Six tips for small businesses to master e-commerce

Here are some best practices for providing excellent customer support to your e-commerce customers.

Retail growth is driven by e-commerce; it is expected that e-commerce will reach one fifth of the UK’s retail sales in 2018. Online businesses are facing a highly competitive market. In order to stay ahead and make sure that a new customer becomes a returning customer, businesses need to focus their efforts on customer support.

Digital marketing consultant Shane Barker highlights the importance of excellent customer service. ‘The key to success for e-commerce retailers is to provide exceptional shopping experience and customer service. This means if they have any issues or questions while shopping and can’t find the answer or solution immediately, you’ll need to deal with it as quickly as possible.’

Also, as e-commerce merges with m-commerce (mobile online shopping) businesses need to ensure a positive mobile experience in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Here are some best practices for providing excellent customer support to your e-commerce customers:

1. Offer omni-channel support

Customers today are omni-channel customers, engaging with businesses through a variety of channels combining online and in-store factors to make their purchases. Just as customers have become omni-channel, customer support, logically, should be omni-channel as well.

Customer support isn’t only about voice calls anymore. Today’s customer expects to be able to reach businesses through a variety of channels: text, social, live chat, video chat and others. By giving customers access to you in ways that are convenient to them, you show them you value their business.

In fact, businesses that provide seamless quality service across multiple channels boast an 89 per cent retention rate.

2. Social media

Your customers spend a lot of time on social media and you’re probably already engaging them through your social media pages, be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

A lot of customers will reach out to you about customer service issues through your social media pages, putting the onus on you to be there to provide the support they’re looking for on the channel they chose.

One important factor in customer support on social media is time. How fast can you respond to that query? Customers expect a pretty quick response with 42 per cent anticipating a response within 60 minutes.

But that’s not the only thing that can set you apart. Take a cue from Zappos, the online shoe company. They let their personality shine even in customer service and make sure that they connect to all of their customers personally through social media.

From sending good luck cookies to children whose parents ordered them shoes for pageants to overnighting shoes to you no matter where you are, their customer service via social media is legendary.

3. SMS messaging

Texting can be a great customer support tool for small businesses as well as large companies. Many of your customers already text regularly, so using text to communicate with them is easy and convenient.

Text can be ideal for time-sensitive situations:

  • Abandoned cart reminder. Customers who are trying to make purchases from a mobile can abandon a cart for a variety of reasons since mobile shoppers are often shopping on the go. Texting them a reminder of items in an abandoned cart can give them the push they need to return to your site and finish that purchase.
  • Delivery status. Once customers have placed their orders, the next thing they’re looking forward to is receiving it. Giving them updates on the delivery status via text is great for customers who want to keep up-to-date tabs on their purchase.
  • Customer support. Allowing customers to text for customer support can be a great benefit to them: 42 percent of customers who prefer to text with a customer service agent say it’s more convenient than voice call. Texting doesn’t tie customers to a phone line and allows them to communicate their queries and go about their day without having to wait on the phone or online for a response.

4. Use video and mobile

How-to videos are extremely popular forms of customer support and providing your own videos can ensure that customers are getting the right information straight from the source. Sometimes reading instructions just doesn’t cut it and video can help clear up doubts and help the customer help themselves.

Also, customers use their mobiles to engage with businesses through apps, internet searches, social media, and text. If your website is not optimised for mobile, you’re losing points to competitors whose site is.

Your mobile site should: load quickly, be simplified for the mobile screen and automatically adapt its layout to suit a variety of devices.

5. Provide self-service

We live in the age when customers are used to Googling things to find out what they need to know. They expect you to be able to provide them with adequate information for them to solve their basic problems without having to resort to contacting your support.

Here are some ways to allow your e-commerce customers to help themselves:

  • Have a great FAQs page. Track queries that customers make to provide information that customers most often search for on the FAQ’s page. Anticipate new questions when releasing new products and make sure to provide a search bar where customers can type in a question that will lead them directly to the answer rather than having them scroll relentlessly down the page.
  • Streamline the purchasing process. Make it easy to buy by providing vital product information such as size, colour, cost, whether or not it’s in stock, shipping costs, etc. Ensure all the information they need is front and centre so they don’t get lost in a complicated purchasing process that causes them to leave the page.
  • Make your policies simple. Lots of text and fine print about returns policies and warranties can confuse and frustrate customers. Apple has a streamlined returns policy that spells things out simply and doesn’t take hours to read or a lawyer to understand.
  • Cultivate a knowledge base. A knowledge base is a collection of content that you publish for the benefit of your customers. It covers the ins and outs of the product you sell from the perspective of seasoned experts on the subject who can write knowledgably on the topic.

Make sure your content is up-to-date and relevant and speaks to the most frequent concerns and best trouble-shooting techniques and how a customer can get the most out of your product.

6. Provide customer service training

No matter if you have two customer support persons or 12, it can be a challenge to provide training on all of the support channels, but great customer service is essential to retaining customers and slacking on it can result in higher churn rates.

It’s your responsibility to train your customer service staff be well-versed on your products and services and be also able to respond appropriately on the channel they’re using.

Someone who is great at answering phone queries may not have the same level of skill with live chat. Develop a gold standard and training process for each channel to keep customer service performance high.

What’s next?

According to Forbes Magazine, the future of customer support lies in seamlessly integrating communication channels through AI so that a customer can hop from one channel to another without causing a pause or glitch in the service because the service will be integrated by a central hub.

Jeff Nicholson, VP of CRM product marketing at Pegasystems says, ‘When all of these interactions are in one place, you can get a better sense of a customer’s needs. As a result, you can be not just proactive, but preemptive, reaching out to customers to solve a problem even before they know they have a need.’

As e-commerce grows, you need to keep up with your customer expectations. By making use of the tips listed above, your business will see a brighter future and more repeat sales in 2018.

Further reading on e-commerce

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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