Customer experience is a term that gets bandied about all over the place, particularly when it comes to eCommerce and online business. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see something published telling online store owners that offering a better customer or user experience is the answer to everything.
A better customer experience will get you more traffic, reduce cart abandonment rates, improve average order values and generate more sales.
This, of course, is all true. But is ‘customer experience’ in danger of becoming one of those terms that gets talked about with everybody assuming that they know what it means, while in reality we all have different ideas about its real meaning or scope?
And without everyone appreciating the full implications of what ‘offering the best possible customer experience’ really entails, do eCommerce businesses risk falling short of their potential?
‘Customer experience’ incorporates every touch-point and interaction that somebody could have, not just with your eCommerce store, but with the business that sits behind it. It starts before they land on your site and extends beyond the point when they leave (with or without making a purchase).
The customer experience is about so much more than what happens when somebody clicks a link to your site.
Too often, customer experience is framed within a narrow subset of these interactions, focusing on the design and functionality of the eCommerce site. These aspects are clearly important. But if you only focus on a small part of the experience, you can only hope to achieve a fraction of the potential benefits.
Customer experience is vast. It encompasses everything that we do as an eCommerce agency, and much else besides. I can’t hope to cover everything here but I’m going to raise a few questions that should help you start to evaluate whether the whole of your customer experience is all it could be.
This might seem an odd place to start but here’s a simple question: is your eCommerce site mobile responsive? If it isn’t, then unless you have a very unusual type of customer you are already failing a fundamental customer experience test.
And it’s not enough just to make sure your site renders acceptably on a small screen. You have to rethink navigation layouts, button sizes and the intricacies of how people react with a small touch-screen compared to laptops and PCs.
Sadly, many of us in the UK still can’t access 3G mobile reliably, never mind 4G. You have to think about how much data and functionality you need to download with each page and the effect this has on load speeds. It’s not just your customers who care about this, Google does too.
Also, are you seizing all the opportunities that mobile technology offers to reach out to your customers? Google Local, apps (particularly) and even the humble SMS can all improve the experience of doing business with you.
Another huge topic - and we haven’t got anywhere near your website yet. People will start to get a sense of what it might be like to be one of your customers by what they see on social media.
Do they see a brand that is actively engaging with its customers – showing how much they care by interacting through as many relevant channels as possible? Are you proactively providing help, solving problems and answering questions, even if nobody asked you directly? Are you using social media to listen to your customers and better understand what they want?
Or is there just negative feedback about you that you don’t seem to respond to or care about?
For most online businesses, a social media strategy that does more than just push out promotions indicates that I can expect exceptional service if I decide to buy something from you. And that’s a pretty positive frame of mind for me to have when I land on your site!
I’m deliberately putting this near the front - partly to counteract the tendency for site content to be an afterthought.
Content on an eCommerce site, whether visual or written, has two basic functions: to stimulate a desire and to answer questions. In both cases you have to get inside the heads of potential customers so that the ‘experience’ of interacting with your content delivers in both crucial respects.
What needs, aspirations or ambitions do your products meet? How will things be better for people after the sale? Why would they want to buy it?
And what practical questions will they need convincing answers for to make them confident enough to proceed?
Go into an Apple Store or a John Lewis branch and you’ll probably have a great experience. Why? Because they put a lot of thought into how they display and present their products and they have well-informed people on hand who can answer your questions. Use this as your benchmark.
What other content might potential customers find online? Have you invested in ‘how to’ videos or articles that help people choose the right products and get the best out of them: content that shows how helpful and caring you are? Have you posted entertaining content (think Red Bull or GoPro) that helps people associate with your brand?
Once again, the customer experience is about so much more than what happens when somebody clicks a link to your site.
Design is more than the art of making things look pretty. Good design is functional as well as attractive. It helps people find their way around your site and helps them understand what they need to do next.
Design also helps people have a feeling that they are ‘in the right place’ through appropriate use of colour, typography and visual effects. I’m not going to labour this one because it’s self-evident that a poorly designed website cannot hope to deliver an outstanding experience.
But how much thought did you really put into it? How much testing and refinement have you done? Did you create a detailed map of probable customer journeys to help you design your site navigation? Or did you just use whatever the template from your eCommerce engine delivered?
One place where the customer experience really has to perform is in your checkout design. Deficiencies in the ways that checkouts work are still the biggest cause of abandoned carts. Again, this is the stuff of a whole series of articles. Clearly, though, the ease with which somebody can complete a purchase has to be central to any effort to improve the experience of shopping with you.
The critical elements are these:
Things like allowing customers to check out as a guest rather than forcing them to create an account make the experience more pleasant and less stressful.
If you have an eCommerce store, it is just one facet of your business. It’s an important one as it’s where people select products and buy them. But so much of the customer experience relates to what happens around and after that transaction. What sort of experience you offer often comes down to how well your site integrates with other systems.
Payment gateways are an obvious example. You can opt to go offline and entrust the process to PayPal or a similar service. Or you can integrate a payment gateway into your site. You have more control with onsite gateways over the look and the process, so you are more able to influence the customer experience.
If you want to offer the best possible experience, particularly for mobile shoppers then it’s also time to look at one-click payments such as the service offered by SagePay.
A successful purchase is far from the end of the story. There’s inventory management for a start. This can get complicated when you are using multi-channel eCommerce. An effective integration with a system like Brightpearl will prevent the embarrassment of somebody ordering something through your site that just sold out through Google Shopping.
Then, does your shipping system link to your CRM and customer service portal? Can customers get answers quickly (and accurately) to any queries about deliveries?
This, of course, could take us back to mobiles, as an SMS message is a convenient way to keep people updated. But it’s only a viable option if you have the systems in place to send the messages at the right time without manual intervention.
What you probably want is for every customer to come back and buy something else. So if they have any questions about how to use what they’ve bought, or if the product turns out to be defective or damaged you need to answer quickly, positively and helpfully.
Just about every business wants to do this. But sometimes the business systems, and the fact that they don’t talk to each other very well, get in the way.
Investing in effective systems integration is a direct investment in customer experience.
Just to round off this point, reviews (of your products and your business) are critical. People want to see on your eCommerce site the experiences that other people had. And they want these to be impartial and unadulterated. Integrations of systems like Feefo and TrustPilot are rapidly becoming an expectation for people looking for a satisfying online shopping experience.
However excellent your eCommerce customer experience, there will always be a significant number of shoppers who fail to complete a purchase. The way you choose to deal with this fact is another crucial aspect of your customer experience.
Abandoned cart emails can be a helpful and welcome reminder of something you were thinking about buying. They can also be an annoying intrusion if they are done unsympathetically and too persistently.
Remarketing through the Google Display Network can work the same way. A reminder is good; but an ad that seems to follow you around for days every time you open a website can become a bit creepy. Remarketing is effective if you do it well and keep in mind the impact on the overall customer experience.
And then, of course, there is email marketing. Ideally your first follow up email should be one asking for feedback via the independent review platform that you’ve chosen. Then it’s down to the basics of email marketing good practice: good design, not too frequent and containing something that makes them worth opening.
There are other areas that we could have looked at, such as the use of on-line chat. But I wanted to focus on the basics here and cover all of the things that a reputable eCommerce web agency should be talking to you about if you are serious about offering and outstanding experience for your customers.