|In this post, I will summarize 5 customer support articles I wish someone would have told me about and impart actionable insights you can start using straight away:|
eCommerce customer service blog – A journey begins
A few weeks back, when I was first asked to head the blog program at our small startup, I was simultaneously excited and nervous. Being a ‘young’ company means that I am both the marketing manager, the content manager and the coffee brewer.
Sometimes I have the uncanny urge to yell into a bag in an attempt to ‘civilly’ manage my frustrations (I’d love to learn healthier coping mechanisms – hit me up in the comments section if you have any tips for me :))
My thoughts were racing back and forth. I wanted to write something which was both genuine and provided sellers with real cold hard value in their day-to-day eCommerce dealings. As I began the journey on my sleek, black, Lenovo (don’t worry, I was not paid to name drop :)) peering out the window at the blue Mediteranean, the white splashing waves seemed chaotic, reminiscent of the sea of information available on the internet. I could not help but think, why has no one collected and summarized the key insights of the top eCommerce customer support articles out there yet!? This would have made my life (and yours for that matter) so much easier – but where there is a gap, lies an opportunity.
Opportunity to be exposed to actionable customer support advice you would otherwise have missed.
Opportunity to expand your horizons without spending hours upon hours looking for and reading hundreds of articles.
Opportunity to be more introspective about how you run your business, and specifically how to treat your greatest asset – your customers!
And lastly, an
Opportunity to not end up like this guy:
But now for real,
Customer support or, as I like to call it, ‘customer success’ is somewhat of an art form. The main difference is that customer support generally addresses a customer’s problem after the fact and ‘customer success’ aims to solve an issue before it even happens (very Matrix – I know :)) In my opinion, ‘customer success’ is the wave of the future and eCommerce businesses who work towards ‘customer success’ and not merely customer support will be far more successful than their competition.
Here are the top 5 articles which will help you take your eCommerce ‘customer support’ to the next level and help you achieve ‘customer success’:
Customer support article # 1 – The power of Thank you!
This is one of the most popular (and reacted to) articles on Groove’s Customer Support blog. For those of you who are not familiar with Groove, I recommend becoming familiar with their blog ASAP – it will blow your mind, I promise!
In any case, this post talks about the power of a genuine thank you instead of the typical industry standard:
- ‘Thank you for your purchase’.
- ‘Happy New Year – thanks to all our customers’ (posted randomly on social media).
That kind of gratitude is fake and will do absolutely nothing to help you grow a loyal customer base. Genuine gratitude means personally and directly thanking a person for something pertaining to them, for example (feel free to copy this word for word – just don’t forget to change the names ;)):
I just wanted to let you know that you are one of our oldest and most prolific shoppers. You are one of the reasons we were able to get off the ground as a business and I just wanted to tell you how thankful we are to have you as a customer.
Just thought I’d share this with you. Hope to keep doing business together for many years to come.
Research was presented by the University of Pennsylvania and North Carolina which conclusively shows that people respond twice as much to a letter which expresses gratitude than to one which doesn’t.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash, Graphics by: Nadav Roiter
This means that adding a ‘thank you’ to:
- a follow up email
- the item (preferably handwritten)
- an email sent directly after a purchase
Can be extremely impactful and has the potential to increase a client’s responsiveness and thereby increase sales! This may seem pretty obvious and self explanatory, but you would be surprised (or maybe not) by how many small yet extremely important nuances get overlooked when running a successful eCommerce business solo or even duo.
Putting this customer support tip into action!
Make it your business to reach out to each and every customer and write them a personalized thank you note and let them know why you value them as a client. Even if you write 2-5 letters a day for the next 365 days, this will be effective and set you apart from the competition.
Also, consider using a CRM or Customer Relationship Management tool like Subivi where you can pull up buyer data and automatically plug it into a template with ‘smart tags’, making this process infinitely quicker and more convenient.
Customer support article # 2 – Zappos Customer support secrets
This article was written for Forbes by Micah Solomon, who is a customer service consultant. What makes this article an absolute must for this list is its ability to get an up close and personal look at one of the world’s most unconventional CEOs, Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Beyond quirky stories, there are some fantastically actionable takeaways to be had for your eCommerce business.
What makes Zappos customer support so unique ?
Here are some interesting facts you probably did not know about Zappos and which challenge the way 99.9% of corporations approach customer support:
- Their CEO sports a mohawk. Admittedly, not directly connected to customer support, but definitely a tribute to their ‘openness of mind’.
- The longest Customer support call ran a customer service rep approximately 10 hours!
- Zappos does not show products they do not have in stock in order to avoid customer disappointment.
- If they do not carry the product you are looking for at all or are currently out of stock, a customer support representative will sometimes guide you to a competitor’s website. The reason is that they believe in forming lifelong relationships and not just immediate profits.
