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Providing the Best Customer Service in Ecommerce [With Examples]
When it comes to providing the best customer service in e-commerce, some brands put this attribute so high in their values, it has the potential to be their key differentiator.
Case in point: As recently as 2022, 17.1% of ecommerce brands cite incredible customer service as their competitive advantage.
There are many brands that warrant a mention when it comes to the best customer service in e-commerce. Countless case studies have been written about what some might call extreme customer service policies, like Patagonoia's Ironclad Guarantee lifetime warranty, or Zappo's 365 day returns.
But there are just as many that are offering more nuanced enhancements to the online customer experience that are worth watching, and to be frank, adopting. Every CX advancement a brand makes in providing the best customer service in e-commerce is to their advantage, and your potential loss as relationship management and service continues to become of increasing importance for shoppers everywhere.
In this guide, we're breaking down some of the strategies for providing the best e commerce customer service, including...
What defines good customer service in retail?
The first step to offering the best customer service in e-commerce means understanding what 'best' actually means.
Does every company need to offer a showstopping policy like the ones mentioned above? Definitely not.
Putting a policy out like Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee has to be felt at every level of the business; from design and production through to merchandising and marketing. Only when a company lives, eats, and breathes this type of commitment to customer service will they be successful with this type of policy - one that can't easily (if ever) be walked back without mass ire and negative press.
When it comes to ecommerce, there are some basic tenets to an exceptional customer experience, many of which actually mirror the same customer experience brands with brick and mortar locations are also constantly working to optimize.
The best ecommerce customer service experiences generally address the following areas.
Can a customer easily find what they are looking for? If not, is there a simple way for them to get support? Keep in mind, 'simple way' is a constantly moving target. Today's shoppers may find live telephone support or email support inadequate as they look for more immediate or interactive ways to get their questions answered. There's also the matter of non-human pre-purchase support, supplied in the form of buying guides, chatbots, videos, product descriptions, size charts and tools, and other elements that help shoppers make a purchase decision.
Technically shipping is a hands off part of the customer experience journey. Shoppers generally don't interact with an individual for this portion of their online shopping experience, but it is certainly part of what will influence their decision to purchase an item from a business or shop there again. Offering free shipping (with or without a minimum purchase threshold), expedited shipping, and various shipping options are all part of a top-rated ecommerce customer service experience.
Returns and exchanges
There's a reason why the return policy page is one of the most clicked on: Shoppers want a guarantee they'll be able to easily send back something that doesn't work. The options to streamline the return (or exchange) process are varied, including free in-store returns, prepaid shipping labels, return centers (such as Happy Returns), and of course, free shipped returns. While returns are a hot topic in ecommerce, they're a key decision factor for any shopper - have a clunky return process? Expect smaller basket sizes next time (if there is one) as shoppers heavily debate whether to add an item to cart or not.
Despite all efforts to the contrary, sometimes stuff just goes wrong. Packages are lost, items are damaged, the wrong item is shipped, or some other controversy. Customers that pursue post-purchase customer support are typically on an emotional spectrum of disappointed, frustrated, or downright angry. How customer support agents respond to these interactions is the most classic, and arguably one of the most important, tenets of providing the best customer service. Continuity of communications between support reps through customer service software, the ability to efficiently resolve issues, and deferring to (instead of fighting) the customer are all surefire ways to take a thumbs down into, at least, a neutral or even a positive.
Ecommerce is hardly a 'one size fits all' premise. Every shopper has a different level of comfort with online shopping as a whole, and most certainly has a different level of familiarity shopping with your brand in particular. Personalizing the ecommerce experience at every stage of the buyer journey, whether through customer service software, autoamtion, or 1:1 live chat or phone conversations, is another important spoke in the customer service wheel.
How can customer service improve ecommerce?
Let's look at one half of a yin yang equation: Customer service can both improve ecommerce, and need improving.
Poor customer support can lead to a supremely leaky bucket, with shoppers that may only convert once, or worse, not convert at all based on reviews, difficult to understand or absent policies, or poor Net Promoter scores or other ratings.
