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25 Ways to Improve Your Online Customer Service

by Justin Palmer - September 30th, 2007

When you consider the competitive advantages of an online retailer, customer service is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. Many e-commerce sites, even the large well-known ones, are known for impersonal, mediocre customer service practices. And yet, the few e-tailors that differentiate themselves on serving their customers such as Zappos become well-known case studies in client care. In this post, I’ll share some of the unique best practices I’ve seen over the last few years that serve to differentiate companies in customer service.

  1. Assign a Personal Customer Service Rep: Along with the order confirmation receipt that you send to your customers, also automatically assign each customer a personal representative that will field their questions. Send the email from this representative’s name, and include their contact info. Customers will be impressed that they have a “personal” representative assign specifically to them. For more info on this tactic, checkout this post on DermaTechRX.
  2. Human Touch: Many online shoppers struggle with trusting an online merchant due to the lack of face to face interaction. Mitigate this weakness by showing pictures of your customer service staff. Christian retailer C28 shows the picture of their customer service manager on the Help page as well as on every order confirmation email. In addition, below the picture is the manager’s direct contact info. Something like this can go a long way to instill trust in your company.
  3. Call Customers Who Abandon Orders: When a customer starts an order but doesn’t finish it, follow up with a phone call to find out if there were any problems. Customers appreciate the gesture, and you will likely save many sales in the process.
  4. Free Upgraded Shipping: Surprise select customers by upgrading their shipping to 1 or 2 express. If you do this, be sure to send them an email letting them know they have been upgraded. This strategy was pioneered by Zappos.
  5. Same Day Shipping: Most websites have a policy of shipping orders 1 or 2 business days after they are placed. If possible, selectively ship some orders the same day. The speedy delivery will be appreciated, though not expected by your customers.
  6. Increase # of Reps: It goes without saying that if you have a higher representative to customer ratio, you will have the time to better serve your clients. While not every business can afford this, if you want to differentiate yourself with outstanding customer service, it’s a must.
  7. Hand-written thank you on Packing Slip: Most packing slips are dull, impersonal, and useful only if you need to return the merchandise. On rare occasions, I’ve received orders where the packing list featured a hand-written, personalized thank you from a staff member. While this may not be practical for every order, it is a great way to impress select customers. Another idea might be to include the business card with contact info for a manager.
  8. Follow Up Surveys: Consider sending a survey email out with every order confirmation. While not every customer will complete it, your customers will know you care enough to ask their opinion.
  9. Extensive FAQ Knowledge Base: Surprisingly, one of the easiest ways to improve your customer satisfaction may be to prevent needless customer interactions in the first place. No matter how friendly your call center representative, no customer will be pleased if they have to call you in order to answer a simple question like “how do I return a product?” Prevent situations like this by maintaining a searchable FAQ knowledge base that answers every reasonable question.
  10. Live Chat: Many customers dislike the thought of sitting on hold for even a few minutes. Offering a live chat option can be an inexpensive way of answering questions for your visitors, and reducing the call volume for your call center.
  11. Improve After Hour Call Center: If your business employs a 3rd party after hour call center that is off-site, make sure you frequently monitor the quality of care they are rendering. Make sure they are empowered to serve your customers as effectively as possible. If your primary call center is 3rd party, seriously consider bringing it in house. While this is not always the most affordable option, it’s necessary if you desire to give your clients your absolute best.
  12. Prominent Customer Testimonials: Place customer testimonials on more than just the “testimonial” page. Zappos features them right on their main customer service page. A word of caution applies here though. If you’re going to “brag” so to speak about your service, make sure you follow through!
  13. Detailed Product Pages: Answer questions before they are asked by always having thoroughly detailed product pages. Include all the relevant info a customer would want to know about your products. For more ideas on this topic, checkout my previous post on 25 ways to improve your product page.
  14. Customer Centric Slogan: Show your dedication to customer care by prominently featuring a customer centered slogan that summarizes your company’s practices. A great example of this would be Zappos’ famous slogan on their home page: “We are a service company that happens to sell shoes.”
  15. Free Return Shipping: One of the greatest stumbling blocks to online ordering is the thought of having to return the product. Consider sending customers a pre-paid return shipping label in the case of a product needing to be returned. Because this is rarely done by e-commerce stores, you will certainly set yourself apart in the mind of your customer.
  16. Automatic Price Protection: Always honor sale prices of items that were previously purchased by customers. They need to be able to shop with this confidence. Better yet, automatically notify customers when items they have purchased in the past go on sale. Offer to apply the price difference toward a future purchase or just refund the amount. Sound crazy? Maybe, but it’s small cost that can win a customer for life.
  17. Lenient Return Policy: Make sure your return policy is not unnecessarily complicated or rigid. How many times have you shopped at a certain retailer because their lenient return policy gave you the confidence you needed to buy? (Think Costco vs. Walmart!)
  18. Thank You Calls: Call select customers and thank them for ordering. This personalized gesture will blow them away.
  19. Thank You Emails: Email certain customers and thank them for their business. Be sure to include something personalized in the email that will convince them it’s not just something generic sent to everyone.
  20. Do More than Fix Your Mistakes: When your business makes a mistake, be sure that you exceed your customer’s expectations when fixing it. If an item was mistakenly left out of a shipment, don’t just a apologize, offer that item for free. Many businesses find their most loyal customers result from a highly satisfying resolution to a problem.
  21. Fix Other’s Mistakes: If a shipment is delayed or lost due to the fault of the shipping carrier, don’t just blame UPS, offer a solution. Offer to promptly re-ship the item, or at the very least, offer to take care of the problem with the carrier so the customer doesn’t have to.
  22. Guaranteed Email Response Time: Most customers expect an email inquiry to be answered within at most 24 hours. If you can, guarantee a response time faster than this. Also, acknowledge the receipt of an email inquiry by employing an auto responder.
  23. Secret Shopping: Used extensively by brick-and-mortar retailers, secret shopping is a great way to identify problems and keep your customer service staff on their toes.
  24. Upgrade Your CRM Tools: Proper technology can go a long way to improving customer care. At the very least, ensure that your staff has the ability to view the history of previous interactions with a customer. It’s very frustrating when you have to repeatedly explain the situation to a representative.
  25. Personalize Everything: Always great customers by name on the home page, and offer them personalized product recommendations based on previous orders.

