As someone who has built an ecommerce store from scratch, I’ve learned the success of your business depends on two kinds of transactions: financial and conversational. Both are equally important, and both deserve the same amount of effort.

Conversations, like orders, will happen with or without your participation. To provide effective customer service, your communication strategy must be both proactive and reactive. By putting certain systems in place, you can minimize potential missteps and maximize the value in each interaction.

1. Email Support

Email is the backbone of ecommerce customer service. These days, your customers will expect communication at certain order milestones. On modern ecommerce platforms, the order success email is an automated process, and Bigcommerce has a dozen optional status change emails it can send on your behalf. These include things like order shipped, order refunded and order cancelled. It’s up to you to decide which ones you want to enable.

As a customer, I expect that if I reply to any one of these emails, it will end up in the hands of a customer service rep (CSR). If you’re just starting out, this email will most likely get delivered to an email inbox, and that CSR might be you. But if you find that your conversations with customers are becoming fragmented and disorganized, or if you have multiple CSRs, it may be time to purchase helpdesk software.

I use Zendesk for Stupid Cancer. Like most helpdesk platforms, it allows you to set up automations based on email addresses and have several users that can share the responsibility of triaging and responding. For example, might go to CSR A in New York City, but might need to go to CSR B in Wilkes-Barre, PA. This functionality will be extremely useful as your business continues to evolve.

2. Phone Support

For the past several years, companies have been trying to phase out phone support in favor of email. While this comes with the benefit of a paper trail and the ability to keep non-traditional business hours, there are also some downsides.

At Stupid Cancer, phone orders make up less than 1% of my business. While that may seem negligible, I’ve noticed that people who take the time to pick up the phone are clearly passionate about my products, and probably even more passionate about my brand. I want to ensure I build relationships with those customers.

Utilizing a service like Grasshopper, you can have a toll-free number with optional extensions. If you and your team happen to operate out of different locations, this is a great way to direct the call to the appropriate place. As a side benefit, this will give you a dedicate number to feature on your store, which increases customer confidence and leads to higher conversion rates.

3. Live Chat

Today it has become commonplace to be greeted by a live chat operator upon hitting an ecommerce website. This channel is a great way to connect with customers looking for a quick assist.

There are multiple live chat apps that work with Bigcommerce. Personally I’m a fan of Lexity, which now powers Yahoo! Live Sales. In addition to free live web insights, it allows you to test the waters with five free daily chats. Beyond that, the service starts at just $9 per month.

But live chat doesn’t come without consequence. By offering a real-time service, you run the risk of losing a sale in real-time if the operator has stepped away from his or her terminal. At the same time, you don’t want someone who lacks knowledge of your products and policies communicating with customers on this—or any—medium. Ideally you want to have the same quality bar for chat as you do for phone support.

4. Social Support

Like live chat, social media is a place where customer service happens 24/7. If you have a presence on any of the major platforms, you can expect that people will choose to communicate with you there. And these days, 67% of consumers expect to get a response within a few hours.

To ensure fast and efficient social service, I recommend integrating your social streams into a platform like Zendesk. This will make it easier to connect @KennyKane to the Kenny Kane who ordered your product last week. Zendesk even has a Bigcommerce integration that displays the past few orders alongside the support ticket.

5. Snail Mail

While this may be the least frequented channel, it’s important to make sure you are prepared for it. Without fail, you will have a product returned with a note like this: “Shirt too small, please refund.” If you’re lucky, they’ll include the original packing slip or write the order number on their note. If not, you’ll waste a lot of time on this single rogue return.

I’ve found the best defense is a good offense. Having a well articulated return process can keep your operation running smooth. Make sure it is easily accessible on your site, and consider including it with each shipment as well.

For me, the big takeaway is that you can either be proactive or reactive with each of these channels. And being proactive about how you communicate with your customers can save you time and drive revenue. That, to me, is how you #SellSmart.

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