Most ecommerce storeowners know that customer service is a crucial aspect to success, and is just as important as product selection and pricing. If your online store can't provide customers an amazing experience, consumers won't be motivated to turn into repeat customers - the most valuable kind of customers.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top trends for delivering excellent customer service in 2016.Related content: 4 customer service tips for one-man retailers.
Customer service channels are exploding
With the rise of omnichannel in today's retail world, customers suddenly have a seemingly limitless amount of ways to interact with retailers.
Whether it's live chat, phone, email, or social media, you need to make sure that you're available to your customers in the channels that they live in most.
For the vast majority of retailers, that means having an active Twitter and Facebook presence, as well as being responsive on other social media platforms. If you're B2B, you definitely want to do all you can to interact with and answer product and service questions on LinkedIn.
Based on the size of your online store, it may seem infeasible to offer live chat. Keep in mind, however, that 58% of contact/call centers have adopted a live-chat option for customer support. This data was reported by Forrester and quoted in a Comm100 blog post.
What's even more intriguing is that a 2015 WDS report states that live chat is no longer a luxury - it's a consumer demand. So if you have the means to invest in live chat, you may want to consider it.
If you don't have the ability to invest in live chat, or it is not a good fit for your business, at the very least develop reliable email support. Put a disclaimer on your site that you'll answer all email inquiries within any given time frame, and stick to it. Generally, try not to extend the time frame beyond 2 business days. You need to be on top of responding to customer questions, complaints, and concerns if you're serious about providing excellent customer service.
With the rise of the omnichannel and the ability to shop from any device, consumers are expecting instantaneous answers to their questions. If they can't get those from you, they'll go to your competitors.
According to data reported by Salesforce, 45% of US consumers will abandon their online transactions if their questions aren't answered quickly.
That expectation of instant answers is perhaps the biggest trend not only in customer service, but all of retail, for 2016.
Personalization is a demand
It's not enough in 2016 to simply offer timely, helpful customer service - you have to do your best to personalize that experience.
Luckily, retailers have the data available to create tailored experiences for customers. Forbes writer Shep Hyken calls this "micro data."
"While Big Data looks at trends, Micro Data looks at the individual customer’s buying patterns and preferences. A customized experience will help create a connection with the customer that brings them back to do business with you."
By identifying buying patterns and preferences, you can create personalized emails, offers, and support for anyone who visits your online store. It might be a time-consuming task, but if you have the resources, it's worth the time and money to turn those consumers into loyal repeat buyers.
YouTube is huge
For SaaS companies, YouTube is a gold mine for delivering solid customer service in the form of videos that walk customers through their software.
While YouTube presents huge value to SaaS and B2B retailers, it can also help out B2C retailers in the form of answering FAQs and providing engaging content.
To supplement your business, provide an FAQ video and content on your webpage answering simple questions about shipping, quality, assortment, etc.
Take a look at the way the Peace Corps tackles their FAQs page:
They still have written content for those who wish to get answers that way, but their videos answer the same questions in a different way.
Granted, you may not have the budget for videos of high production value like the Peace Corps, but these can give you a launching point for ideas on how to tackle your own FAQ videos.
Service talent is in high demand
A post from Parature presents an interesting viewpoint on customer service in 2016 - companies are placing more focus and value on service talent, rather than just hiring a giant customer service workforce.
That article goes on to give a great nugget of advice about a company can do right now in order to help their current customer service reps become more effective at their jobs:
"Organizations can start improving service today by developing a clearer understanding of what customers value and what priority customers place on different value outcomes. A clearer understanding of value will provide a map as to where organizations need to be excellent and where they can afford to be simply okay. As Harvard Business School professor and bestselling Uncommon Service author Frances Frei notes, ‘Service excellence can be defined as what a business chooses not to do well.’”
Your customer service reps will be able to better assists your customers when your reps have a clear, thorough understanding of what customers value most about the online shopping experience.
There are many resources available to you on this subject, but if you want hyper-specific data that's contextual to your audience, you can conduct your own polls about what your customers value most about the online shopping experience. You can then pass that data on to your customer support team.
Mobile really matters
I've mentioned time and time again on this blog just how important it is for ecommerce storeowners to be as on top of the mobile game as possible.
According to eWeek, 63% of U.S. adults use their smartphones at least several times a month to get either sales or customer support.
A blog post from Comm100 put it succinctly when Jeff Grundy wrote,
"If you want your customer service and sales support offerings to be on par with other market leaders, you will need to adopt a “mobile-first” mindset when it comes to providing contact options for your customers.Creating a mobile-first customer service strategy means more than just making your website mobile friendly; it also means making all your support channels mobile accessible as well. In fact, customers will demand it."
This ties back into what I discussed in the opening section of this post - customer service channels are literally exploding, and consumers are going to demand help from every channel available to them.
Another great point from Grundy's Comm100 post is that companies need to be proactive in their customer support efforts. He gives the following example on how to do that:
"Airlines have been providing this type of help for many years now. If a customer misses a connecting flight because of bad weather or airline-related delays, an agent will rebook the ticket proactively without any prodding whatsoever."
While the reliability of some airlines to deliver timely customer service is debatable, the point remains the same - customers are impatient and you need to identify problems before they arise, address those problems quickly, and make the process as painless as possible for the customer.
In 2016, we're going to see a lot of changes in the customer service world - but the trends mentioned above are the tactics online retailers should be aware of. It's not always easy - or cheap - to provide excellent customer service. However, by doing so, you'll gain the loyalty of customers and an excellent brand reputation, both of which are definitely worth the investment you put into customer service.