On the flip side, excellent customer service has been proven to be a worthwhile investment. 84% of businesses that are focused on improving their customer experience have seen an uplift in revenue.
Let's break down how excellent customer service benefits ecommerce businesses.
- Assists conversions: The more clear your policies, the more likely someone is to buy, plain and simple.
- Drives bigger basket sizes: Easy returns? Live support for product inquiries? Personalized incentives to buy more? Yup, these are all things your customer experience should support to empower customers to feel confident (and excited) to buy more.
- Lowers returns: The better the pre-purchase support from your e commerce customer service team, the more likelihood a shopper is only going to buy items they really and truly love and intend to keep.
- Drives down cart abandonment: With acquisition costs on the rise, every visit counts. Failure to take a shopper from browsing to buying means even more time, effort, and likely, funds spent trying to convert that shopper. Exceptional customer service equals less abandoned carts and bigger profit margins.
- Improves customer LTV: Retention is the new acquisition. Great pre- and post-purchase support will ensure customers always feel comfortable shopping with a merchant.
How to enhance your ecommerce customer service?
We've already covered how great customer service equals major business results. Now let's talk about five smart ways to improve the customer experience to deliver the best customer service in e-commerce. Pro tip: A lot of it stems from paying attention and adapting to customer requests.
Enhance pre-purchase support with live video co-shopping
The typical ecommerce experience is basically like navigating a store that is staffed by zero people...or at least, associates that can take hours to get back to you, if you're stuck with email-only support, or associates that are wearing blindfolds, if they're relegated to text or phone-only support. Live video co-shopping is a game changer when it comes to improving ecommerce customer service. Shoppers are teamed up with an online sales associate who can demo products, provide truly customized recommendations and cross-sells, and even walk a customer through checkout just like an in-store associate can bring a shopper to the till. Try an interactive demo of live video shopping for yourself, or read our ultimate use case guide for live shopping here.
Don't fight customers, win them back
The most important rule of good customer service is typically referred to as 'the customer is always right'. And while ecommerce brands have a duty to ensure they're not getting ripped off by a customer, those cases are few and far between. In reality, most customer service experiences are a critical moment in retaining that shopper. Give customer experience reps enough flexibility to 'win at all costs', or at least, win back that customer within a fair set of parameters. Policies exist for a reason, but customers are human - showing them grace and taking them from upset to elated is the best way to turn an agitated shopper into a loyal customer.
Train customer service reps to tee up a next sale
One surefire way to drive better CLTV is to train customer experience reps to act like ad hoc sales teams. They've got the ear and eye of online shoppers in a way literally no other marketing outreach does. Use a negative experience as an opportunity to turn things around and actually drive more revenue for a business. For example, if a shopper was sent a damaged item, use a live chat offer to replace it with free shipping as well as a coupon code for their next order after this one. The customer still gets the item they were interested in and is motivated to spend more, all while keeping them not just satisfied, but surprised. The short-term financial hit of paying for shipping and a discount will be vastly outweighed by an increase in CLTV AND referrals / reputation management. Empowering customer experience reps with incentives and promotional tools is an essential way to retain shoppers.
Meet e commerce customers where they are with multiple channels of support
Pro insight: Not every shopper wants support in the same way. Relegating all shoppers to a ticketing system is bound to cause frustration, some of which can spill over into public forums. Avoid Twitter storms by giving shoppers more ways to reach out. Social media teams should be ready to answer customer service inquiries whether sent to DMs or posted as comments - failure to answer public-facing messages can be a major knock when it comes to building trust with new shoppers. Other options? Consider opening up a phone number for Whatsapp live chat or SMS message support. Live chat and live video shopping are also great ways to service customers on demand, no matter what stage of the buying journey they're at.