I once heard it said that “the enemy of good is not bad, it’s mediocre.” Too many online retailers struggle with mediocre customer service. Many businesses fail to realize their customer base is also powerful marketing machine. If treated right, they can become to most effective viral marketing campaign imaginable. Treated poorly, and they can become a PR disaster.

If you enjoyed this post, please also checkout 25 ways to improve your shopping cart and 25 ways to improve your checkout.

About the Author

Justin Palmer is the owner of Palmer Web Marketing, a web marketing & e-commerce consultancy. Justin also operates several other online businesses, including MedSaverCard.com, a discount drug coupon program.


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7 Responses to “25 Ways to Improve Your Online Customer Service” by Justin Palmer

  1. G K Lim Says:

    Hi, this is really a great article on online customer service. More often than not, we say we give good customer service, but we don’t. Your article gives me some strategies to improve my online customer service. Thanks!! G K Lim, http://gklim.blogspot.com/

  2. Leow Tze Wei Says:

    Good content. Even great if you could provide step-by-step guide for DIY or beginner.

  3. Alex Mgme Says:

    I purchased an online product from a reputable firm in Canada, with a full money back guarantee. When it arrived, i found that it was not what was described in their promotion, and i sent it back to them and asked for a refund back to my credit card. They said that they will refund me, but it has been over a month. I have called them thrice, and they said they would pay but they don’t pay. What do you do in such a situation?

  4. Viral Marketing Tips - The Secret to Successful Viral Marketing: Stop Trying and Start Inspiring Says:

    [...] legendary customer service that consistently exceeds [...]

  5. 13 E-Commerce Website Mistakes - 13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores Says:

    [...] Unreachable Customer Service: Online retailers are typically not famous for their customer service. Phone numbers and emails should be listed prominently on every page. Responses to customer requests should be prompt and courteous. In a previous post, I outlined 25 tips for improving your online customer service. [...]

  6. Why eCommerce is a Lot Like ICanHasCheezburger | Get Elastic Says:

    [...] Palmer’s 25 Ways to Improve Customer Service View all entries tagged customer [...]

  7. Rob Joseph Says:

    Your number 18 “thank you calls” is an excellent idea. We have had much success with this practice. We use a company named Frequent Follow-Ups to handle this for us and it is seamless. They are located here http://www.frequentfollowups.com if anyone is interested in doing this also.
    -Rob


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