- They have a special board in their customer support offices which counts how many presents/ bouquets of flowers were sent to customers. For example, a woman who called to return a pair of shoes which only arrived after her husband died. The sales representative not only gave her a full refund, he told her to donate the shoes and sent her flowers. She sent him a picture of her late husband and so a priceless personal connection was formed between a ‘corporation’ and a human being – there is no doubt that this woman will become a lifelong, diehard, loyal customer.
- Most of their customer service interactions are by phone and by choice! They clearly display their phone number at the top of the Zappos website. This is a conscious strategy to:
- Be reachable and
- Encourage human interaction which they believe, when properly executed, translates into loyal customers.
Beyond these fun tidbits, there are 4 concrete Zappos customer support principles which can be articulated:
Wowing customers – One of Zappos’s top priorities in terms of how they approach their customer is wowing them. One such example is how they upgrade repeat customers’ 3-4 day shipping to overnight express. Imagine ordering a pair of boots at lunch and waking up the next day to find them on your doorstep. This creates such an amazing domino effect for a business from repeat purchases to word of mouth.
A unique Returns policy – Zappos has a 100% return policy, meaning they will never ever reject a return and even encourage customers to buy a few items and return the ones they don’t like. This kind of policy shows customers that you believe in your product and that you are trustworthy and will ultimately culminate in loyal, long term customers.
Fantastic customer service reps – Zappos only hires customer service reps who ‘fit their culture’. If you are deemed fit and pass their training, you will be paid a $2,000 quitting bonus if you decide that the culture or job does not suit you. This ultimately leaves Zappos with only the most motivated and customer oriented sales reps.
Customers are at the center – The number one goal of the customer service team, and any Zappos employee for that matter, is to ensure that customers are happy and that every interaction with a customer is positive!
Putting Zappos methods into action!
Here are some ideas on how you can apply the 4 points above in your day-to-day eCommerce dealings:
1. Aim to wow – There are so many small gestures you can make to customers which will have this effect. Consider:
- Adding a related gift to the package you are sending. For example, a case with a pair of glasses.
- Writing a handwritten note in the package, either to say thank you or just to explain how your product works.
- Occasionally upgrade repeat customer’s shipping to overnight or express shipping. You are very likely to get amazing reviews and increased business, which will more than make up for the extra shipping costs.
2. Encourage returns – Take another page out of the Zappos book and go against your instinct to discourage returns. Imagine if you copied the Zappos policy word for word and encouraged your eCommerce customers to order whatever they wanted and return what they don’t like. Chances are, especially if you have a great product which you really believe in, most people will end up buying more than they need and keeping the majority of it.
3. Hire the best – Ok, I don’t think everyone can afford to offer a $2,000 quitting bonus to a sales rep. However what I do recommend is personally interviewing and training each and every sales representative. Make sure they are committed and personable and give them a two week trial period to see how they do. Also, consider putting a bonus in motion in order to reward their hard work and keep them customer oriented
4. Promote positive interactions – Running an eCommerce business can be stressful at times and customers can be a real hassle. What you have to remember is that you have minimal interactions with customers. Instead of viewing this as a burden, view it as an opportunity to show them how much you care and want to help them. This will ultimately set you apart from the herd.
Have a look at this short talk Tony Hsieh gave about Zappos:
Customer support article # 3 – Social Media customer service
This time around, I will actually be combining information from two complementary articles from two fantastic publications.
Social Media – A customer support challenge
This is a very relevant topic, especially since many customers decide to go public with beef they have with:
- brands and yes,
- eCommerce sellers
Instead of ‘wasting’ their time with traditional customer support channels, consumers are now seeking instant gratification, attention and recognition from the companies they shop from. The example given in Time Magazine concerns the actor Seth Rogan, who was not allowed on a Cathay Pacific flight with his dog. In response, he recommended to his 3 million Twitter followers to ‘never fly with them’, stating that ‘they are bad people’.
This kind of ‘shaming’ has the potential to be detrimental to any type of business, particularly an eCommerce store which is largely dependent on social currencies, such as feedback and ratings.
The importance of social media customer support
Here is what makes social media customer support so vital to your business:
- Money – Customer spending grows 20-40% when companies are responsive via social media, according to a recent study by Bain & Company.
- Presence – A lot of your customers are already spending a few hours a day on social media and the number one rule of business is: be where your customers are. Fun Fact: If Facebook and its users were converted into a country, it would be the third largest on earth (Source:Socialnomics).
- Ease – It is easy and direct. Most people have access to social media and giving them a direct response to their concern or issue can be super easy and effective.
- Cost – Social media customer support interactions are 8 times cheaper than phone ($8 vs. $1, respectively).
- Speed – It is much quicker to shoot off a quick tweet or message on Facebook than waiting on hold or writing an email. Instead of waiting for a response, the business can respond at their leisure (hopefully there is not too much leisure involved though).
