Top 10 eCommerce customer service mistakes – Why your current customer support most likely sucks !?

In this post, I will walk you through:

  1. The most common customer service mistakes (these are the main reasons why your customer support most likely sucks):
    1. Customer response time
    2. Reachability
    3. Returns policy
    4. The Blame game
    5. Social Media
    6. Obsessions of a Policymaker
    7. Doing the bare minimum
    8. Under-training your CS team
    9. Never handling customer support issues
    10. Brand identity
  2. eCommerce customer support best practices:
    • Embracing returns.
    • Apologizing and compensating.
    • Rules are meant to be broken.

Ultimately, this post will show you how to turn your customer support from the worst on planet Earth to the best in the galaxy 🙂

customer support correspondence

A customer support correspondence somewhere in the galaxy:

Customer: “I have been trying to get a hold of you for two days now. I am having trouble setting up the laptop I bought from you and have lost out on a business deal due to your incompetence”.

Seller: “I apologize, I have been extremely overwhelmed and haven’t had a chance to look at my inbox”.

Customer: “I don’t care how busy you are. I bought an item from you on eBay and I expect to get prompt service even after completing my order and receiving my item. I am definitely leaving you a negative review!”

Well, I’m sure you can imagine how that conversation ended! Not well, and that is putting it nicely. However, these kinds of customer service mistakes can easily be avoided, especially when it comes to eCommerce.

The Top 10 most common eCommerce customer service mistakes

A second before I go into these mistakes in detail, I want you to get a feel of how important customer service truly is. According to RightNow:

A negative customer support experience has lead 82% of customers to stop doing business with a company!

negative customer support experience

I am going to let you think about that.

In the meantime, back to the opening customer support dialogue – the mistake here made by the seller is a combination of the two top contributors to sucky customer support:

  • Taking too long to respond to a customer.
  • Not being reachable.

So let’s begin with those:

Customer service mistake #1: Customer response time

We are now in the post-digital age. The actual digital age began in the early 2000s (definitions are based more on personal intuition than by historians). Back then, it was perhaps acceptable to get back to a customer within 1-2 business days. Today, that time frame is for dinosaurs who do not mind going extinct. If you want to beat extinction and not only survive, but thrive in eCommerce, you need to pick up the pace!

The Average customer today expects a response to an email within 15 minutes to an hour!

Have a look at this survey carried out by Mycustomer:

support email response time expectation

Responding within 1 hour will meet the expectations of 89% of your customers, and, even though 43% of customers are willing to wait 1 day and 13% of customers are willing to wait 2 days, the 15 minute to 1 hour range covers a whopping 30%. Those are the customers who will be satisfied with your service, but the customers with lower expectations will be blown away and thoroughly pleased. You should always aim to provide a service that meets the standards of your most demanding customers.

Customer service mistake #2: Reachability

Being reachable is actually the most basic form of good customer service. Also, you would think that this goes without saying, but it unfortunately does not. It makes no difference if you were on your first space shuttle to the moon, if you just had your first child or grandchild or if you had one too many beers last night. If you want the financial freedom eCommerce has to offer, you need to own up to the most basic responsibility of being reached by your client. Think of your clients as you would of your boss as they essentially pay your salary – would you ignore a message from your boss? I think not.

reach customer support
Pro Tip:  Use Customer Service App

One great way to never miss a customer’s message and to significantly increase response times is to use a customer service app. Apps are great as we are constantly on our phones these days and only the most resilient among us do not immediately glance at our phone when it pings. In a future post I will compare the existing apps so you can choose the one which best suits you and your business.

Customer service mistake #3: Returns policy

In a recent post of mine about  customer support articles I wish someone would have told me about, I referenced an article published in Forbes magazine about the wonders of Zappos’s customer support. One of the most amazing things about Zappos is that they are one of the few companies out there which actually encourage returns. Most eCommerce businesses and sellers try to hide their returns policies or make it unreasonably difficult for a customer to return an item, even if they do manage to find the relevant policy. Not only is this a terrible mistake, but it also does harm to your reputation as a seller and can seriously damage future sales. Using Zappos as a brief case study, we can learn why encouraging returns is actually a very lucrative business model.

eCommerce Customer Service Best Practice: Embracing returns

The reasoning behind this is that customers can order a few items to try on and return the ones they don’t like. The truth, however, is that human nature tends to be lazy and, once someone buys something and already sees and feels the item, the chances of a return are slimmer than you think. In a majority of cases, people may even choose to keep the same product in three different colors if they really take a liking to said product.

Encouraging returns:

  • Can increase sales by putting more products into the shoppers’ hands. Take a minute to think about cars with no down payment, easy credit from the bank or, on a different note, eating an extra helping of potatoes over the holidays just because someone put it there. You did not want it and you weren’t hungry, but it was there so you had it. Make your eCommerce business the mighty temptress you know it can and want it to be.
  • Increases your credibility and reliability in the eyes of buyers since you are openly taking responsibility for your goods. This in turn will earn you a loyal customer following.