Put yourself in the customer's shoes most unlike your own
A lot of e commerce customer service team leads focus on creating an ideal customer experience based on their own view of what makes an ideal CX. But sometimes it helps to push the boundaries and think about edge cases and how improving things for those customers can have a positive impact on all shoppers. It all starts by collecting, analyzing, and actively responding to customer feedback. To use a few examples, how can optimizing the international orders or returns process create more global diversification and revenue stabilization? Does rethinking packaging for green-minded shoppers have a positive bottom line or reputational impact for the company? These vocal minorities can be strong advocates for brands that consider them and offer ideal customer experiences.
What are the top 10 best customer service practices?
We've talked about five ways to deliver an ideal ecommerce customer experience. But let's break down the top 10 best customer service practices, including how to integrate them into customer service software.
Offer a reasonable return window
Companies with short, rigid return policies can often scare away customers from buying, particularly if there are other factors that might influence their consideration window such as travel or budget.
Provide multiple, flexible, and ideally free return optionsSometimes an item just doesn't work out. Every company should have at least one free or subsidized return option, whether it's bringing an item to a store, dropping it off at a return center, or getting a prepaid shipping label. If it's impossible to facilitate free returns, at the very least, standardize returns - asking customers to ship an item back on their own dime can halt many sales before they happen for fear of high unknown costs.
Offer extended live support hours
If a customer chooses any customer service option other than email, chances are they are looking to resolve that issue immediately. Offering live support is an increasing expectation for many brands looking to up customer satisfaction, including evenings and weekends. While round-the-clock service isn't expected, going beyond typical workday hours most certainly is for channels like phone and live chat.
Go from fighting back to winning back
Check out our customer retention comments above about reframing any customer service engagement as a 'winback' not a 'fight back' situation. Customers reaching out to a customer service agent are on the precipice of being gone for good; empower your teams to keep them happy and willing to shop again.
Offer support at every step in the customer journey
Many people associate customer satisfaction with the conclusion of a transaction or post-purchase support. But thinking of a brick and mortar store, every moment leading up to a sale is part of the customer experience, including potential customer pre-purchase guidance and at the till. Don't limit buyer support to when there's a problem; think of online store support as an opportunity to drive more sales, for example, through live video shopping.
Establish multiple outreach channels
There's pros and cons to every type of customer service - check out our guide to live chat here - but most importantly, shoppers have preferences. For some, the ideal level of rep / customer interaction can be found through a phone call, others prefer the back and forth on a casual basis over texting, some like the privacy of live chat. Consider every possible channel for shoppers to conduct outreach and have a strategy in place for responding to inquiries.
Empower customer experience team members to enact free willThe worst customer service experiences are the ones where things are handled by the book, completely robotically. Amazing customer service reps add a human element to the experience by design, taking into account a shopper's frustrations and feelings and providing a solution that works for them and the business. Give the team flexibility to offer a winning solution instead of having to delay responses by 'checking with a manager' and customers will inevitably be more satisfied.
Have an escalation process in place
Free will and independence are great, but sometimes a customer experience associate will need more support to. Clearly identify when it's time to bring in the big guns to oversee tricky customer service situations and avoid having the front lines (and customers) feel agitated or stressed. On top of that, take customer feedback into account now and course correct for the next time it happens.
Know the product
Nothing is more frustrating for a shopper when they're connected with a support team member that seems utterly clueless as to the product. Instead of simply putting out fires, training the customer experience team to be coaches and quarterbacks can be an effective way to improve shopper satisfaction. This means knowing what product they might recommend in place of a discontinued or unavailable item. Or speaking to the perks and considerations of a new product that might have limited reviews. The more a customer service rep knows the product line, the easier it is to find a solution that will lead to customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.
Support customers with unique needs
Language barriers, disabilities, internet speeds, and other factors can greatly impact a customer's ability to communicate effectively with customer service. Try to have e commerce solutions in place for as many of these scenarios as possible. In short, if a business serves a particular market, they should be prepared to meet the needs of that audience, such as translation support or flexible hours, to drive more happy customers.
Examples of the best customer service in e-commerce
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right? If it's come time to revisit the e commerce customer experience, here are a few leaders in the space and what they're excelling at. Keep in mind there are those amazing customer service case studies heard the world over that are worth looking at as well, including from brands like Zappos and Patagonia.
