Creating an e-commerce customer support team from scratch is no easy task. But you’ve already built a growing e-commerce empire and created a product people love, so you’ve got this. The key to building a great customer support team is to take it one step at a time.
The e-commerce industry changes on a daily basis. What works today might not work tomorrow. Start by building a team with a solid foundation and it will last for years to come.
It wasn’t that long ago, back in the 1990s, “customer support was considered complementary and not necessary for the success of a business. Support teams were siloed and often housed in a separate building or, more likely, outsourced.”
This archaic definition of customer service still lingers in some people’s minds. But customers have moved on from it and expect much more from businesses these days. If you want to compete, customer support must be at the forefront of your business strategy.
That same Forbes article goes on to say:
“Today, customer support is front and center for all customer communication — from pre-sales to renewals — and has become revenue-critical. Similarly, the pre-sales, post-sales, customer success, product feedback and churn prevention roles are intertwining. I think of this as ‘continuous customer success.’”
As a customer support professional, I love this definition. And I can vouch for it. The best customer support teams work closely with marketing, sales, product managers, and even engineers. We are jacks of all trades—but customer advocates first and foremost.
The best customer support team members will lift up your entire company and inspire ideation with the customer in mind. Not to mention, they’ll also help to lift up revenue, retention, and customer satisfaction. We’ll walk you through exactly how to build the best customer support team for your growing e-commerce business.
Customer support vs. customer service
The difference between customer support and customer service lies in two distinct areas of thought: Language and connotation vs. actual job responsibilities.
First, looking solely at the lingo, customer service refers to a dated understanding of the department dealing with customer complaints and technical issues whereas customer support refers to a more holistic approach to incorporating customer experience into your overall business strategy.
Second, breaking it down by tasks and responsibilities, customer service defines the reactionary response to customer requests and issues while customer support covers the proactive territory of educating, onboarding, and retaining customers.
Customer experience takes it one step further. It’s defined as the culmination of every interaction a consumer has with an organization—before, during, and after a purchase.
Early-stage e-commerce businesses will most benefit from setting up a robust customer support team with an eye towards building a tight relationship with other departments like marketing, product, or CX.
What is a customer support team?
A customer support team is the first line of communication between your company and your customers. When customers have a question or experience service problems, they reach out to the support team for a solution.
Customer support representatives have all the knowledge and training necessary to satisfy customer needs and resolve customer complaints. They use tools like customer support software, CRMs, social media platforms, and email marketing tools to communicate quickly and effectively with customers.
E-commerce Customer Support Team Handbook
Here’s everything you need to know about building a powerhouse e-commerce customer support team. Starting from scratch, we’ll teach you the best tips and advice to ensure your team grows in the right direction.
1. Hiring for e-commerce customer support
Hiring for e-commerce customer service is especially difficult. Representatives need to be tech wizards, cheery sales people, and brand ambassadors all in one.
Here are some ways to find your next best employee:
Ask interview questions for culture fit
As the voice of your company, customer support agents must have a personality that naturally fits with your brand. Other skills can be taught, but general disposition and tone will need to lay the groundwork. Make sure they mesh well with your existing culture and values.
How do you interview for cultural fit? Josh Tolan, CEO of video solution Spark Hire, uses these five questions when evaluating a candidate for culture fit:
- In what type of work environment are you most productive and happy?
- How would past coworkers best describe your work style?
- What management style motivates you to do your best work?
- When working with a team, what role are you most likely to play?
- What were the positive/negative aspects of your previous job and work environment?
These questions will help you understand the candidate’s personality and how they’ll fit into your company’s long term vision.
Prioritize writing skills
Since the majority of work in customer service is communicating via email or messenger, prioritize writing as a top skill for this job. Hire someone who can communicate effectively and they’ll be able to help you grow your support and marketing efforts exponentially.
Basecamp founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier, make this abundantly clear in their book on remote work culture, Remote: Office Not Required:
“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.”
For growing e-commerce stores, having an employee with a spectacular ability to communicate and write will enrich your brand voice and company-wide collaboration.
Look for people who are customer-centric
I like to joke that my people-pleasing behaviors actually make me a greater customer support representative. People-pleasing has its downsides of course—and should be acknowledged as a weakness too—but it’s not totally off base to say that people who want to help others are a good fit for this role.
Find candidates who eagerly share experiences about working with others, collaborating in teams, or serving customers in some way. They will undoubtedly excel in this position.
Ready to hire? Check out our favorite job boards to find quality candidates:
- WeWorkRemotely: This resource offers a dedicated section for customer support. The cost is $299 for a 30-day listing.
- Support Driven: A job board specifically for customer support professionals. Most applicants here will already have experience working with customers online. A standard job post is $150 for a 30-day listing.
