How to offer excellent customer service – 7 tips for small business ecommerce

 

customer service for small business

Customer service is a direct reflection on your business and your brand. Consequently how you manage your customer care is important. Poor customer care could result in the loss of customers and ultimately damage your reputation. Great customer service can create loyalty, bring in new customers and give you the edge over your competitors.

We now live in a society where social media and customer review sites are part-and-parcel of the business world and although they are both excellent vehicles for positive customer feedback, it also means that negative consumer experiences are out there for everyone to see – sometimes before you’ve even had the chance to deal with them directly yourself.

58% of consumers are more likely to tell others about their customer service experiences than they were 5 years ago

Ensuring that your small online business or start-up is offering all it can in terms of excellent customer care is essential for the long-term success of your business.

Impact of poor customer service

  • 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service
  • 44% of customers switch to a competitor following inadequate customer care
  • 55% of customers intending to make a purchase have walked away due to poor customer service

Impact of great customer service

7 customer service tips to help your business stand apart

As a small online business or ecommerce start-up, you are unlikely to have an all-singing, all -dancing customer service call centre to hand. Chances are it is going to be you fielding the majority of  calls and emails. We’ve outlined some simple tips that are easy to implement, cost-effective and could make a big difference in terms of customer satisfaction.

1. Offer that little bit extra

Going that extra mile for a customer won’t cost you much but can pay dividends in terms of customer loyalty and repeat business. A little extra effort on your part – for example getting something in the post to a customer on the same day or going a bit above and beyond the call of duty to deal with a query or issue – will be noticed and appreciated by your customers. In the days of automated customer services, long waiting times and being passed around from pilar to post, you have the great advantage of still being able to personally deal with many of your customers directly – it’s your chance to establish a solid relationship.

2. Walk in your customers shoes

walk in your customers shoes

If you don’t understand your customers and recognise their needs, how can you be certain you are offering them a positive customer experience? Get to know you customers (and as we mention before you are in the great position of being able to have direct contact with your customers so use those moments to find out a bit more about what they like and don’t like about your business), think about their customer journey from start to finish and see what you can implement to improve their experience. Having a good understanding of your customers will enable you to deliver the service they want.

3. Be flexible.

There are times when a little bit of flexibility will reap rewards for your business in the long-term. Of course you will need to make a judgement call on each individual situation after all you are in business to make a profit, but a little bit of give now and then, particularly when you know you are dealing with a loyal customer, can be a great way to give a customer the feeling off special treatment. For example perhaps honouring a promotion or sales voucher when the deadline has passed or accepting a return even if it doesn’t quite meet your criteria.  Remember it is far more cost-effective to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. So where you can offer customers some flexibility – you’ll find it will be appreciated.

4. Save precious time – pre-empt simple queries

Of course, dealing with customer queries yourself is great for getting to know your customers and for relationship building, but the reality for a small business owner is lack of time means that having to deal with all customer queries is a potential headache. It is essential that you set up a way to deal with the most frequently asked questions and queries – ones that are simple and straightforward to deal with .  This will include simple things like your return policy, shipping times, opening hours, product descriptions, set up instructions and so on.

set up an FAQ page

 

Think about the calls you take and emails your receive.  What are your most frequently asked questions and which ones don’t require a telephone or email response. Set up  FAQ page and put all those kind of queries on to there. Make sure your FAQ page is clearly marked on the website and direct people there in your initial order confirmation emails and paperwork. It will save you time, enabling you to concentrate on the customer queries that require a little more personal attention.

5. Start with ‘sorry’

Even if you seriously question whether you should be saying ‘sorry’ always start your response to any customer complaint by saying that you are sorry that your customer has experienced a problem. This is simple good manners and not an admission that the fault is yours.  It takes the wind out of a customer dissatisfaction and shows that you are genuinely concerned that your customer is unhappy enough to take the time to make a complaint. Acknowledge if you have made a mistake and don’t try to  pass the buck. Your customer isn’t interested in whose fault it is – they just want their complaint listened to and dealt with quickly and efficiently. Remaining polite, well-mannered and professional at all times is essential no matter how frustrating the phone call or email .