American Eagle Outfitters
As one of the world's largest online retailers, AE has smoothed out a lot of the typical customer service bumps. They offer multiple ways to facilitate online returns, provides 14 day price adjustments, and provide detailed size guides and UGC to help guide customers. It's no wonder then that the brand has a solid NPS of 48, putting them in the top 25 brands worldwide.
Perhaps most importantly, AE offers both live chat and live video chat to further help customers. Their live video shopping experience leverages the brand's in-house influencer/associate hybrids who are seasoned product experts, happy to evangelize the brand's signature jeans and laidback-meets-trending looks. Providing live shopping support has not only benefited customers however; it's also generated impressive conversion rates and AOV bumps through GhostRetail's live shopping platform.
The Takeaway: Live video chat is a critical part of any ideal customer service experience, particularly for pre-purchase support.
It's no surprise that a company that prides itself on 'getting comfy' would have a pretty comfortable customer service setup as well. They offer six different ways to readily get in touch with their team, including phone, text, live chat, email, mail, and a dedicated Twitter handle, ensuring shoppers can pretty much get their questions answered around the clock.
Add to that a generous return policy, free return shipping, and a detailed help center, and it's no wonder Lands' End has earned itself a NPS of 9.
The Takeaway: Add and promote multiple customer service channels, including social media, live chat, and other emerging ways to get in touch.
Given that most people are more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one, it's pretty impressive that mattress-in-a-box brand Casper has managed to score a star rating of over 4 on TrustPilot. This commitment to customer service is the bedrock (pun intended) of Casper's success, as one of the first brands to offer an extended risk-free 100-sleep policy, and their return policy event extends to their third-party resellers like Target and West Elm.
Casper also earns props for their active outreach to customer feedback on Twitter, including those that may not even tag them a post, along with responding to many Tweets (good or bad) they are tagged in. Showing engagement at any level is a sublimely clever way to improve the off-site customer experience.
The Takeaway: Don't wait for customers to come to you with complaints. Monitor social media channels and actively engage with customers, happy and frustrated alike.
At the heart of Sephora's customer experience is their incredibly popular return policy: Any item can be brought back for a full refund, even if it has been used. This one distinction removes a ton of friction from the buying experience, as shoppers have the confidence and flexibility of knowing that if a color isn't quite right or something irritates their skin or eyes, they can easily return it.
Personalization is the other piece of Sephora's customer experience strategy. They surface UGC and reviews that matches a shopper's individual appearance, recommend products based on their preferences, and tailor promotions based on loyalty tiers. All of this adds up to one of the most well-rounded customer service experiences in the industry.
The Takeaway: Get personalized wherever possible to enhance the customer experience.
When it comes to brands that prioritize providing the best customer service, Nordstrom often tops the list with many anecdotal stories of times their staff went above and beyond for shoppers. But the same is true of their online experience. Nordstrom offers 24/7 support via phone or live chat in both Canada and the U.S. They also offer access to free Beauty Stylists and Personal Stylists that can offer consultations virtually, in-store or over the phone.
That's not to mention other unique programs, like their 'split shoe' program for shoppers who wish to buy shoes in multiple sizes, or going the distance to solve customer issues publicly on channels like Twitter.
The Takeaway: What might appear to be logistical challenges for a business are winners with shoppers. Don't be afraid to break the order of operations a little to drive repeat business.
Enhancing e commerce customer service with live video shopping
Spoiler alert: We love video. We love shopping. Put them together and you've got live video shopping - one of the smartest ways to better engage shoppers, particularly before they've made a purchase. Our clients like American Eagle and Canada Goose have seen significant impacts on their core ecommerce KPIs, including reduced returns, bigger AOV, and significantly higher conversion rates.
If you're ready to start offering live shopping as part of an exceptional customer service experience, we can help. Book a demo with us, or try out our interactive self-serve demo to get a taste of Ghost's customer experience platform.