10 Tips for Outstanding E-commerce Customer Service

E-commerce is the great leveler when it comes to big and small brands. A customer can just as well go on to a startup’s website as she can switch to the site of a legacy brand in a matter of seconds. The old differentiators of great store location, high voltage marketing and fancy store trimmings are no longer relevant when a potential customer can compare prices for a particular item across five different online retailers in a flash.

In a cut-throat ecosystem like e-commerce there are just a handful of factors that really offer an edge to one player over the others and fantastic customer service tops this tiny list.

So what makes e-commerce customer service outstanding, fantastic, a real differentiator for your brand? Here’s what.

1. Be Available

The internet is an information superhighway that remains open round the clock. This means your online store technically has no closing hours. Would you leave your customers in a physical store unattended while they browse around? Then, why would you abandon them to their own devices when they’re online in your e-commerce store?

Invest in customer service that is available whenever you have traffic on your site. 24×7 is great, but if you can’t afford it; then at least make sure you’re available for a quick chat during the working hours of your geographical region. Display your customer care details prominently. This not only inspires confidence in a first time visitor to your site, it reduces the trouble an existing customer has to go through to fix a problem with their order.

A visionary in the field of customer service, Tony Hsieh of Zappos once said “Too many companies think of their call centers as an expense to minimize. We believe that it’s a huge untapped opportunity for most companies, not only because it can result in word-of-mouth marketing, but because of its potential to increase the lifetime value of the customer.

This investment in their customer service has paid off rich dividends to Zappos. In his book The Human Brand, Chris Malone reveals that 75% of Zappos’ daily sales come from repeat customers.

2. Get it right the first time

More than any other aspect of your e-commerce experience, the one that remains in a customer’s mind the longest is every interaction they have with your customer care team. This is supported by hard data from IQPC’s Executive Report, which shows that nearly 80% of customers believe that the customer care center defines their customer care experience with a brand.

So building a great customer experience is a bigger priority than say, beating down prices as low as you can afford.

When I say ‘great customer experience’ I don’t just mean building a world-class customer care team. I also mean making your site easy to use and simple to navigate. Getting your user flows just right to minimize efforts from the customer’s end. Building a company culture that puts the customer above all else and strives to be as fair as possible to the customer.

It’s not enough to set it up and forget about it. Test your processes on an ongoing basis to check for any bottlenecks that might sour a user’s experience with your site.

3. When You Get it Wrong, Fix it no questions asked

Despite your most dedicated and sincere efforts at ‘getting it right the first time’, there are bound to be slip-ups and issues. When such a scenario crops up (as it inevitably will!) train your team to make the customer happy first and fix your broken processes later.

Being defensive about your services and making a customer jump through numerous hoops to help them out only results in a customer who’s pissed off and one who will not hesitate in spreading their displeasure towards your brand among their entire circle of friends and family. Besides the negative publicity, American companies lose a collective amount of $41 billion every year thanks to bad customer service – a figure that your company can ill afford!

A customer care team that trusts the customer and puts them first enjoys the benefit of winning over the customer in spite of hiccups in their user experience on your site.

4. Focus on Speed

When a customer contacts customer care, it’s usually for a problem that they’re already facing. A hold time of even five minutes seems like an eternity to an already troubled customer. In such a scenario, what your customer will value most is not a discount coupon that your representative gives out at the end of the call, it is the speed with which her problem is resolved.

This theory is confirmed by research, which shows that 82% of customers feel that the biggest contributor to a great customer service experience is the speed with which their issues are resolved. The same study goes on to specify that online shoppers expect help within five minutes of contacting customer care – anything longer and you’ve crossed over to the side of offering a terrible customer experience.

Train your staff to move quickly when a customer faces an issue and do whatever it takes to address it immediately. The shorter the wait time, the happier will be your customer.