6. Have clear guidelines in place

There may be times where other member of your team will need to step in and deal with complaints on your behalf. If this is the case with your small business, then it is imperative that you have clear guidelines in place. Not only on a practical level so that the issue can get resolved in your absence but also in your company’s overall approach to customer service. For example all members of the team should be clear on the kind of service they are expected to offer customers all  such as being friendly, polite, approachable, professional and communicating clearly and effectively.

7. Respond to negative comments

45% of customers share negative reviews on social media and 63% of consumers read negative reviews on social media.

Social media and customer reviews sites mean that even with the best effort in the world you will be faced with a disgruntled customer who will post a negative review. How you handle negative feedback is important. The difference between dealing with an unhappy customer via email or on the phone is that any negative comments posted on social media or customer review sites are there for everybody to see. It is really important to respond quickly and efficiently to comments. Apologise upfront for any inconvenience caused – showing you take the complaint seriously, be honest and remain professional and polite at all times – no matter how unfair you deem the complaint to be. To ensure the comment doesn’t escalate if it is appropriate take the comment offline to deal with – as in the IKEA example below:

 

social media dealing with negative comments

 

Don’t underestimate the importance of great customer service . It doesn’t cost the world and even implementing some simple practices can make a real difference to how you are viewed by customers and potential customers. A little bit of extra effort can pay dividends in the long-term.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what great customer service means so please do leave a comment. 

 

 

 

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Generate customers through refer-a-friend marketing: top tips for small business ecommerce

REFERRAL Marketing

Essentially refer a friend or referral marketing is using word of mouth to promote your product or service to generate new business.  It is about encouraging your existing clients to tell their friends and family about your business with the hope that their influence will create new customers.

The key to successful recommendations is to offer great customer experience and to actively persuade your current customers to spread the word about your products and services.

What are the benefits to small businesses?

Referral marketing  offers a number of benefits to small online business owners. Key to its power is the fact that the majority of people trust the opinion of friends, family and even other customers over most of the other forms of marketing that we generate.

74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influence in their purchasing decision”

Low cost: With word of mouth marketing, even if you are offering some sort of ‘refer a friend’ scheme, acquisition costs are usually low if not negligible.

Effective: Recommendations from friends are one of the most effective ways to influence the purchasing decision and generate new customers.

Trustworthy: People are far more likely to listen to the opinion of, and trust, people they know.

Targeted: Referral marketing is usually highly targeted. Most people recommending a particular product or service to a friend is doing so because they feel that their friend will be genuinely interested in what it is that they are recommending .

Healthy profit margin: Referred customers are great customers!

  • Referred customers bring 25% higher profit margin
  • Lifetime value is 16% higher for referred customers

How to increase referrals and recommendations

positive customer experience

So we’ve established that getting referral marketing up and running makes sense for your business. So where is a good starting point? Firstly, ensure that you have implemented all the things that will positively influence customers’ experience of your business. Only then look at active ways you can encourage your customers to refer and recommend.

Focus on getting the basics right first

It may sound obvious, but there is no point actively asking your customers to recommend you to their friends if your product, service or all-round customer experience is poor. Nobody is going to refer a friend or post a glowing review if they’ve had a less than positive encounter with a business. So focus first on getting the fundamentals right. For example:

  • Offer exemplary, personalised customer service.
  • Interact and engage with customers.  For example reply to comments posted by customers on social media or your blog posts.
  • Strengthen brand trust and build you business’ authority and credibility. For example create a resources page with industry relevant information, articles and blog posts, speak at relevant conferences and industry events, implement security logos and Trustmarks on your website.

Actively encourage your customers to recommend you

83% of satisfied customers are willing to recommend  products and services but only 29% do.

If you’re confident that your business is all that it should be, then look at how you can actively encourage customers to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. I say actively encourage because even if your customers absolutely love you, the chances are they will still need a bit of nudging in the right direction.

