We live in an era where shoppers are more knowledgeable, more deeply connected and more demanding than ever before
The reality is that merchants must deliver a great customer experience in order to survive. With this checklist, we give you a step by step guide on how to create winning experiences for your online buyers and provide a simple framework for improving your customer service strategy.
At Groove, we previously delivered some great ideas to jump-start providing superior customer experience, which is an ideal place to start when implementing winning action plans:
“If you want to truly stand out—and earn the right to command higher prices than your competition—you need to compete on customer experience. Make your customers love not only your product but the act of doing business with you. If you make them happy and successful, they’ll be glad to pay.”
The question we’re left with is: how do you make your customers fall in love with doing business with you through your customer service initiatives? If you want to provide an elevated customer service experience, you need to know exactly what that means for your business and create an action plan to deliver it.
We’ve compiled advice and reports from multiple sources, such as customer experience and service experts like Shep Hyken and Kate Leggett, research firms such as Constellation and Forrester Research, as well as the latest market trends.
Let’s first examine the customer service experience to understand why it is important.
What is the customer service experience for e-commerce?
According to Forrester Research, customer experience is the sum total of “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
Taking that one step further, the customer service experience is how customers perceive their interactions with your service and how they get help.
Why is it so important?
Well, for starters, the e-commerce market is already heavily saturated and highly competitive. 47% of shoppers start their buying process by searching on Amazon. With the rise of online shopping and next day delivery, successful e-commerce stores have caught on to the idea of providing good customer service as a way to compete. And it works: 73% of customers say that friendly customer service influences their buying decision and their ability to fall in love with a brand.
To stand out from the pack, we can see the importance of investing in winning customer service experiences. Trendsetters like Zappos, who we touch on in our guide to e-commerce customer service, exhibit the extra wow factor that delights customers and win their loyalty.
Here’s our checklist on how to create winning customer service experiences.
In Shep Hyken’s book, The Convenience Revolution, he covers six powerful principles and how to apply them to everyday business practices. In a nutshell, Shep explains how important it is to make every aspect of your customers’ experience with your service department as convenient and frictionless as possible. Because there are so many choices for customers to shop online, they won’t suffer through complicated systems or even bother to contact customer service for help. Instead, they’ll click back to their Google search results and head straight to your competitor.
Keeping the path to purchase convenient is the key to keeping customers on track. There are four areas where convenience is king in your service strategy:
Meeting your customers at the initial point of contact, whether that is on social media or by email, and then being able to switch between channels easily is another strategy of providing convenience. One thing that can assist is a help desk, like Groove, since it centralizes all your communication between channels.
Everyone knows how frustrating it is to be bounced around between agents and communication channels to get the answer you want. Empower your agents to help customers wherever they are.
Over half (53%) of online shoppers will exit out of an online purchase if they are unable to find an answer to their question quickly enough. Further, one global market study done by Steven Van Belleghem in 2013 shows 70% of people want a self-service option. Providing quick access to answers, such as a knowledge base, is a critical first step towards convenience.
But don’t stop there—is it also easy for store browsers to search for the answers they need while they’re shopping? You want your knowledge base to be accessible from every page on your website to reduce the chances of a customer having to reach out to your service department. Finally, add a size guide to your product pages, and make sure your product descriptions include all the information customers will need to make a decision.
Live chat support is leading the race as the preferred channel of customer service communication when compared to email or phone. It enables your business to offer an alternative to a self-service option that is quick, personal, and also a cost saver since agents can handle more than one chat at a time efficiently.
To build customer loyalty with live chat, you want to have minimal wait times, promise a status update, and train your agents to personalize their chats and match their tone and pace to the customer. The last thing you want is for your agents to sound like an automated robot reading from a script, which can happen when live chat support is not tailored to your customers.
Measure convenience using Customer Effort Score (CES)
The Customer Effort Score survey is meant to measure how easy (or convenient) it is for customers to get help when they need it.
Imagine one of your customers recently purchased a product for their pet from your online store, but noticed that they were accidentally charged twice. They reached out to your service department through email. They were then responded to by one of your representatives within 15 minutes, who also resolved the problem by issuing an immediate refund. How much effort did it take for the customer to find your service email and then get their problem resolved?
To gauge the level of effort the customer perceived they had to spend to get help, you can send a CES survey immediately after this type of interaction has occurred. This will enable you to collect insightful, real-time feedback on how convenient it is to do business with your company.
