December 21st, 2021 | 7 MIN READ

Three Areas to Focus on Customer Service in 2022 and Win Online

Written by Jeffrey Wright

Jeffrey Wright is the Senior Director of Revenue Marketing and Operations for Elastic Path.

ecommmerce customer service

A headline recently caught my eye, which highlighted the rising cost of delivering an ecommerce experience and how the days of going online for better deals may be shifting as retailers and branded manufactures start to raise prices online to improve margins.

Working for a company that sells an ecommerce platform, it got me thinking about how this reality might impact online customer experiences. While there was almost a blind rush to get 100% online during the pandemic, businesses will no doubt be evaluating how they invest in ecommerce to support permanent shifts in buying habits.

In 2021, buyers started to go in store/in person or continued embrace a hybrid approach like buy online and return in store, this had created more data that shows profits are better when buyers use brick and mortar commerce.

The corporate bean counters that analyze spreadsheets will be pressing the business to push buyers down a more profitable path and likely begin question the value of ecommerce investments in favor of seeing recovery from more traditional channels. Others might view ecommerce as a risk mitigation approach for when the next pandemic hits and make sure there is something viable in place.

And some may focus on how to cut costs across the ecommerce supply chain, with little thought on the impact to the buyer – hey it’s the new normal as we wait 6 months for a couch, right?

However, real winners in all this will be the companies that look at ecommerce as part of a multi-channel customer service experience. Instead of grouping buyers into those that buy online and those that don’t, businesses will need to consider the following three segments:

  • Those that prefer to buy online
  • Those that prefer in person buying experiences
  • Those that move almost equally between both experiences.

Add to that a deep layer of buyer complexity for the hybrid buyer is how they move from online direct-to-consumer vs. online marketplace sites vs. in person buying.

The following are three areas that companies should consider pulling in your customer success/customer service team to input on design ideas and optimize across multiple channels where ecommerce is involved.

1. Returns/Exchanges

Always a hot topic around the holidays and certainly driving the discussion around the rising cost of ecommerce in 2021 is returns and exchanges. The impact of returned merchandize is having major cost impacts on businesses, but also some are seeing it as an environmental impact.

“According to research firm Statista, the delivery car fleet could reach 7.2 million vehicles by the end of this decade, and total emissions caused by parcel and freight shipping are forecast to generate 25 million tons of CO2. In addition, the average commute time, including last-mile delivery, is expected to increase from 53 minutes in 2019 to 64 minutes in 2030.” (Source)

“Approximately 30% of e-commerce sales are returned compared to 10% of brick-and-mortar sales, according to CBRE.” (Source)

Data shows that consumers return more things bought online and if you think about the deliver chain for returns, the environmental impact of delivery is 2x and if you exchange something it is 3x – deliver the item, return the item, and deliver the new item.

While companies focus on fuel efficient modes of transportation, it likely will take decades to offset the rapid rise in transportation required to support rising online buying behaviors.

However, there is a customer service opportunity that elevates your brand, cuts cost and maybe even adds to an upselling model when enticing buyers into the store when returning an item.

Providing incentive to take items ordered online to a branded store or reseller location can accomplish this task – but it can’t just be a reward model, brands can use this to connect ethical environment issues with buyers that find this more and more important.

Buyers are choosing loyalty not just based on convenience, but also how the brand aligns with their personal values.

Having the buyer bring back the merchandize themselves while on their way home from work or out grocery shopping will reduce the use of less fuel-efficient vehicles and packaging waste required to return an item.

2. Online Search

The great thing about selling your goods and services online is your entire inventory is online for the buyer to find. The bad thing about selling your goods and services online is your entire inventory is online for the buy to find.

Companies that are using outdated search tools (many of which are packaged with an “all-in-one” ecommerce platform) are missing an opportunity to provide a customer experience critical to generating that first sale and generating loyalty and referrals.

By now, it's not a secret that search can drive revenue, but the experience needs to be optimized using more best-in-class tools (part of the composable commerce movement) and consider evolving buying stages when searching.

Research circa 2013 showed that search was aligned to late-stage buyers coming to your site and driving higher conversions as a result. But that motion is dependent on the buyer already knowing your brand when they used the search function.

With more and more buyers engaging with your brand online as a first experience, your search needs to be an experience versus just a means to an end – it needs to be fast; it needs to understand natural language and type tolerance, it needs to be able to pull in promotions and suggestions in a more engaging format, it needs to align with your catalog management layer to create dynamic and engaging filters to help refine how buyers find products.

 

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Read our Omnichannel Guide

3. Be proactive when there are delays

One of my biggest pet peeves buying online is getting to the cart, or even worse, submitting an order to only to be informed that what you want is out of stock or will be delayed due to back-logs.

This has become an even hotter topic in 2021 as the supply chain crisis has impacted so many buyers across all industries.

Every online seller should make it their mission to create transparency on availability of items and when the buyer has accepted the terms that there will be a delay, proactively update them on status – even if the status is we are still working to get a delivery date.

I can speak to this personally having recently ordered a new living room set. We were told it would take up to 10 weeks to get our living room set and we were okay that because it was the “new normal” for 2021. However, that timeline has moved out several times and the only way we know is we (my wife and I) had to call up the company for a status.

It is frustrating to think that this company has banked thousands of dollars of our money and we are waiting on product with little to no communication – at least pretend that someone has eyes on our order and is working to get it fulfilled.

Not to mention it is possible an alternative may have come up that is in stock and depending on our personal preferences, we might have upgraded to a more expensive set just to get it faster.

Not only are there opportunities to improve the customer service experience, but companies could be leaving an upsell opportunity on the table. This will require orchestration across in-store, online, manufacturing and delivery – but knowing that is an area that needs optimization to cut costs, makes sense to include the customer support team into the project to find ways to integrate the buyer communication experience as well.

What is interesting is this concept of helping the buy is nothing new.

I worked at Herb’s Sport Shop in Hartford, CT back in the 90’s to help pay for college expenses. We had a very small retail floor – so we were limited in the merchandize we would have for customer to browse.

The owner required that every customer that came in the door was greeted within seconds of entering – it was the owners only mandate. Most customer loved it as they could describe what they wanted and we help them find it in seconds and we would also upsell in a conversational way, “we have some new team apparel that would match the color on these Air Jordan’s perfectly”.

We focused on making sure the customer got value from stepping into our store, we did not have the mall traffic as we were selling on “Main Street USA” – but we knew that every person that came into the store had value and we needed to maximize that experience and this is the principal that needs to be applied across every customer interaction if you want to win in a world of endless online options.

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