Good old fashioned customer service is still key to eCommerce success

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
6 Nov 2013

In our obsession with technology, search engine optimisation, site traffic and conversion rates, is there a danger of losing sight of one of the most fundamental aspects of any successful selling: customer service?

It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate your business based on price. Have a look at a typical set of results when you search for a product on eBay or Amazon - how much difference is there when it comes to the prices quoted? Even when the headline prices look different, add in the variety of delivery costs and you often end up with pretty much the same number.

We live in an age when prices are easily compared - even if you’re only selling through your own eCommerce site rather than using multi-channel eCommerce. Most businesses have already stripped costs to the bone and are offering their products at highly competitive prices. So while you want to maintain keenly priced products, this alone may not deliver sales growth.

How do your customers feel?

Do you sell something that people can’t find anywhere else? Or does your business model really allow you to undercut the competition significantly? If not, I’d recommend focusing attention on the experience people have when they do business with you.

Look back on the previous paragraph and what’s the most important word? You’ve got it: people.  Our customers are people, and like all people they like to feel special. How many ways does your business currently show your customers that you really appreciate their business? Do you have a way of recognising and rewarding somebody when they buy something from your website for the first time? Do you have any simple ways to acknowledge your regular customers and tell them that you’re not taking their continued business for granted?

Simple things make a difference

The things you do to express appreciation don’t have to be grand or expensive. I recently bought something online and was delighted to receive a handwritten note and a bag of sweets in the parcel. It wasn’t the cost of the gift, it was the fact that somebody cared enough to realise that I was a new customer and wanted to show their appreciation. 

I’ll use the site again, not because I expect to get a bag of sweets every time but because I now believe that this is a business that cares about its customers. Also, I want to reciprocate the consideration they have shown – that’s a normal human reaction.

Think of how it feels in a restaurant when you get a free appetizer or liqueur with your meal. In reality it doesn’t cost the restaurant much to do this but it’s a nice gesture. It makes us more likely to return and probably more likely to leave a bigger tip. 

Creative use of email

Sending me an impersonal email focused on mass sale promotions and offers doesn’t make me feel special. Sending me an email related to something I bought recently, with information or offers related to how I could get more enjoyment or value out of what I purchased probably would. A smarter approach to eCommerce uses the data collected during purchases to offer superior levels of service and value – it recognises customers as individuals rather than names on a mailing list.

Pre-empting customer needs

Like so much else in eCommerce it comes down to the richness of the data you collect and how you use this data to understand and pre-empt the needs and demands of your customers.

Here’s a simple off-line example of what I mean by pre-empting needs. I was recently in a supermarket stocking up on wine. One of the assistants noticed what I was doing and immediately went off into the storeroom to find some empty boxes. In other supermarkets I’ve had to hunt around for boxes myself or wait at the till while somebody goes off to try and find a wine carrier. It was the fact that somebody noticed what I was doing and took the trouble to help me without being asked - it made me feel appreciated.

An eCommerce example I saw recently was a business that noticed somebody had abandoned a shopping cart after looking at shipping costs. They were shopping from a different country so the costs were high. Instead of accepting the lost sale the business took the trouble to research some different shipping options and emailed the customer with their findings. Result: completed sale, loyal customers and new advocates for the brand on social media.

The other big advantage of building loyalty by showing appreciation and offering service is that the future purchases become much less price-sensitive. If your service is the same as your competitors’ and they can sell the same thing a pound cheaper, people will go for the cheaper deal most of the time. If you look after your customers and make it a priority to find ways to show you appreciate their business, that pound is likely to be much less significant.

Have you experienced any examples of an eCommerce business showing its appreciation, even in a small way, of your custom? How did it affect how you felt about the business? It would be great to share your thoughts in the comments below. Before we leave you here’s a fantastic example of support provided by Netflix recently we think you’ll like:

eCommerce Customer Service