5. Offer Self-Help

We’ve already discussed the importance of having a crystal clear purchase flow where the customer knows exactly what is being offered to her at every step of the purchase process. From in-depth product descriptions, ample photos of the product, microcopy in your checkout forms to every tiny detail about shipping, delivery and payment instructions it’s imperative to be completely transparent with your customer at the very outset.

Besides offering clear instructions on how to proceed at every step, offer the user the option of trouble-shooting by themselves if they still get stuck at any step.

A dedicated section that covers most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) helps users help themselves without having to bother with contacting your customer care team. Detailed product guides for your flagship products is a good idea, especially when these products are high value in nature.

6. Make Returns Easy

A huge part of the regular shopping experience that e-commerce misses out is the touch and feel factor. Users unfortunately cannot see, touch, feel or wear any of the products that they plan to buy while they’re on your site. This means that there is a definite possibility of the customer not liking the product they bought online or that the product may have a defect that the customer could not inspect at the time of purchase.

In such cases, being able to return goods to the seller is a huge bonus that helps a customer make their initial purchase decision. Unless, you deal with extremely perishable items, as a thumb rule offer free returns on all products that you sell. Offer a generous window of time during which returns can be made – 30 to 60 days from the date of delivery is a bare minimum that customers expect for returns. Offer a replacement product or their money back without hassling them too much about the return. This is where free shipping becomes important. Offer to take care of shipping charges on all returns and see customer confidence in your brand soar.

7. Get Active with Social Customer Care

Nearly 70% of the online population is active on social media today. Users spend disproportionate amounts of time networking with each other and with brands they love (or love to hate.). It then follows that social media is a key platform through which customers have conversations with brands.

When a customer leaves behind feedback on your social networks regarding their experience, acknowledge it immediately and thank them for their inputs. This basic validation makes a person feel important and brings them closer to your brand. Complaints via social media need to be tackled with similar alacrity. Research by Gartner shows that brands that do not respond to customers on social media face a 15% increase in their customer churn rate.

Allocate social media customer care duties to a specific member of your team to ensure no unhappy customers go unanswered. This helps in single minded focus on an extremely critical customer contact channel, prevents oversight from your end and helps in maintaining accountability when things go really wrong.

8. Offer Live Chat

We are all used to being approached by a friendly sales rep as soon as we seem a little lost in our favorite department stores. Even discount retailers and wholesalers have on-ground staff that offer a personal touch when you are confused with what to buy or how to buy.

While we cannot offer in-person customer care during an e-commerce transaction, we can offer the next best thing to a physical presence – live chat. With live chat, customer care does not have to be restricted to post-purchase experiences. Live chat offers users the option of contacting your customer care team even in the middle of a transaction without them having to get out of the process even for a minute.

Offer Live Chat

Customer satisfaction levels for different customer service platforms

According to a study by eDigital’s Customer Service Benchmark, live chat performed best among all the various customer care platforms out there. Immediate response times and the ability to multi-task while getting one’s problems solved are two of the most important reasons users prefer live chat over phone calls or writing in via email.

9. No Hidden Charges

An online relationship with your customer is built on a deeper level of trust than a similar relationship offline. When a user trusts you to have their back and offer them actually what you claim to offer on your website, any extra charges or unforeseen costs come as a nasty surprise. Things like shipping costs, sales tax, service charges or even higher pricing for certain sizes or color options are things that ought to be clarified up front to avoid ruining the users’ customer experience on your site.

Sites like eBay understand the importance of being transparent with their customers and offer a live shipping cost calculator on each product page.

No Hidden Charges
Many sites indicate their product prices inclusive of all taxes right at the outset instead of topping off prices by a substantial amount at the very end of the purchase process. This not only builds trust in a customer’s mind, it also acts as a significant differentiator that sets you apart from competition.

10. Nurture Existing Customers

We have all read about how returning customers are SO much better for our business than new ones. Study after study tells us that returning customers spend more per visit, buy more often and are less trouble to service than brand new customers. According to research by Bain & Co., even a 5% growth in customer retention can increase a business’ profits by 95%.

