Invest in the Online Customer Experience

There is a lot of debate among businesses today over the value that should be placed on customer service. Some argue that customer service is overrated and not enough to keep consumers loyal to a brand, and thus do not make it a priority. For these companies, customer service costs too much -- it costs to train employees properly, it costs to keep the contact center open, it costs to staff it adequately -- and the return on investment is minimal: Why bother when customers keep coming back to shop for lower and lowest prices? A store that doesn't emphasize customer service is easy to identify while shopping in person -- your blood pressure rises while you wait in long lines or wait for an inexperienced salesperson to find the answer to what must be a common question; or battle through disorganized aisles looking for a good deal on paper towels -- and it is evident in a wide variety of eCommerce sites as well. Here are just a few anti-customer examples:
  • Difficult to find contact information
  • Incomplete contact information (not including email, phone and an address)
  • Redundant information sharing (customers must repeat transaction history each time they contact the store, regardless of channel)
  • Costly, confusing or non-existent shipping and return policies
  • Long hold times/delayed email response
  • No option to save or send info on potential purchases for later recall
While low prices are certainly a deciding factor for many shoppers, a poor customer experience turns some customers off forever. And there is much evidence to support the connection between profitability and consumer satisfaction, according to recent studies:
  • Seventy-two percent of the consumers who switch to a competitor did so because of customer service problems. (The Forum Corporation)
  • Only two percent of unhappy customers complain, while thirty-four percent of all dissatisfied customers penalized the manufacturer by quietly switching brands. (The A.C. Nielsen Company)
  • Sixty-eight percent of customers switch suppliers because of the indifference shown them by customer service personnel. (Tom Peters, U.S. News and World Report)
Ignoring, or underestimating, the value of good customer service can backfire quickly. In the precarious and competitive world of multichannel sales, another store is literally just a click away. And personal blogs, message boards and social media sites make it easier than ever for dissatisfied consumers to share their negative shopping experiences with a growing, and receptive, audience. Many businesses could actually improve customer service across all channels with a few Web-based tools that make the best use of available resources. Technologies like click to call and click to chat allow retailers to engage customers at strategic points throughout their Web site, so high-value customers gearing up to make significant purchases can connect with the company's call center. At the same time, companies can leverage real-time Web analytics to channel non-sales inquires to less costly service options like email and self-service. For example, companies can use customer profiles to identify frequent shoppers and offer them personalized service to keep these loyal shoppers happy. Similarly, the retailer could also opt for rules that engage customers with an opportunity to speak with an agent once a certain threshold (say $200) is reached in the shopping cart, or based on a customer's keyword search. And tools like save and send allow customers to save online information for later use in a variety of formats including SMS, PDFs, email or social bookmarks. For merchants, the ability to offer consumers access to their product offerings anytime, anywhere, in any format, on any device predisposes buyers to make repeat purchases from preferred sources. These proactive conversion solutions ensure companies service loyal customers with the right sales channel for their needs, without overwhelming their contact centers. In the end, today's consumers want it all -- low prices and good customer service. Savvy businesses understand that customer service can be a significant differentiator, and a reason for customers to form loyalty in an overcrowded marketplace where competing offers are just a click away. By offering shoppers customer service options based on context, retailers can still cut service costs while catering to customers' unique needs -- a significant driver in establishing customer loyalty and generating sales. About the Author Cid Jenkins is a senior vice president at eStara, in charge of overseeing strategic sales initiatives and execution for the North American sales team.
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