lacks the intimacy of face-to-face conversation. Find ways to make your customer service personal; to create a legitimate connection, and to leave the customer feeling valued and heard.

Improve Customer Service at Your Internet Retail Business With These Tips

1. Use Multiple Channels

(Rules 1 and 2)

Some people want the direct contact of a phone call, while others want the time savings of an email. Others prefer live chat, or simple contact via social media. None of these desires are right or wrong…they simply are.

Make certain customers and potential customers can reach your company via at least the following channels:

  • Email
  • At least two social media channels
  • Phone
  • Live chat

It’s not enough to make these four means of reaching you available. Finding out how should be intuitive and obvious on the front page (or at least the contact page) of your website.

2. Leverage Social Media

(Rules 1, 2, 3)

All social media platforms are at once a gold mine and a minefield. They’re a gold mine because they have a near-infinite capacity to amplify the things you do right with your brand. They’re a minefield because that near-infinite capacity also applies to everything you do wrong.

To keep things on the “gold mine” side of the coin, have dedicated staff who spend a large portion of their days engaging around your brand and your industry on social media. Their interactions should never just be broadcasts. They should be interactive both with your content and with relevant content posted by others as well as with comments people have left on your content. The more you engage with people who like things related to what you sell, the more customers will feel like you’re “on their side.” The more that happens, the more friendly all your customer service encounters will be.

To avoid the “mine field,” monitor social media regularly on your core channels and throughout the internet. If somebody makes a public complaint, jump on that opportunity immediately. Use that person’s social media following to demonstrate how seriously you take customer complaints, and how far you are willing to go to make it right.

3. Respond With Lightning Speed

(Rules 1, 2)

This is somewhat related to the social media advice above, but it’s also important enough to warrant its own section.

Because social media and online reviews give disgruntled customers immediate and scaleable access to the public ear, you must do everything in your power to correct any mistakes before they opt to “go public” with their grievance.

Start this by following the first bit of advice and be extremely easy to reach. Meanwhile, constantly comb social media, online review sites like Yelp! and Google Reviews, chat rooms about your industry, and similar platforms. The very instant you find somebody posting a public complaint, dedicate a staff member to solving the situation as swiftly and publicly as possible.

You’ll find that this doesn’t just help with service for individual customers. Some people simply will not be pleased, but rapid response online creates a public record of your polite, good-faith efforts to make things right. Other customers will see that, and—if you’re lucky—view it as further proof that your business is worth their money. 

4. Make Gifts a Part of the Process

(Rule 3)

In person, you can create a customer service coup by simply being polite and charming. Though that’s possible online, it’s far more difficult. One way to overcome that challenge is to have a selection of inexpensive gifts available to your customer service reps at any given time.

Encourage them to distribute these gifts liberally (within reason for your profit margin) as a thank-you, apology, or simply a reward for being a customer. This kind of thing helps your reps establish a more personal relationship with your clients, which leads directly to better customer service.

Also make gift-giving a part of your proactive customer service. Have a system for celebrating the anniversary of their first purchase, their actual anniversaries and birthdays, major holidays, and any other excuse you can think of to support and build the relationship. These are the things that turn clients into friends, and friends are much easier to work with when it comes to customer service.

5. Dig Your Well

(Rules 2, 3)

This piece of advice takes its name from the landmark business and sales book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. Its main thesis is that you should build your personal/professional network all the time instead of waiting until you really need some help.

This applies to online customer service in that the internet offers an unparalleled opportunity for you to communicate with your customer base on a regular basis. To see why that’s important, look at the following three customer profiles:

  • Somebody who has only interacted with your brand for a single sale, which arrived late
  • Somebody who has purchased from you multiple times, with universally good experiences
  • Somebody who has never purchased from you, but who interacts with your brand on social media regularly, including personal chats about industry news over Twitter and Instagram

Which of those three customers would you rather deal with? The third, obviously. The more you work to engage people—even those who can’t or don’t buy your product right now,the better off you’ll be when you do engage with customers.

Dig that well now by having multiple positive interactions with as many people as possible. They’ll take care of you when you get thirsty.

6. Ask for Help

(Rules 2, 3)

Never, ever guess what your customers want. Ask them, then deliver what they ask for. Whether that’s changes to customer service, new product ideas, or new ways to engage with them, this is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to get ahead of the market.

Infinite ways to do this exist, but three general areas will give you the highest rewards for the lowest investment of resources:

  1. Asking directly on social media and via quizzes on your website. Analyze the answers and act accordingly.
  2. Monitoring feedback and reviews, both positive and negative. Look for trends that point you in the right direction.
  3. Checking your web analytics to see what posts and actions generate the most traffic. Emulate your own success to succeed even harder.

While you’re at it, keep track of what people say about your competition. Try to learn from their mistakes before they do to establish a commanding advantage.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, good customer service is good customer service no matter the venue. And poor customer service remains poor. With internet retail, you’re simply applying these basic business truths to a different environment. Just remember the Three Golden Rules.

Be available. Be transparent. Be personal.

If you run every customer service strategy through that filter, you won’t be able to go wrong.

About the Author

Alice Vanguard is a customer service rep for a small business and has been in the customer care and support environment for over twenty years. She’s seen it all, tried a lot of it, and found the three golden rules from her own experience. 

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