Use your customer service to delight first time customers and convert them into returning, loyal customers. A friendly tone of voice, a helpful attitude, quick problem resolution are all factors that contribute significantly to how a customer perceives your user experience and decides on whether to return for a repeat transaction.

Use your satisfied customers as spokespersons, promoting your site to their friends and family. Actively encourage them to spread a kind word about you by offering them incentives in return. This could be a special discount on their next purchase, free shipping on their next purchase or even a small complimentary gift voucher that can be redeemed on your site instantly. This is backed up by research by NewVoiceMedia, which found that 69% of users would recommend a company to others after a positive customer experience.

In Closing

E-commerce is already a tough place to survive with ever increasing competition, price wars with offline retail and a customer who’s becoming more discerning about what they expect from a shopping experience. It is only going to get more competitive as the years go by. By the year 2020, the key to stand out and rise above competition, will not be low prices or superior product quality, it will be customer service.

Where do you think you’ll be in the next five years? With the right focus on customer service today, the top of the heap would be my bet!

Image Source: (1, 2)

5 top visual content tips to improve your social media presence

visual content on social mediaMarketers are continuing to invest an increasing proportion of their budget in social media.

The consensus seems to be that coupled with the continued investment in social media, visual content marketing will be of the key e-commerce trends for 2015.

The ease of which images and videos can be shared on social media makes it an obvious platform for visual content marketing. We take a look at the benefits of visual content and offer some helpful tips on how to use visual content to improve your social media presence.

Rise of visual content.

“The use of visual content in social media has been phenomenal with 70% jump in 2014” ViralTag.

This remarkable growth in the use of visual content is the result of a number of factors including:

  • Increased mobile usage:  3 out of 4 Facebook users now access Facebook through their smartphones. And since, images are far easier to digest on a phone than large chunks of heavy text visual content is becoming increasingly popular .
  • High speed wireless networks: Thanks to the wider availability of high-speed wireless networks we no longer have to wait for eons for an image to download.
  •  Growth in social media: The continued rise in social media. All the key social media platforms continued to grow during 2014. Of particular note is the impressive growth from visual content based platforms  like Pinterest and Instagram who grow active users by 111% and 64% respectively.
  • Human nature: By our very nature we are drawn to visual stimulus. The majority of us are visual learners which means we can digest visual content far more easily than text-based content. In fact according to HubSpot, visual content actually makes up 93% of all human communication.
  • Accessible visual marketing tools: There are more visual marketing tools at our disposal than ever before. Creating professional looking pictures, images and videos is no longer just for big companies and big budgets – we can DIY great, original visual content ourselves.

link building for sepBenefits increased visual content brings your business.

Increasing the amount  of visual content your have can bring a number of benefits to your business. For example;

  • Helps with link building: Visual content is highly shareable. Quality inbound links back to your website content via social media can help you with your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and improve your search engine page rankings.
  • Increased customer engagement: Visual content such as photos, images, infographics and video improves engagement on social media. According to Hubspot social media posts with photos account for 87% of total interactions.
  • Makes an impact: In a crowded market of online communications a good visual can help your message stand out. Visual content enables you to convey ideas and messages immediately.
  • Builds brand awareness: Engaging visual content can increase your number of fans, likes and comments – growing the awareness of your brand amongst an audience

tips to implement visual content5 tips to improve your social media visual content.

To help get you started we’ve outlined a few ways to implement quality visual content that will improve your social media presence.

1. Use visuals to support all your posts

Sounds obvious but a surprising number of businesses still post social media updates without adding a photo or image. Remember:

” The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than the time it takes for the brain to decode text” Hubspot

Support all your posts with an image. It is far more likely that you’ll engage a user if you have a captivating visual. For example, say you have just written a great new blog article. It is a fascinating topic and you want to share it on social media. Great, but no matter how compelling your headline and subject matter is, it is not going to get anywhere near as much engagement as it would with a relevant image to support it.