- Retention – According to research by Gartner, a business will retain 15% more clients by being responsive on social media.
How to take action in tight social media customer support situations ?
Here are the top Dos and Don’ts :
- Always answer – I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many customer support complaints on social media go unanswered. A quick, helpful reply will turn a pissed off customer into a proponent for your brand.
- Patterns – Customer service in general and social media posts in particular are a great way to pick up on patterns. Instead of viewing these comments negatively, try to see them as a great way to find out what bothers customers the most and how you can improve this.
- Tone – Social media is a great place to be a little less formal and potentially a great place to connect with customers on a personal level (you can even go into their accounts and get a feel for what type of person they are, what their hobbies are like, etc.). A positive personal interaction, as we saw with Zappos, has the potential to create a lifelong client running on inertia from said interaction.
- Stay on Platform – Never ever ask a client to reach out via phone or email or directly ask them to switch over to private messaging. If they decided to reach out on Facebook, it’s because they feel comfortable there – remember: your clients need to be comfortable, you are serving them and not vice-versa.
- Say sorry – This is the most basic rule every kindergartner knows, yet somehow we tend to overlook it more often than not. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘I am sorry’ are phrases which have a lot of power in all walks of life, and that’s especially so for customer support and retention.
- Spectatorship – Social media customer support has become a spectator sport and you better believe that for every complaint, 10, 100 or 1,000 other customers are passively watching. Respond with that audience in mind, don’t let your emotions run high or completely take over.
7. Preempt – Meaning, if you know many people encounter a certain problem, then shoot out a weekly Facebook post which explains how to solve the said issue. When a frustrated customer gets on your account and sees an appropriate answer to their question just waiting for them, you better believe they will be over the moon.
- Delete – When you delete a post or comment, it makes customers even angrier than they were in the first place and shifts the attention in the wrong direction. Do your utmost to maintain authenticity and transparency.
- Defend – You are not there to be right, but to satisfy your customer and give them a positive experience. Even if your company is not to blame, do your best to help the customer in any given situation.
- Ignore – We covered this already, but still, ignoring a customer is the worst possible thing you could ever do in the world of customer service.
- Argue – Again, you don’t want to be right and you certainly do not want to antagonize a customer further. The first thing you want to do is de-escalate the situation.
- Overdo – Yes, TMI (too much information) is a thing in the world of customer service too. You want to identify the issue and provide a solution with surgical precision. Too much info is going to piss people off!
Your customers are out there right now talking smack about you on social media ( or sending you bouquets of virtual roses – whatever you need to tell yourself :)) – you now have a solid basis for a social media customer support strategy – get out there and start implementing it!
Customer support article # 4 – The Ideal customer support archetype
These days, most of the simple tasks pertaining to customer service are automated. For example, when you order an item on Amazon, an order confirmation is automatically emailed to you. This is the most basic form of customer service automation. The issue is that, as algorithms, chatbots and software solve the ‘easy’ stuff, the issues that real (human) customer support representatives have to deal with are becoming ever more complex.
All customer service representatives were not created equally
It is for this reason that Harvard Business Review set out to determine what the ideal customer service profile consists of. Based on an international cross-industry study of 1,440 reps, HBR was able to divide workers into 7 archetypal categories:
- Controllers – These reps like taking charge of the conversation and showing how knowledgeable they are (Ranked the #1 rep for efficiency and customer ‘pain reduction’).
- Empathizers – A rep who likes listening and helping solve a customer’s problems (this is the most common type of customer service rep).
- Accommodators – Reps who are very willing to compromise and offer benefits, such as discounts and refunds.
- Competitors – Reps who like winning and doing better than their coworkers.
- Hard Workers – Reps who follow all the rules, like meeting deadlines and ‘making numbers’.
- Innovators – Reps who think of new ways of doing things, always trying to improve procedures and outcomes.
- Rocks – Reps who are cool, calm and collected. They have an optimistic outlook and do not take calls personally.
42% of managers prefer customer service reps with an ‘empathizer’ profile and describe a good customer service rep as:
- Someone who likes helping others.
- Someone who is good at listening and communicating.
- Someone who is service oriented.
The results of the study were pretty shocking. While most managers preferred ‘empathizers’, it turned out that ‘Controllers’ were the most effective archetype in terms of customer service, efficiency and overall customer satisfaction.
Why are controllers so successful?
Here are 8 traits that make controllers successful as customer service reps. Consider emulating these behaviors personally and teaching them to your ‘real’ or virtual customer service reps:
- They deliver quick and easy service.
- They have no problem showing off their knowledge and putting it to the customer’s best use.
- They are great problem solvers.
- They take control when facing a lack of leadership.
- They proactively diagnose a customer’s issue.
- They are equipped to use context and customer personality in order to provide an effective, customized solution.