Sometimes, you just need to ask. If you find yourself coming off a particularly positive phone call with a customer then ask if they’d mind providing a review of your product or service. Try posting a request on social media for feedback. It is also a good idea to get bit more proactive with referrals. For example think about setting up a Refer a Friend programme and actively generating customer testimonials.

1.Run a Refer a Friend scheme

A refer a friend scheme is a great way to bring referrals in. Asking customers to provide you with the contact details of a friend who may be interested in your product is a great way to build up your referrals. Keep in mind you may need to incentivise your customers to boost response. In the Boden example below, if a current customer recommends a friend successfully then they receive a £10 Boden voucher and the friend receives 20% off her first order – appealing both to the customer and the friend they refer.

 

refers friend incentive

 

Offering some type of reward or incentive will improve your recommendation rate but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a monetary reward is the most effective. Research indicates that offering a reward increases referral likelihood, but the size of the reward does not matter  and that non-cash incentives are 24% more effective at boosting performance than cash incentives. Ultimately it will depend on your audience and it might  be worth you testing a few alternatives to see what pulls in the best results.

2. Implement customer reviews

Recommendations from friends come at the top of the list for people’s most trusted source of product information. But interestingly online opinions and reviews from other consumers rank pretty highly too.

Start collecting reviews and testimonials from customers to have visible on your website. Ask customers who have recently purchased a product or service for their feedback. You can also sign up to product review platforms  such as Trustpilot or Feefo who will help automate the process for you.

Customer testimonials

Make referrals easy

To help get a response to your requests for feedback, ensure you make it as easy as possible for your customers to refer their friends or leave a review. The more rings customers have to jump through to make a recommendation the lower your response rate. Here is a great example from Hello Fresh’s Refer a Friend scheme. A simple link takes current customers to a registration page where they can quickly and easily enter their friends email addresses – Hello Fresh does the rest.

 

make referrals easy

Referral marketing is a great way for small businesses to generate  new customers. The three key points to take away are:

  1. Make sure you get the basics right first such as excellent customer service.
  2. Actively ask your customers for referrals
  3. Make it is as easy as possible for them to refer their friends.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on Refer a Friend so please do leave a comment. 

How to offer excellent customer service on social media – 7 best practice tips

social media customer serviceIn the US social networking now accounts for the most time spent on a particular online activity, with the average person spending 37 minutes a day on it. As more and more people interact with social media on a daily basis, it is little wonder that it is becoming a favourite channel for customer services communication.  The beauty of social media is its two-way immediacy. The minute someone posts a comment on your page you are alerted so you can respond equally swiftly.

Many small businesses have embraced social media and it’s become an integral part of a businesses online presence. Indeed, out of the 4.8 million small businesses in the UK nearly 23% earn over £1000 per annum through connecting with customers through social media platforms. Providing a top class customer experience as part of your social media presence is essential as businesses are increasingly recognising that customer services should no longer be just focused around telephone and email.

  • 92% of customers in the UK have left one business for another in the last year due to poor customer service.
  • 71% of customers who have a positive customer service experience via social media are likely to recommend that company
  • If consumers receive good customer service via social media they are likely to spend 21% more
  • Social networks account for the most online activity in the US with an average of 37 minutes a day.
  • 33% of users prefer to contact brands using social media than the telephone.
  • Failure to respond via social media channels can lead to a 15% increase in churn rate for existing customers
  • 71% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service

So as a small business are you confident you are following best practice when it comes to dealing with customer intereacions via your social media platforms?

7 Best practice tips for managing customer service online

1.Swift response

Customers need to feel that you take their concerns seriously.  Of course a prompt response to any customer service issue whether via email, telephone or letter is essential, but with social media speed becomes even more important. The very ‘immediate’ nature of social media is reflected in the time customers will expect you to respond. The speedier the better, particularly where complaints are concerned.

For example econsultancy note that53% of customers who ask a brand a question on Twitter expect a response within one hour. However, if a customer is making complaint to using Twitter, it goes up  72%.