Don’t forget to use images on Twitter  posts too. According to HubSpot a Twitter post containing at least one image will increase shares:

  • Average Twitter shares with no image = 9.67
  • Average Twitter shares with an image = 20.36

Finally, don’t use lack of budget as an excuse to not include photos and images. There are a plethora of sites that offer the use of free or low-cost photos and images. Just remember some of the free images may require an attribution.

2. Think interesting, inspiring and original

As we’ve mentioned above, using images is essential. But to really captivate your audience try to be as visually interesting and inspiring as possible. Mix things up by trying to veer away from using too many stock pictures. We’ve all seen the standard pictures of smiling business men in suits so many times that to be honest they’re not really going to grab anyone’s attention. Try to think more originally when using supporting images to  get a message across – you want to make as much of a visual impact as possible.

Another example of how to beef up your visual content is to take something like an inspirational quote (which always prove popular on social media) and to try using something like word art to make it visually enaging. For example:

Inspirational quote

I’ve just read an excellent article:  5 must have free visual marketing tools. It provides a list of free visual marketing tools that help you do all sorts of great things to improve your images such as:

  • Putting text and captions over images
  • Creating collages
  • Word Art
  • Data visualisation

It should get your creative juices flowing.

3. Create some original video content

We only have to look at the phenomenal success of YouTube to get a feel for how popular video is. Indeed according to HubSpot every single minute:

  • 8333 videos are shared
  • 72 hours of new video is uploaded on YouTube

Including video links into your social media posts  is an excellent way of increasing engagement through original added-value visual content. Try creating original videos that showcase your product, introduce your business and team, offer demonstrations on how to use your product or service, give video tutorials, or illustrate how a product is crafted. There are all sorts of interesting ways you can incorporate video into your social media presence.

A customer who watches a video is 85% more likely to make a purchase

You no longer have to rely on an expensive production companies to produce a good video. There are a number of online video creation tools around like Animoto or WeVideo. You can also opt to do-it-yourself  with a camera and video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.

4. Try introducing Infographics

Infographics are a great way to visually convey information in a colourful, interesting and digestible manner. They are particularly useful if you have some interesting numbers or research to impart. Infographics make great blog articles that you can link to via your social media posts.


Cutting costs for business infographic


According to research, consumers are more 30 times more likely to read an info graphic than a text-based piece of content.

5. Finally, make visual content a significant part of your overall content strategy.

Your social media presence should support your content strategy and drive traffic by enticing an audience back to your website though links and the sharing of content.  As we discussed earlier in the article since you are far more likely to attract the attention of an audience on social media with the use of images, photos and video, it follows that you should be making visual content an important element of both your social media strategy and your  overall content strategy.

If you put time aside and actually plan in some of the visual content ideas we mentioned in the article, you are far more likely to see them implemented and reap the rewards visual content can bring to your business.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this post. So please do leave a comment.

Photos from mobile image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ship Chain image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Implement Definition Button Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

9 E-commerce Email Marketing Campaigns for Your Online Store

We’ve all received those completely pointless, repetitive and uninspiring emails from e-commerce companies, insurance firms, banks, telephone companies, the works. Nine times out of ten, we don’t even bother opening any of them. In my case, most just get marked as spam without another glance. I suspect I’m not the only one.

And yet, we keep hearing these compelling statistics about email marketing. About how it’s the best converting tool in a marketer’s toolkit. About how it’s the most powerful tool to build relationships over the long term. About how it beats social media hollow in terms of ROI dollar to dollar.

So what is stopping your online store from being one of these email marketing converts? Here’s a sampling of e-commerce businesses that are proving the naysayers wrong with the creativity of their email marketing. Let’s take a look.

