Tailoring your customer service

E-commerce gives shoppers certain expectations when it comes to customer service interactions. Here’s how to tailor your service for online.

In a recent survey of over 200 consumers, 28% said they preferred buying from a small business on the high street than from a large retailer, because of a perceived higher standard of products. This was underpinned by 27% saying that customer service was extremely important to them – small businesses, they added, seemed to go out of their way to help make the shopping experience memorable.

For small businesses that receive all or most of their business online, there are additional challenges: first, standing out from the thousands of other websites; second, competing against larger firms with a bigger and more consistent online presence.

We look at ways to tailor your customer service to ensure a high satisfaction rate and, ultimately, increase sales.

Optimise web design and layout

Many businesses on the high street invest a considerable amount of time and money into the layout of their premises. Products are often strategically placed throughout the shop with the hope that shoppers are funnelled with full baskets to the checkouts.

However, businesses that don’t have a bricks-and-mortar store – and indeed those with both physical and digital stores – will have to optimise their web presence in order to attract customers and ensure that they don’t abandon their cart before reaching the checkout page.

E-commerce businesses should try to recreate the offline shopping experience as best as they can, and a tailored customer service is an essential part of this.

“You need to make customers’ lives easier wherever possible, whether this is designing your website to make it easy to click through to the checkout or having some form of after-sales support,” says Lesley Bambridge, founder and director of marketing consultancy We Mean Business. “By making it a breeze to buy from you and giving customers the help they need, they’re more likely to sing your praises and return time and again.”

Create buy-in

While a shopfront will be presented in a such way to attract customers inside, online businesses have to be smarter when it comes to making sure browsers don’t exit before they buy.

Charlotte Jamme, director and founder of handbag brand Mia Tui, has found that an effective way to reduce bounce rate is to create some sort of buy-in.

“We have a loyalty scheme where customers receive points as soon as they sign up to the site, which they can then use on their first purchase. This incentivises customers more than gifting them points only once they’ve completed the purchase would,” says Jamme.

Deal with complaints competently

One sticking point of the online shopping experience for customers will often be not being able to try before they buy. Research by online retail giant Rakuten has concluded that 86% of shoppers consider buying clothes online a gamble. Indeed, products bought over the internet cost the UK economy an estimated £20bn in returns every year.

Like clothing, food items can also be susceptible to unhappy customers. Andy Lawson, founder and CEO of BoroughBox, a marketplace for independent food producers including Rubies in the Rubble and Snact, believes that while this isn’t completely avoidable, it’s important to show customers how competent you are.

“For us to create and maintain trust with our customers online, we can’t be hiding in the virtual shadows”Andy Lawson, founder and CEO, BoroughBox

BoroughBox delivers many of the products itself, but some are distributed by the producers. This has the potential to cause issues, especially if sellers were to fail to meet the standards expected.

“We’re here to provide a service and, ultimately, like any supply chain with moving parts, any one part can have an issue,” says Lawson. “But we want this to be as infrequent as possible and we want our customers to have faith that when something does go wrong, we’ll work tirelessly to make it right again – just like if they walked into a physical shop with an issue.”

Lawson adds that it’s important to always have multiple communication channels open, especially direct telephone numbers.

“For us to create and maintain trust with our customers online, we can’t be hiding in the virtual shadows,” he says.

It’s also vital that you make it clear on your website what your delivery terms and returns policy are.

React swiftly

“It’s not just how you put it right that matters, but also how quickly,” says John Armstrong, co-founder of Newcastle-based printwear and branding specialist Custom Planet. “If you prolong it or make it difficult for the customer, then they’ll walk away and you’ll lose their business.”


Customers have come to expect that they can have anything delivered pretty much instantly with as minimal fuss as possible – Armstrong puts this down to the way technology has revolutionised the online buying and browsing experience.

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