- They are not generic and hate customer service ‘scripts’.
They tell customers what to do in order to get the fastest, most effective results.
The bottom line: Customers are inundated with information and want to be clearly guided to a solution. This is supported by two statistics:
- 84% of customers want a straightforward solution to their problem instead of a variety of solutions.
- Brands which score high in the ‘decision simplicity index’ have an 85% higher chance to be purchased by customers with consumers showing much lower levels of regret over such a purchase.
How can you create a controller oriented customer service team ?
Once you understand how effective this approach is, you will probably want to try and implement this in your business. Here are the top things you should pay attention to:
- Throw the scripts out the window. A real controller doesn’t need a script. He or she needs to understand the customer pain and then take the reins from there. This can be done by coaching reps as well as hands on training and practice.
- The feedback loop needs to be improved. Think of reps as your frontline soldiers, you want to constantly hear their opinion on how to improve the customer experience. That is why you should make it your priority to create a system where they can directly voice important interactions and experiences to you.
In short – People don’t just want empathy, they want empathy and a guided, easy solution to their problem. Consider a change of approach and you may just have some customer service miracles of your own.
Customer support article # 5 – Know thy buyer!
The underlying basis for any transaction has to be a relationship. Companies in modern societies have legal rights just like personas and people form relationships. Much like people, companies are fallible. Everyone makes mistakes, but the question is how a customer reacts to these mistakes in light of the established relationship (or the lack of one). An example is given of delayed flights due to bad weather, a natural cause which airlines have no control over. Passengers from every airline except Southwest were complaining.
A solid customer relationship.
The 3 levels of customer relationships
- The occasional buyer – Someone who treats each transaction independently. He or she evaluates the transaction based on circumstances and values and compares a service or product with other providers on a transactional basis. A good example for this is someone who uses Skyscanner each time they travel. They do not always fly with JetBlue, but rather choose the best ‘deal’.
Tendencies: Tends to not be forgiving of mistakes, unless properly compensated.
2. The habitual buyer – These people buy from the same seller or provider out of a simple force of habit.
Tendencies: Will usually change their buying pattern if the seller makes a mistake and then form a new buying pattern with very slight chance of the original seller recovering them as a customer.
Tell: A really strong tell that a customer is habitual and not loyal is if they never refer other customers or leave you a rating or testimonial.
Danger: Habitual buyers are easily confused with loyal customers.
3. The loyal customer – These folks are the best form of customer. They consciously buy from a specific seller. They value you and your product, recommend you to others and forgive mistakes as they believe what you have to offer outweighs the occasional mistake or inefficiency.
What makes for a loyal customer?
- Be good at what you do – This seems obvious, but is not always the case. If you are selling a product,make sure it is the best quality in your price range. If you are providing customer service, then make sure you are the top of the line.
- Be nice and honest – More often than not, when things are going smoothly, everyone is super nice, but as soon as they run into a hiccup, blood starts to boil. In terms of honesty, again, people are honest when everything is going well, but when a customer suddenly complains, nobody wants to take responsibility. Most folks who are successful at customer service are both nice and honest.
- Be Responsive – Very often, customer service representatives are not responsive – either they do not respond at all or they give you an unsatisfactory response. Don’t just answer a customer concern for the sake of answering, do it to accomplish the goal of customer satisfaction.
- Reaffirm your value – This can be done in a variety of ways. Sometimes you need to go the extra mile for your customer. Help them understand something which is indirectly connected to your product, take responsibility or empathize, even if the issue is not your fault.
None of these points are revolutionary. The reason I chose to include this article though is the way in which it divides customers into three simple categories. The goal is to use customer service to convert ‘occasional buyers’ into ‘habitual buyers’ and ‘habitual buyers’ into ‘loyal customers’. If you and your customer service team are able to accurately label these archetypes and increase their ‘buyer status’ through customer service, you can most certainly feel accomplished.
In order to improve your customer service, you have to do a lot of reading and learn from people and sources you would not usually turn to and which may be outside your comfort zone. You may not have the time to search the web for interesting and insightful content – that is the main reason I wrote this post!
The important takeaways are:
- Use genuine ‘thank yous’ as a tool to deepen your relationship with customers.
- Try to always wow customers and put their happiness and satisfaction at the top of your list!
- Consider implementing a unique returns policy.
- Be a present yet positive force when it comes to social media customer service.
- Train yourself and your coworkers to be ‘controllers’ when it comes to providing customer service.
- Understand the different types of customers your business has and aim to get as many ‘loyal customers’ as possible.
Consider putting one of these tips into action, one at a time, never try to change everything at once, neither in business nor in life.
I would love to hear your comments below, especially if you have another customer support article which you think is worthy of your peers’ time !
Also, which article did you find most interesting and helpful? Please let me know below how you put these insights into action 😉