1. Welcome with Open Arms

Who doesn’t like to feel a little welcome the first time they transact with a new business? A welcome mail is such a simple and effective tactic to build that first connection with your user that it amazes me how few brands invest their time into setting these up.

All you need to do is set up an automated email that gives a shout out to a new user welcoming them into your fold. It helps if the welcome mail can offer the user key details about their account with you or offers tips and tricks on how to benefit from using your product.

Welcome with Open Arms

The email above from SlideShare is a great example of how welcome emails should be done. It’s personalized (makes the user feel special already), it tells the user about how she can use SlideShare and finally it reinforces a sense of being part of a larger community. Nicely done.

2. Cross-Sell and Upsell Emails

So you’ve made your first sale. Good for you!

Now, why not go back to the same user who has clearly shown their affinity towards you once and get them to buy again? Seems like a logical thing to do. And yet…

Instead of sending your new customers the same old standard newsletter that every single one of your 500 or 5,000 or 50,000 users get; send them something that actually speaks to them. Send them handpicked products that directly complement their original purchase. A shoe maintenance kit for someone who bought shoes, a cellphone case to someone who just bought a cellphone, you get the idea.

Cross-Sell and Upsell Emails

Alternately, you can interest a new user in an upgrade to their original purchase by throwing in a superb unbeatable deal. Two things to keep in mind here. One, make sure your upsell doesn’t happen minutes after the original sale. Two, the offer that you make must necessarily be an exclusive one that they would never be able to get otherwise.

3. Request User Reviews

One of the key factors that help in making an e-commerce sale is the number and quality of customer reviews for the products that you sell. User reviews are trusted way more than all your marketing jargon combined and are a must have for any site that’s serious about selling.

Request User Reviews

Set up automated emails requesting users for reviews to be sent out to within a week of the user receiving your product in the mail. The review request mail should have a direct click through link inside the email that leads the user to the reviews page. Even better, if you can allow users to write a review within your email itself and post it online directly; a la Amazon. Whatever method you choose, just remember to make the process of leaving behind a review a complete no-brainer. The easier the process, the more reviews you’ll gather.

4. Abandoned Cart Email

Nearly 68% of all shopping carts are abandoned by online shoppers every single day. That’s trillions of dollars in potential sales, LOST FOREVER.

Break out of this cycle of attracting users to your site and then losing them to competition, by setting up your own abandoned cart rehab program.

The idea is to send users a reminder of what they left behind ‘unshopped’ in their carts with a timely reminder email like the one from ModCloth below. What I especially like about this one is the fact that they included the actual item from the shopping cart in their email. This prods the user into action by tempting them with an item they liked anyway. The copy in the email also makes sure that the user feels a sense of urgency without feeling pressured into making a purchase.

Abandoned Cart Email

An abandoned cart recovery email program typically needs at least two rounds of emails to be really effective. The first email like the one above reminds the user about what they left behind in your shopping cart. The follow up email – sent typically a couple of days after the first one – should offer the user an incentive to complete the purchase.

These emails cost next to nothing and help you target a staggering 70% of the people who landed on your site, tried to make a purchase by changed their minds for some reason. Go get ‘em tiger!

5. Reminder Email

You’ll think I’m being repetitive here, but hear (read?) me out. By reminder mails, I’m referring to those thoughtful little emails that remind you about such silly things as an upcoming payment, a subscription renewal date, a meeting or appointment that you set up and so on. Google Inbox, anyone?

Reminder Email

Reminder emails pre-empt the user from straying away from your brand by renewing their subscriptions on time or by ensuring they engage with your brand as planned (see the KISSMetrics example above). So they prevent churn and increase engagement, what’s not to love about them?

6. Emails for ‘Seriously’ Special Occasions

We’ve all received emails from random businesses that have our date of birth wishing us a ‘Happy Birthday’ or getting Christmas greetings from more people than your inbox can handle. What happens to most of them? You’re right, straight to the trashcan they go.