Acknowledging comments as quickly as you can will score your business brownie points in your customers eyes. Whereas a slow response may reflect poorly on your business.

2.Dealing with negative comments.

Nobody likes handling negative comments but they are part-and-parcel of customer interaction. Dealing successfully with adverse communications is an essential part of successful customer service. Unlike telephone and email, when you are responding to negative comments on social media they are out there for everyone to see.  Don’t be tempted to ignore them as then the situation can mushroom out of control. When responding to a negative comment on social media:

  • Apologise upfront. Start with an apology as it shows you take your customers concerns seriously.
  • Be transparent. Don’t try to hide anything. Be upfront and honest about the situation, even if it is your mistake.
  • Don’t pass the person from pillar to post. Commit to dealing with the customer by supplying your name and a clear offer of help
  • Remain calm, polite and professional. No matter how disgruntled your customer, remain polite at all times without getting defensive.
  • Take it offline. When it’s appropriate, take an issue offline to deal with. For example, have a look at IKEA’s Facebook page. As you can imagine the very nature of IKEA’s business and its size means it gets a lot of adverse comments posted on its social media platforms. So when its appropriate they take it offline as in the example below.

social media dealing with negative comments

 

3. Clear and helpful information

In the same way customers visiting your website would expect to find information about your business, so to should your social media presence. Remember your website isn’t necessarily someone’s first experience of your business. Think about what information customers might be looking for. For example:

  • Completed profile pages: Make sure your businesses about us and profile pages are fully completed across all your platforms
  • Clear links. Have clear links to useful customer information such as to your website, FAQ page and contact us page.
  • Post helpful information. Post regular helpful customer services information such as delivery dates, opening times and service updates. This is particularly helpful during holiday periods such as Christmas when there may be a change to normal service. See the helpful example below from online retailer notonthehighstreet.com .

 

 

social media customer service

4.Learn to prioritise

It’s human nature to put off the things we find least enjoyable, and dealing with customer complaints probably falls into that category. However, as we mentioned earlier, the very immediate nature of social media means you have to respond as quickly as possible customers – that means no putting off dealing with the more difficult customer communications. Learning to manage your social media presence, particularly in regard to customer service is an essential skill.  Learn to prioritise how you respond to particular customer interactions.

Prioritise comments that require immediate attention for example, customer complaints, account queries, product issues, sales queries. Other more ‘proactive’ responses such as thanking someone for their feedback, commenting on a post and general queries regarding your business can wait a little longer.

Setting a response target for particular issues can be helpful. Of course it will depend on your business and how much manpower you have but for example, you could aim to respond to high priority queries within 30 minutes and more general queries within an hour. But don’t wait too long to answer any query as you don’t want to turn what started out as a general query into a complaint due to your slow response.

5.Train staff

If you aren’t the only one dealing with with your business on social media,  then you need to ensure you have trained your staff to how to respond appropriately the varied customer interactions.

Good communications skills are essential. How your staff deal with complaints and interact with customers is direct reflection on your business. Make sure you spend time ensuring staff have the key skills required to deal effectively with customers. For example excellent written skills are essential. Poor spelling and grammar won’t give customers much confidence in your business.

Make sure your staff understand the tone you want to set for your business on social media. Obviously it depends on your business and your customers, but even if you take a more informal approach in social media interactions, you and your staff must always remain professional. Making sure your staff understand the balance is important.

6.Personality – humanise your business

Social media is a great way to build your brand personality and bring a human touch to your business.  When someone posts a comment, likes your page or shares something,  thank them and where appropriate open up a discussion. Here are a couple of good examples from IKEA and Boden:

social media customer servie

 

Both Ikea and Boden set the right tone – friendly and not overly formal – keeping with the spirit of the posts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 10.19.15

 

It’s good to show customers that they are dealing with real people so always add your name in, particularly if you are responding to a customer query or complaint.