A typical survey would prompt the customer with a question, such as “The service agent made it easy for me to get my problem resolved”, with a rating scale from 1 to 7, with 7 defining a “strongly agree” answer.
Because our example focuses on a specific interaction combined with other winning factors, such as speed and resolution after one interaction, there is a higher probability of our customer rating with a low effort/high convenience score.
This is an important factor to consider since HBR uncovered that when customers report experiencing convenient service, there is a 94% probability of them purchasing for your store again.
An article published in Contact Center Pipeline shared that “over 50% of an experience is based on emotions.” When we consider the buyer’s journey towards making a purchase, we can see that decisions are primarily made based on feelings and not logic.
Right from the beginning, marketing relies on emotions to pull customers in and create feelings of want and desire. Customers then evaluate products using not just their head, but also their heart. When they receive their order, they’re delighted with their new purchase – unless something is wrong, in which case, prepare for frustration and stress.
We, therefore, have a pretty emotional group of customers who are already charged and primed before even reaching out to your service. Is your team ready for these emotions and do they know how to effectively communicate with them in mind?
One critical piece of the puzzle to first factor in with emotion is your own team – your support agent’s happiness. Studies show that their attitudes are directly correlated to whether they feel satisfied at work – and that attitude, good or bad, is translated into how they respond to your customers. Ensuring your agents feel heard and appreciated, and are motivated are significant first steps towards delivering winning experiences.
With emotions running high in e-commerce, the next step is to empower your agents with specific training on how to communicate effectively with empathy, which will further ensure that every interaction with your service department is as effortless and smooth as possible.
Here are some ways to bring empathy into every conversation:
- Slow down and be present. This means actively listening and often letting our customer vent until they are finished.
- Remove the self from the equation. This means not taking the issue personally.
- Head in with positivity. A mantra for your agent would be “There is no such thing as a bad customer. It’s just a good customer having a bad moment.”
- Reflect and paraphrase back. “So what you’re saying is that when you try to add the product to your cart the page just refreshes instead, is that right?”
- See through the customer’s eye. “That sounds really frustrating.”
- Make the customer feel appreciated. “I know your time is valuable, so thank you for your patience while I look into this issue.”
Here are some further steps to combine with empathy for an effortless experience:
- Use positive language. “It looks like that product will be available later in the week” in place of “won’t be available for a few more days.”
- Set expectations. “May I ask that we take a few minutes to troubleshoot this issue further together?”
- Go the extra mile. “I would be happy to place an order for you as soon as it hits our warehouse and will email you as soon as it’s done.”
- Wrap up and ask for more.”Is there anything else that I can help you with today?”
Empathy is a core customer service skill, and when paired with setting expectations, positive language, and going the extra mile, it then ignites the flame for a lasting effect that will outpace your competitors in the customer service race.
We’ve covered the bases by providing the convenient options of a knowledge base and easily accessible live chat, but how do support channels like email and social media fit into our checklist?
This is where speed is critical because this is an area where your company can exceed expectations and blow away your customer. For email responses, the general expectation is for companies to reply within 24 hours. However, to provide an elevated experience, Toister Solutions found that world-class teams respond within 15 minutes or less. For responses on social media, it depends on the channel itself, however, most customers expect a reply within 1 hour.
But be careful: focussing strictly on speed can have a negative effect on your customer’s service experience since your agents can cave to the pressure of wanting to close tickets as quickly as possible in order to reduce the backlog, or simply through being motivated to improve their metrics.
Be speedy, but be careful too
Some common pitfalls to avoid when focusing on improving speed is agent cherry-picking (where they leave tough tickets in the inbox for others to answer) or agents rushing through answers just to get their response time metrics down. Measure the quality of replies using customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys can help ensure that your customers are still getting well thought out, thorough replies. CSAT surveys are either sent out after the ticket is closed, or in the signature of every reply. They ask customers whether they were satisfied, or not, with the answer they received. If more customers are reporting being unsatisfied, it’s possible that agents are rushing too quickly through their replies.
Alternatively, look at the number of replies it takes for customers to get a full resolution. If agents reply too quickly, they are likely going to miss parts of the question or ask for more clarification instead of digging deeper themselves. Taking your time means you can reduce the number of back and forths on a ticket.
Arming your agents with analytical thinking skills, such as reading between the lines, is also critical for elevating the service experience and can improve your speediness. Why? It decreases the back-and-forth that can occur with unclear communication and speeds up the overall resolution, thus creating opportunities for winning experiences.