Temptation takes many forms – a loose returns policy is one of them.

customer support mistakes

Customer service mistake #4: The Blame game

We are all very familiar with the blame game.

  • It was him.
  • It was her.
  • It was my cat.
  • It’s eBay’s fault.
  • It’s UPS’s fault.
  • It’s the weather.

No!!! Absolutely not. You finished grade school a long time ago – there is no such thing as blaming others for things that go wrong in the world of business. The customer is always right and it is your job to find solutions to problems and to keep customers happy.

blame your customers mistake
eCommerce Customer Service Best Practice: Apologize & reward
  1. Step 1 – Apologize!
    Seems trivial, yet 74% of customers feel satisfied when a business offers monetary compensation coupled with an apology versus 37% of customers who are satisfied with monetary compensation alone.
    That is a whole lot of value in 3 easy words: ‘I am sorry’ (Source: Groove).
  2. Step 2 – Offer monetary compensation whether it is a :
    • Return.
    • Future discount.
    • 100% cash refund.
      If possible, ask your client what their preferred form of compensation is. Do not decide for them!
  3. Step 3 – Go above and beyond the call of duty in order to leave a positive impression. Lifetime customers are earned when you handle tough situations in positive and unique ways.

Consider:

  • Writing a handwritten apology letter which you send by physical mail.
  • Sending your customer a free sample of a product you currently have in stock, cologne for example. This will not only make them feel like they got a bonus, but could actually lead to a future sale.
  • Make a change to your business or process and tell them about it. There is nothing people love more than to make a complaint about a real pain and then have the business owner contact them and tell them that x change was made thanks to their comment. They will feel like you are really listening and contributing to a future customer’s buying experience.

Customer service mistake #5: Social Media

Your customers are on social media, period! Two very interesting statistics to keep in mind in this regard:

eCommerce businesses with a social media presence sell 32% more than those without. (Source: fitsmallbusiness)

Customer retention goes up by 15% when businesses are responsive on social media. (Source: Gartner)

The corresponding mistakes to these statistics are:

  1. Not having a social presence – Being on social media increases your brand awareness, reminding shoppers you are there as a buying option. It also increases social credibility, especially if you have a lot of reviews and engagement with your posts.
  2. Not being responsive on social media – This ties into #2 – reachability. You need to be reachable on whatever platform your buyers may choose. Be it Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, not responding to a message because the platform doesn’t suit you is totally unprofessional.

Other social media mistakes include:

  1. Deleting negative comments or complaints – When someone writes something about your business, whether you like it or not, in most cases it speaks to a real pain they have experienced with your business or service. Deleting it is not only a slap in the face, but also detracts from your credibility. Additionally, businesses with negative feedback in addition to positive feedback are considered more credible and trustworthy by users (Source: ResearchGate)
  2. Blocking private messaging on any platform – On some platforms, such as Instagram, DM or direct messaging can be turned off. When a business does this, they are essentially gagging their clients. Customers sense this passive-aggressive-indifference and this makes them even angrier. Taking away a healthy outlet for a buyer to voice their concerns and opinions to a company is a recipe for disaster and is sure to backfire.
  3. Asking customers to contact you on a different platform – If a customer has chosen to reach out to you on Twitter or Facebook, respond to them there. Do not send a message saying please call or email XYZ. A customer reaches out on a specific platform because that is where he or she feels most comfortable. Changing the ‘point of meeting’ shows a complete disrespect for a customer’s needs and preferences and ultimately makes you look disrespectful and downright bad as a business.
social media ecommerce support mistakes

Customer service mistake #6: Obsessions of a Policymaker

Whatever marketplace you sell on, be it eBay or Amazon, we all have policies. A huge mistake a seller can make is clinging to a policy with such precision that even surgeons would be put to shame. Being pointlessly stubborn will only contribute to hatred and resentment from frustrated clients.

eCommerce Customer Service Best Practice: Rules are meant to be broken

Rules, as it were, are meant to be broken. As an SMB (small and midsize business), you have an advantage over large corporations – you can occasionally bend policies in favor of customers instead of being headstrong. Let a customer know that you are going against one of your policies by doing so and so, but that it is well worth it as his or her satisfaction is more important than any policy of yours. This is the customer support magic that charms clients into posting viral social media rants about your brand and recommending your products to anyone who will listen.  

Customer service mistake #7: Doing the bare minimum

Something interesting I just recently read in Forbes magazine is that every Ritz-Carlton hotel employee is allowed to spend upwards of $2,000 a day to solve a customer’s issue or to enhance their experience. Imagine that!

