Even though we are a few weeks from Thanksgiving, we are already into the 2014 holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation reports that 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping as early as Halloween – so your store may currently be in the midst of holiday traffic. You have already prepared your store for mobile optimization and begun your social media campaign to advertise your products, but one thing you may not have considered, is a holiday customer service plan. Even though ecommerce removes the face-to-face communication between buyer and seller, excellent customer service is still what sets businesses apart and creates repeat customers. During this season when stress levels are raised and consumers are scrambling to get gifts in time, outstanding customer service can turn frantic Christmas shoppers into loyal, year-round customers. Here’s how we suggest implementing great customer service practices into your ecommerce store.
Since There’s No Face-To-Face….
Friendly copy is essential in communicating that there are “real” people behind your business. Regardless of what you sell, people want to buy from approachable companies. If you had to pick 3 words that described the ideal personality you want your brand to convey (ex: helpful, caring, personable, etc.), does your copy currently communicate those traits to your buyers? If not – don’t stress. That is something you can add in after this busy season, if you don’t have time right now. For holiday-specific customer service copy, we suggest editing the checkout process. First, make sure the process is simple:
- Are there unnecessary steps?
- Is there anything they are filling out that can be accomplished with a short dropdown menu (ex: State or City).
- If their buying address is the same as shipping, can they have the information stored or do they have to fill out the address again?
Then, create a friendly page for after check out. Here’s an example…
If you don’t have the time or development staff on hand to create a quick template like above, all you need to do is type in a personable thank you into the page after check out. Be friendly, silly, funny, sentimental – whatever fits your business. If you can include an image, we recommend one. Extra points for a picture of your team or an equally likeable character (ex: if you sell dog supplies, a dog in a Santa hat saying thank you is cute, and will charm the dog lovers who shop from you).
Know Your Customer’s Needs Before They Ask
One general rule that companies with world-class customer service always utilize, is knowing how to anticipate customer needs ahead of time. Premiere hotel chain Ritz Carlton is a master at this. Read any number of blogs and reviews on the hotel, and you will find a multitude of happy guests praising the Ritz Carlton’s beyond exceptional customer service. To accomplish this in a virtual world, think of what your customers may need, before they come to your site. Being conscious of the season, they are probably going to look for
- Deals- are your holiday sales and deals easy to find? Is there a page with all of them together, or is the new holiday price clearly reflected on each product page?
- Contact Us/Help- Shoppers may not have questions, but being able to easily locate how to comtact you lets them know that their inquiries are welcome.
To go a step beyond, consider adding a special Holiday FAQ to your store. Create a separate page, and include the following
- Shipping Time Table – Let shoppers know that if they order by X date with Y shipping postage, their package will arrive by Z. UPS has a sample table here.
- Return Links – No, you don’t want customers to return an item, but knowing where to go if they need to (and making it easy for them) will create trust.
- Instructional Video – If you have an item that requires special assembly or instructions, create a quick video tutorial that walks them through it. It doesn’t have to be directed by Michael Bay – a simple walk-through with you or an employee talking to them will create a human connection that is critical to achieve when you don’t have that face-to-face option.
And If You Really Want To Sweeten The Deal, Here’s The Extra Mile….
Bear in mind, this won’t be an option for all sellers, and if you can’t do this, that’s ok. Everything else in this post will help you up the ante in great customer service (which we’re sure you already provide!). But if you can do this, we think it will really matter to you customers…
It will cost you a little extra, but if you offer a complementary or low-cost gift wrap option (and then put wrapped items in a box), you will provide an invaluable service to your customers. Though some enjoy gift wrapping, for many it’s an extra hassle that when added to the stress of finding, buying and shipping gifts, is entirely unpleasant. If you can’t offer gift wrapping, consider a discreet shipping method for those trying to hide what the gifts are. Exclude your company name from those shipping labels only (but include it in your packing slip as usual). This extra step will feel like a mile to your customers, and will separate you from your competition.
Though exceptional customer service is especially important during the holidays, it’s a practice you should implement year-round. The best providers of customer service believe that to offer impeccable service, you must start from within. To accomplish this, you should
- Empower your employees. Best in the business companies like Nordstrom are synonymous with superb customer service, and it’s because they trust their employees to make the right decision. Empowerment gives employees the confidence to do their job phenomenally.
- Reward achievement. When an employee does something that exceeds expectations, praise them. It will encourage future accomplishments, from them and other employees as well.
For in-depth reading on how to provide extraordinary customer service, we recommend the following:
- For Free: Help Scout’s The Art of Customer Loyalty. This free eBook will take you through the steps of standing apart from your competitors, with a focus on ecommerce businesses. After all, we are in a world where your competitors are “only a click away.” Encourage them to continue shopping with you with these tips.
- For $$: The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: The Handbook For Becoming the “Nordstrom” of Your Industry. If you’ve ever shopped at Nordstrom, you can attest to their amazing customer service that far exceeds their competitors.
As an online shopper myself, I have encountered both sides of the customer service spectrum. However, the overwhelming majority of my online purchases were conducted by sellers with great service. One of my favorites, though, was a recent purchase from Etsy. I bought some patches from an Etsy artisan in Germany, knowing that they would take a little longer to ship. Much to my surprise, my package arrived three days early, and they included a handful of hand-drawn stickers as freebies and even a handwritten thank you card. Yes, in the age of technology where wearables are everyday accessories and emotion is expressed through emoji’s, I received a handwritten note. It even had my name in it – not my username, my actual human name. I have it hanging on my fridge, and every time someone asks who the card is from, I talk about my new Etsy seller friend. I would have recommended her products regardless, but it means so much more to others when I explain the extra care she took in preparing my package. It was something a friend would have done, and I won’t forget it.
What’s your favorite customer service experience? Have you received a compliment from a customer that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!