Sure, templated responses are a time saver, but they often can lead to robotic conversations if agents are not trained on how to personalize their responses. Each customer should feel as though you are speaking to them independently and as if this is a brand new issue—giving no clue that this was actually the tenth inquiry within the last hour with the exact same resolution. Nothing will make a customer feel more like a number than a cookie-cutter response.
The first step to customizing templates is equipping your support agents with access to all historical data and information about each customer. Context will make communication much easier and simpler, especially if this issue has come up before for the customer. It then proactively arms each agent to be able to take the empathy up another notch well in advance. With Groove, we display the customer’s history of past interactions in a sidebar next to each ticket, paving the way to a personalized touch.
Everyone likes being called by their first name. But you do have to be careful with this practice as it sometimes can come off sounding disingenuous and robotic when overused. You’ll want to also act with courtesy if the customer is especially irate and gauge if it’s the right time to be addressing your customer by their first name.
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Without hearing the tone of voice over the phone or seeing someone’s body language face-to-face, online communication can be tough. The very nature of e-commerce cancels out face-to-face human interaction and can often feel disconnected. One way to easily combat this is by adding your agent’s face to all channels of communication, which adds a human feel to interactions.
Training your agents to match their tone to the customer is another method to personalize interactions. If they notice that their customer is more causal and using emojis, the agent should feel free to do the same, provided it is in line with the company’s tone. An example might be something like “Thanks, Mike, it’s nice to chat with you, too! :)”
One method to level up personal customer service is by having agent’s take ownership over the issue. Whenever possible, refrain from transferring the customer to different departments or another agent. In the event that involvement from another department cannot be avoided, make sure that the original agent follows up with the customer throughout the resolution process.
When coupled with focused, empathic attention and then adding in the knowledge of past interactions, your agents can elevate a customer’s experience to be one that feels more personable and human.
Despite your best efforts, proactive strategies and measures, bad experiences happen. It’s just a fact of doing business. But focussing on how you recover from a bad situation can customer build trust and integrity—even when things go wrong.
A good start to customer recovery is having your agents act with a sense of urgency combined with a genuine apology. Training your agents to correctly apologize isn’t difficult, but apologies do need to be authentic and specific. For example, something generic like “Please accept our deepest apologies for your recent experience” will not go over well and lacks true sincerity.
Another key in agent training is to adopt a view that problems are actually hidden opportunities to exceed expectations. Once they know how to handle customers with empathy, speed, and are actively applying personalization, the final step is creating win/win experiences through recovery.
Here are some brief steps suggested by service expert, Shep Hyken, on customer recovery:
- Apologize for the problem.
- Acknowledge the problem.
- Apologize again!
- Fix the problem with the right attitude and sense of urgency
- Stay in touch/circle back.
“Always remember that service recovery isn’t just about fixing a problem. It is also about the renewal of customer confidence.”
How a company endeavors to resolve an issue and win back the customer and their loyalty is an important process of winning the customer experience. One of the best outcomes to aim for are those situations that turn your once disgruntled customers into vocal advocates of your products and services. Your customers will be desperate to be heard when they are upset and you will be more than ready to answer.
The Checklist for a Winning Customer Service Experience
- Pinpoint areas where the self-service option can be improved.
- Consider if live-chat is a good fit for your company.
- Integrate a seamless experience between all channels of communication.
- Measure the ease of experience through the Customer Effort Score (CES).
- Ensure that employees feel heard and are satisfied.
- Invest in training specific to empathy and great customer service practices.
- Exceed normally expected response times.
- Measure the quality and number of replies using customer satisfaction (CSAT).
- Empower agents on personalization tactics.
- Incorporate a help desk that provides historical customer information.
- Consider each issue an opportunity to recover a lost customer.
- Supply agents with training on how to “say sorry” the right way.
Deliver the experience you’d want for yourself
In today’s e-commerce market, customer service leaders and support agents have a tall order of expectations to manage. Not only must you be responsive and engaging on every channel but also need to infuse a new focus of providing stellar experiences into every one of the customer’s interactions.
As you start to incorporate the ideas of convenience, emotion, speed, personalization, and resolution into your customer service strategy, consider the following: what would you want your own experience as a customer to feel like? All of us have our own experience of being a customer. We intuitively know when something is frustrating and full of friction. Use this intuition to evaluate your own organization’s customer service experience honestly.