7.Embrace customer feedback

Don’t underestimate the great opportunity social media offers your business. It’s a great way to get a feel about a particular product or service and so therefore postively encourage feedback from customers even if it is negative. Showing customers that you value their opinions shows them just how important they are to you. Here is another great example from Boden. Actively thanking customers for their feedback on a new collection even though the feedback is not hugely positive.

social media customer feedback

 

As more and more people use social media a channel for customer services, taking an integrated, multi-channel approach to customer care will ensure that you have covered all your bases and are offering your customers the best possible service. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of social media customer service so please do leave a comment. 

How social media is defining customer service in a digital generation

Customer service is a custom that costs nothing, but in value is priceless. It’s often a defining process of a transaction, for better or worse. It can also be argued that Social Media is also a defining component of this digital generation. So surely businesses must be aware that utilising good customer service properly on Social Media is imperative to achieving optimum business success? Well, it actually turns out that there is a huge percentage of businesses that aren’t prepared to view Social Media customer service as a priority, and a lot of them are ignoring customer inquiries and complaints on this medium entirely; much to their detriment.

From taking too long to reply, to not replying at all, the infographic below shows many ways in which businesses are losing customer interest and gaining a negative reputation simultaneously. According to the studies carried out, 6 out of 10 people are willing to name and shame a company to taint the brand via social media. With 1.15 billion registered Facebook users and 215 million monthly Twitter users, that’s a tremendous amount of people that can potentially affect a business negatively, whereas if you have an employee dedicated to customer service on your social media page, a lot of people can be appeased and kept as customers; not to mention also showing your audience that you are active and relevant in the online business world and that you’re willing to help your customers.

Over 15% of businesses lost customers and over 11% of businesses lost revenue due to poor customer service via Social Media. Yet despite this, 1 out of 4 companies have no protocol for dealing with customer complaints on social media and 1 in 4 have no plans to develop a protocol in the future! Don’t let this be your business!

Want to find out more? Read the infographic below to find out the sector that garners the most customer complaints, and all the other current and vital statistics on customers and businesses outlook on customer correspondence on Social Media!

The infographic below shows just how social media is affecting customer service.

How Social Media Is Affecting Customer Service Infographic

Guest Author: Stephen Avila

Stephen Avila is a lawyer of 13 years who specialises in law and media work. Currently the director of Legalo and based in the Suffolk area, Stephen is interested in all aspects of law, digital marketing and content writing. Enthusiastic and entrepreneurial, Stephen is always looking to help others however he can with legal and marketing advice.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post. Please do leave a comment.

7 tips to help small businesses successfully manage online returns

managing online returnsProduct returns are always going to be part and parcel of online selling. The nature of the online environment means that unless a customer visits a bricks and mortar store first, they can’t physically examine a product or service prior to purchase.

Although a bit of a nuisance, returns are expected even by the major online brands. The trick is to handle your returns as efficiently and effectively possible. If you have a well-managed returns procedure created with your customer’s needs in mind then returns can have positive impact on your business.

‘Our best customers have the highest return rates’ Zappos

Handling returns can be annoying but try to view your returns in a positive way. Online shoe retailer Zappos maintains it is their customers with the highest returns rate that spend the most money and are the most profitable.  Successfully managed returns can;

  • Improve retention rates and repeat sales through building customer loyalty
  • Help conversions by acting as a trust signpost 
  • Showcase great customer service
  • Provide a competitor advantage

How to keep your return rate low

Even with the positives a well-managed returns procedure can bring, there is no doubt that they can be annoying and can cost small businesses valuable time and money. Here are a few simple to implement tips to help you lower your return rates.

Realistic customer expectations. As we mentioned earlier because customers don’t have the opportunity to try the product before they purchase, they are reliant on the information you provide. Therefore the more accurate you are in your descriptions and the more realistic your imagery the less likely there will be a difference in what your customers are expecting to receive and what actually gets delivered.

