If you wish to win, first, do what everyone else is already doing. Then move to something that many can’t do. Then work on something that would give you an edge over the others. To succeed as a company doing business online, you need an effective e-commerce service strategy to guide your engagement with customers throughout their many interactions with you.
We developed this step-by-step guide as a starting point to help you understand the basics of what other companies are doing so you can identify the table-stakes for doing business and identify where you're strategic opportunities are for competitive advantage.
Understand the Scope of Customer Interactions
Engaging in electronic commerce is a lot different from traditional brick-and-mortar retail and services delivered in-person. There is no such thing as “business hours” when you are doing business online. Your business is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and your customers expect you to interact with them whatever time is convenient for them. Digital businesses are also global businesses that often cross political, cultural and language boundaries. Your customers expect you to understand and be sensitive to their unique needs in the way you interact with them.
Modern e-commerce is a lot more than sales and taking orders on a website-it is a holistic set of interactions you have with your customers. The best way to figure out the scope of your customer interactions is by asking a set of questions about the various times that a customer might need to engage with you.
v How do your customers learn about your company and your products and services?
v How do they engage with you to ask questions and then to place an order?
v What happens after the order is placed (how do they receive products and services)?
v How do they interact with you if they have a problem or question after the sale?
v What is their billing experience?
These are all the types of interactions that your e-commerce service strategy needs to support. You may enable these interactions through self-help capabilities and automation or you may use technology to enable customers to interact with your employees. Those are decisions that should be based on your unique company culture and business strategy as you seek to both meet customer needs and gain the edge over your competitors.
Develop a Multi-channel Engagement Strategy
E-Commerce doesn’t just mean having customers to do things on a website-it means using technology to help you interact and engage with them in a variety of different ways. Technology may take many forms including websites, email, phone, chat, mobile apps, online marketplaces and social media. Each of these enables you to interact with customers in a different way and it is important to choose the right tools and techniques to match your communication needs.
One-way vs. 2-way interaction
Are you trying to share information with customers? Do they need to communicate with you? The nature of the interaction is important to determine whether you need a capability for sending/receiving information or whether you need a capability to carry on a conversation with the customer.
Real-time or delayed responses
When your customer asks you the question, do they need a response right now or can they wait to get an answer? Increasingly, customers are seeking real-time interactions with companies they do business with, meaning you will need both technical capabilities and staffing to engage with them effectively.
Voice, text or picture-based communication
How do your customers want to interact with you? Do the questions involve a set of complex steps or a lot of details that is best accomplished in writing? Do you need to express empathy for customer frustrations that are best done with words? Do you need to show the customer how to do something where pictures and video are appropriate? Using the right communication tools for communication not only helps you engage effectively, but it can also improve customer perceptions of the ease of doing business with you.
One-to-one vs. interacting with a group
Do you need to communicate with a single customer, or are you trying to communicate with a group? Group communication may include things like email marketing, announcing new offerings, answering common questions, and engaging in discussions on social media. Group communication is often less personal and more suited for one-way communication or common topics that others might be interested in.
There are a lot of different options that you could choose from to support these communication approaches and the choices might seem overwhelming both in time and cost. As your company matures, you might consider some targeted and specific approaches, but here are five e-commerce service capabilities that every online company should offer:
1. FAQs and self-help
Most customers don’t want to talk to a person. They see human interaction as slow and frustrating. They would much rather solve problems on their own. Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and self-help capabilities for common tasks like getting a price quote, placing orders, checking status, providing feedback, and requesting return/warranty service are all things that customers expect to do via self-service tools. Providing self-service capabilities may require some up-front investment but will generate benefits both in customer satisfaction and lower customer service staffing costs.
2. Mobile interactions
Over the past few years, customer preference for digital interaction has shifted from desktop (and laptop) computers to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. It is imperative that your company’s e-commerce capabilities work well on these smaller format devices. Responsive technologies (web pages that change format based on screen size) are no longer a “nice to have”, they are an expectation by modern customers.
3. Live chat
If customers can’t get the answers they need on their own, they expect the ability to engage with one of your staff… right now. They don’t want to submit a web-form or send an email and wait for a response tomorrow. Providing live chat functions can have a big impact on customer satisfaction and may mean the difference between winning the customer’s business or losing it to a competitor. You got their attention and their engagement on your website, don’t let them walk away because they can’t get the engagement they expect. Providing live chat functions requires planning staffing and ensuring that your employees respond to the new engagement request (just like answering the phone).
4. Proactive customer service
Don’t wait for customers to ask for help to engage with them. Has your customer been browsing product pages for a few minutes but not yet added an item to their shopping cart? Have they been searching for your FAQs and support documentation looking for answers? Do they have a shopping cart they have filled up but not ordered? These are all indicators that your customers need help. Your e-commerce systems should monitor for these and other common situations and proactively offering the customer the chance to engage with you via chat or receive a telephone call.
5. 24 hour/day phone support
One of the big benefits for customers doing business with online companies is that they can interact at times of the day that fit their busy schedules. Increasingly, that means engaging with you outside of “normal business hours”. Doing business online also means that your customers may be outside your local area potentially on the other side of the earth and many time-zones removed from your staff. Customers expect that you will have phone-based support 24 hrs/day if you are doing business online. Staffing for phone-based support is like staffing for your live chat functions with one big exception. Chat support staff can manage multiple conversations at one time. Phone support staff can only engage with one customer at a time and must provide undivided attention. Planning your phone support staffing requires monitoring call volumes and trends to ensure that you can answer the phone without leaving customers on hold for long periods.