2. Training e-commerce customer representatives
Most of the training for e-commerce employees relies on learning software. Luckily, software for e-commerce stores tends to be user-friendly and made for non-developers. Expect on-the-job training and a learn-as-you-go mentality for most customer support roles.
While the most necessary support skill is communication, understanding POS (Point of Sale) systems, data entry, and general customer service procedures will also come in handy.
Agents will need to get comfortable with your help desk, along with any backend, CRM, or e-commerce platforms you use. A platform like Groove offers quick set up and easy onboarding.
Whether you’re the team lead, founder, or a new hire, customer support software should be intuitive enough for everyone to get a handle on the customer’s pulse.
3. E-commerce customer support tools
We’ve covered the fact that working in customer service requires an understanding of many different technologies and tools. In a recent Forbes article, they spoke of the importance of tools in today’s customer support landscape:
“This brave new world requires a new tech stack, in which customer experience is prioritized and vital context is preserved across ticket boundaries. Service agents require instant access to all data related to a customer’s experience, from the account history to past interactions to what a customer is trying to achieve with a product.”
Customer support tools are no longer simply a crutch to help agents organize inquiries, rather they’re a necessity for providing a holistic customer experience in a competitive market. E-commerce customer support reps must be able to educate, sell, and retain buyers in addition to solving their questions.
Customer support teams can expect to use tools like:
- Helpdesk software (inbox, knowledge base, live chat)
- CRM (customer relationship management) tools
- E-commerce platforms (Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce)
- Google drive or Excel (spreadsheets, documents, presentations)
A strong helpdesk will connect all these tools together for you. You can integrate your CRM and e-commerce store to your inbox to reference past customer data and purchase history while talking to them. Certain integrations even allow you to offer refunds or edit shipping information without ever leaving your customer support platform.
4. The best channels for e-commerce support
When growing an e-commerce customer support team, it’s important to stay grounded in what’s possible for your small (but mighty!) team to handle. Certain channels require way more work than others. Here’s a look at which ones your customers expect you to cover.
According to Forbes, “Web-savvy customers expect access to technical support around the clock, and around the globe.” While you might immediately assume this means you need 24/7 live chat coverage, a robust knowledge base will actually solve this problem just as well.
The top rankings for the best channels for e-commerce customer support include:
- Online knowledge base and interactive widget
- Live chat
- Social media messengers
All these channels are tech-based, just like your online store. Keep the method of communication as seamless as possible for your customers. If they found you through your website, then offer widget-based support directly on your website. Eliminate any extra steps needed to contact you and get help.
5. Your customer support approach and philosophy
At the core of your entire business lies a set of values. You’ll hire, train, and motivate team members according to these values—customer support is no exception. When expanding your customer support team, create a document specific to the customer needs you want these team members to fulfill.
A simple list of traits can make up your customer support team philosophy, like:
Encourage team members to remember these traits and treat customers accordingly. Use these values to approach other departments and solve problems more harmoniously as well.
How to set up the best customer support team for your e-commerce business
Your online store is unique and your approach to customer support should be too. Take all our advice and put your own spin on it. The groundwork remains the same, but the details are yours to embellish.
Here’s a quick refresh of the steps needed to set up your team:
- Hire a support team that embodies your culture
- Train agents on all the software you use
- Use tools that are intuitive for both new and seasoned employees
- Decide which channels you’ll offer customer support
- Create and stick to a core support philosophy
E-commerce stores want to pay special attention to writing and communication skills when hiring. With so much differentiation taking place through branding and voice, it’s critical that your front-line employees reflect your business’ persona when talking directly to customers.
Training is mostly learned as you go in customer support. Hire self-starters who have experience using their own good judgement and common sense. Customer service tools are meant to be intuitive and easy to use for all levels of experience. As long as they have a basic understanding of modern technology, they should be able to get the hang of it.
A tool like Groove is the perfect option for e-commerce companies who are obsessed with customer experience, but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a clunky support platform. Not to mention—Groove is extremely easy to use and easy to learn for customer service agents of all levels of experience.
We believe that great customer service tools shouldn’t be reserved for the mega-brands that can afford them. We believe that every e-commerce business should be empowered to deliver fast, exceptional service, even if they’re not billion-dollar businesses…yet.
Whichever support channels you choose to offer your customers, Groove enables you to provide full-service support every step of the way. A bit of experimentation is always a good idea. Test out which channels your customers use the most and which ones are not worth your time.
Pull your support team philosophy from your overall business approach. Match it up with your core values and mission statement. Your customer support team will be speaking and breathing these values to real customers every day.
There’s an enormous opportunity to enhance your brand and inspire loyalty at the customer support level. Take all these tips and prioritize them at the highest levels of your company to make the most of it at your e-commerce business.