Obviously, most eCommerce businesses cannot shell out that kind of cash, but it’s not about the money per se. It is about the attitude towards customers, customer support and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. If you make it your goal to only do the bare minimum, you will be trampled by businesses who are willing to go the extra mile. Revisiting Zappos as a case study, if they don’t have an item in stock, they will redirect you to a competitor’s site if that is the only readily available option.

Who does that?

Companies who care about long term customer relationships – that’s who!

Customer service mistake #8: Under-training your CS team

Many business owners view customer support agents as the bottom of the pyramid, which in fact they are. Customer support agents are the foundation of that figurative pyramid, and of any successful eCommerce business – they are usually the only interaction a client will ever have with your business and that is why it is important to ensure that it is a positive one.

The biggest mistakes you can make as a business owner are:

  • Under-training your agents – Many business owners consider CS agent expendable and as such don’t bother investing in their knowledge and training. ‘Why bother? I will probably have a different agent 4 months from now…’ they tell themselves, but that is like asking – ‘why bother eat or shower when you will be hungry and sweaty again in a few hours?’ Invest in your employees and not only will they stay on and work for you for longer than you expected, but they will become an even bigger asset to your business.
  • Under-paying CS agents – When you pay a CS agent the minimum wage while he or she sees you racking it in, he or she is bound to feel taken advantage of. Pay your agents above fair wages (based on local wages – a lot of folks outsource customer support to the Philippines for example) and you will be rewarded with happier and more productive employees.
  • Not incentivizing them – Beyond wages. Incentivize your agents! I would definitely put an incentive plan in place for a certain amount of positive reviews, your business partners and yourself can decide this figure at your own discretion. Positive consumer reviews and/ or cases closed successfully by agents should be meaningfully rewarded (in whatever form you deem appropriate).
  • Not making CS agents feel valued – Be sure to thank your employees regularly and tell them how much you appreciate their work. We are creatures who constantly seek approval and validation, and, as the above study I cited states – monetary reward has very little value when not accompanied by human sentiment.

Customer service mistake #9: Never handling customer support issues

Some business owners believe they are above customer support, but there is no such animal! Nobody is above customer support in any business or industry!

Being involved in customer support is your biggest opportunity to intimately learn about your customer base:

  • What are their biggest pains?
  • What improvements and product iterations will increase conversions?

Everyone should be involved in customer service. Say you sell dresses that your wife manufactures and produces. By having her do customer support once a month, she may find out that:

  • A certain size is missing.
  • There aren’t enough pink dresses in stock.
  • That the seams are extremely fragile and need to be reinforced.

These type of insights can only come from the customer and stand to dramatically improve quality assurance along with the manufacturing standards.

Customer service mistake #10: Brand identity

As far-fetched as it may sound. Yes. Brand identity or lack thereof can pose a serious customer experience and customer relationship challenge. When people buy from a brand which has a definitive brand identity like Nike, Adidas or Armani, for example, they tend to find satisfaction – they are buying a:

  • Fantastical image of their body.
  • A chance at attaining a likeness to their favorite sports star.
  • The opportunity to feel as successful, young and good looking as the guy in the picture. The sports car is sure to follow – if only I owned that suit!

Whether or not the fantasy is attained is irrelevant. When dealing with smaller brands or eCommerce stores, if you don’t know what your product identity is, if you do not know what fantasy you are selling to people, they won’t either! Without a good story, there is a higher chance of having a higher percentage of unsatisfied customers reaching out to customer service, wanting to return a perfectly good product.

Build a story, build a brand and customer satisfaction will increase and baseless returns are likely to decrease.

Beyond the narrative, it is important that people keep in mind that building a meaningful brand can take years. Consistency is definitely the key to building a successful brand, so decide early on what you stand for and go with that, promote that in all your dealings, campaigns and cherish those core values you laid down for your business. But again, don’t be disillusioned, the process of brand maturity and culmination so to speak will take years to achieve.

Summing it up

In business, as in life, everything is interconnected. Brand identity ties into customer service, social media is a beacon of the customer’s freedom of speech and sometimes the counter intuitive option, such as an open-door return policy, is more profitable than a dead-end one.

I hope this post opened your eyes to customer service on point as well as in the broader sense of the term. Challenge yourself and your employees to consistently provide your customers with superior service and I guarantee you will thrive as a business which makes people’s lives better while making a handsome profit in the process.

Remember: positive actions bring about positive results – you can easily avoid all 10 of these customer service mistakes. Consider implementing them one at a time instead of all at once.

Please comment below with one customer support issue that you experienced lately and how you handled it. If it’s an ongoing issue, I would be happy to offer you my advice and assistance.

Nadav from Subivi

Nadav Roiter is a published writer and a Jerusalem Post freelance journalist. Nadav is the Marketing Manager for Subivi eCommerce CRM which has developed a customer support tool uniquely built to help eCommerce sellers offer stellar customer support while simultaneously maximizing profits.

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