  • Product pages. Use accurate, detailed descriptions for every product. Imagery is essential, the more accurate the better. Try offering multi-angle or 360° photos. Video also works really well as it shows the product off motion.

customer reviewsCustomer reviews. Customer reviews help manage customer expectations. For example if I was about to buy a top and wasn’t sure about the sizing, a customer review might mention that the top comes up on the large size so I would know to size down, consequently reducing the likelihood of me having to return the top.

 

Offer detailed guides and instructions. Many products are returned simply because a customer is struggling to put together or set up an item. Help them out as much as possible by including simple instructions and guides with the product. Have a video ‘how to guide’ on your website that you can direct them to and a helpline number that they can contact you on – it will reduce returns and save you time in the long run.

7 Best practice tips

Outlined below are seven best practice tips to you manage your online returns successfully.

eu distance selling régulations1. Have a clear, easy-to-understand returns policy and procedure. Your website should clear returns policy and procedure. Take a look at clothing retailer White Stuff returns page. It focuses on their customer’s needs by making it easy to find,  straightforward to understand and outlining their customers rights. Reiterate you returns procedure and policy on your invoice that is included with the product.

Ensure you are aware of the legal distance selling regulations for your country and the rights your customers have. For example in the UK you should be familiar with the Sales of Goods Act and the  EU distance selling regulations.  Changes to regulations in June 2014 extended returns to 14 days from receipt of goods. Useful websites include:

Gov.UK – online and distance selling for businesses

EU – rights when shopping online

Sales of Goods Act

2. Offer free returns.  For a small online business with narrow profit margins this may be a hard one to swallow but the benefits of offering free returns to your customers will usually outweigh any costs. Customers really won’t appreciate a hefty return postage fee cost and it will put people off coming back to you. Focus on the long-term benefit of customer retention. In addition providing free returns is a great selling point and can help with conversions so don’t forget to flag it up on your website.

3. Make it  convenient.  Successful businesses always have customer needs at the heart of everything they do. Think about how you can make your returns procedure convenient and hassle free for your customers. Try:

  • including a pre-printed and pre-paid returns label in with your packaging. Offering a downloadable returns label like White Stuff on the returns page of your website is also helpful as many customers will mislay the one included with the product paperwork.
  • think also about offering click and collect options to customers.  They than have the option to return their item to a local click and collect shop at their own convenience.

don't argue over customer returns4. Don’t argue over returns. This is another area where it pays to think long-term. Splitting hairs with customers over returns is going to lose you business and reduce your retention rates. Most returns will be genuine but sometimes you may just have to suck up a spurious return and focus on the bigger picture. Use a policy of ‘no quibble’ returns is a great selling point and can give you an advantage over your competitors.

5. Get feedback. Try to get feedback from your customers when they make a return. Feedback can be really useful as it can help you identify and tackle potential problem areas. For example if a number of products are returned because ‘product not as depicted’ it means you may need to address your product descriptions and improve your product images.

6. Prompt customer communications. The prompter you are in your communications with your customers the happier your customers will be and the more positive they will feel towards your business. As soon as you receive your customer’s returns, email them with confirmation of receipt of goods and inform them when they can expect to receive their refund. Contact them again when you have issued their refund. Customers will appreciate your efficiency and it will stop them having to contact your customer service department.

discount returned items7. Resale on returned items.  It’s not always possible to resell returned items at full price, for example if the packaging is damaged. So you’re not stuck with lots of returned stock taking up valuable storage space, it makes sense to get rid of it. Offer such products at a discounted price on your website – maybe under a ‘ clearance section’ or even on eBay. It may not give you the profit you wanted but it may mean you break even and avoid mounting storage costs.  It is essential if you are doing this that you clearly state any damage – this way the customer won’t be able to return the item as he or she was aware of the damage prior to purchase.

Hopefully we’ve shown that returns aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that if managed well you can find ways to reduce your returns rate. Implementing a best practice returns procedure will also help your business in the long run in term of stronger customer relations, trust and goodwill.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on online returns, so please do leave a comment. 

7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.

Conclusion

We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

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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!

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