For a change, stop being such a cliche and send out emails for occasions when you have no competition, occasions where your email stands out. Send an email for your customer’s first anniversary with your brand. That’s got to be pretty unique, right? Send out an email for World Environment Day. Or International Women’s Day. Or whatever else relates to both your brand and your customer. A quirky image that really grabs the eyeballs is a good investment in your ‘special occasion’ emails.

And don’t worry, those pictures don’t always have to cost a fortune. A copyright-free resource like IM Free offers businesses thousands of professional images that you can modify and re-use under an open Creative Commons license.

The idea is connect with the user on special occasions – occasions when they least expect it, occasions that help your brand stand out.

Emails for Special Occasions

And if you DO have to go down that cheesy route of birthday emails, make sure that your email gives your customer something truly special like Payless does in their email above; not just a measly ‘Happy Birthday’!

7. Note from the CEO

This is SUCH low hanging fruit, that it’s truly amazing why more companies don’t use it. A note from the CEO or Chairman of a company – any company – to an individual customer tells him that he’s important. It tells him that the company knows about him personally and takes an interest in him on a one on one basis. It’s not surprising then, that emails with subject lines like ‘Note from our CEO’ get far better open rates than business as usual emails.

BestBuy sends a note from their CEO Hubert Joly as a means of reaching out to a lapsed customer. The email takes on the role of a personal letter trying to convince the user to buy from BestBuy once again. A signature and a headshot along with a personalized salutation at the beginning of the email complete the effect.

Note from the CEO

Remember, this is a one-off tool that you can use for high impact activities. Sending out a letter from the CEO every week dilutes the weight of the email and makes it just another email that heads straight to trash.

8. Ask for Referrals

The list of companies that have grown from zero to millions of subscribers on the back of a strong referral program is legendary. Research has shown over and over again that recommendations from family and friends is the strongest influencer in making a purchase for the largest majority of customers. A referral program taps into two things to get a new customer.

  1. The greed of the referrer for the goodies offered as a referral reward AND
  2. The trust that the referred customer has in the recommendation of his friends and family

A recent example of a referral program that was a runaway success is DropBox. Visakan Veeraswamy describes the meteoric rise of DropBox through its referral program alone. The company grew from 100,000 users to 4 million users in little over a year. The smart thing about DropBox’s referral strategy was the incentive it chose to give out for every referral. Customers who brought in a friend into the DropBox fold were rewarded with more storage space, thus increasing their current usage of the service automatically.

Ask for Referrals

In the referral email above, Harry’s doesn’t just offer the user a one-time referral reward. They create a timeline for the referrer showing them the incremental gains to be had each time they keep referring more and more customers to their site. What a great way to turn an existing customer into an affiliate marketer on the sly!

9. Get a Quick Sales Boost

OK, so let’s admit it. Some days are so bad, all you need to see is that cash register go ring-a-ding-a-ding to put a smile on your face. Nothing beats an email with a generous coupon for instant gratification of the e-commerce kind.

While you may send out special offers and deals every now and then with your regular newsletters to your subscribers, you can opt for an email only coupon that beats any other offer out there hollow. The idea is to generate revenue and generate it FAST.

Quick Sales Boost

Take a look at the Old Navy email above. While they do talk about their regular deals and offers, the crux of this email is clear. There is a ‘one day only’ offer that is the spotlight of this email with a discount so deep, it’s irresistible. This discount combined with the limited time period of the offer make this email a winner in terms of instant sales.

In Conclusion

E-commerce marketers like you and me need not spend thousands of dollars every month on platforms whose returns are nebulous at best, like social media. In the process, we often tend to miss out on the low hanging fruit like email marketing. Make 2015 the year of zero missed opportunities. Make it the year of smart email marketing!

Further Reading:

Email Marketing Genius: 18 Rockstar Brands That Got Their Email Voice Right

Beyond the Basics: 4 Creative Email Experiments You Should Try