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Customer service: the missing link on e-commerce blogs

How does one tempt new customers and get them to spend money? How can one create a brand image for one’s business? It’s no wonder the most frequent topics in e-commerce blogs are Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Marketing, and Content Marketing. Three topics that every e-commerce entrepreneur wants to live and breathe. The pillars of e-commerce!

But what if we told you there was a missing link, a fourth pillar with even more power and influence over customer acquisition and average basket values. I’ll give you a clue: it’s centered around the people that make your world go round. Customer service, the dark horse of marketing, is a force not to be reckoned with. Marketers put most of their time and money into acquiring new customers through more ‘traditional’ methods, while tending to overlook the importance and potential of retaining and satisfying their existing customers.

Take a look at the numbers: - Customers are 70% more likely to do business with you again if their complaint is resolved

Shockingly, less than 5% of content in the top five e-commerce blogs was about customer service. Shopify.com, a well-known player in the e-commerce world, have posted only three articles regarding customer service since December 2012.

If successful sites like shopify.com aren’t writing about customer service, why am I? All businesses have the same core ways to drive sales: repeat sales, customer acquisition, and a word of mouth.

Zappos is world-famous for its customer service. Here are 3 ways how this is helping them to drive sales:

1. Repeat sales

Humans instinctively resist change, so if a customer is happy with your product or service, they're likely to keep coming back. According to Bain & Company, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. That means if you’re not putting in the hard yards to keep your existing customers happy, it’s going to cost you to find a replacement.

How do you ensure your customers stay with you? Traditionally, email marketing is how businesses like to do this. Some people (like myself) can find such emails intrusive, and more often than not it’s likely to deter me from purchasing from that business. However, when I like a business, it's a different story. People can like a company due to their marketing, but also because they had an amazing personal experience with customer service.

2. Customer acquisition

Using Adwords or display advertising is a great way to poach first-time customers, but it’s also a costly endeavor. Wouldn’t it be great if customers were directed to your page by these ads, saw how good your products and services are, and then added your URL to their favorites? That’s the best case scenario. They might just remember the name of your website, or something special that caught their eye. What’s important here: give them something to remember you by! So go for great customer service, which will separate yourself from other businesses. Offer something more than just your product. Give your business that human touch that customers love.

3. Word of mouth

This is essentially where it is most important for you to treat your customers well. 67% of people spend money after getting recommendations from their friends on online communities like Facebook and Twitter. We’ve also seen that in the mobile phone market, positive and negative recommendations from person to person canincrease or decrease a company’s market share by 10-20 per cent over a 2 year period.

Although the ‘word of mouth’ effect may seem somewhat out of your control, particularly when an unhappy customer vents on social media, don’t underestimate the value of damage control. As we explained in our previous article, complaints are a great opportunity to turn angry customers into fans. Always respond to complaints no matter what, and be patient and understanding. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! Turning your customers into brand ambassadors by providing them with great customer service can reduce costs and increase conversions. A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%.

So although customer service may seem like that annoying task your business is forced to deal with, take a second look and you’ll realise what an influential marketing tool it can be. The rise of e-commerce has meant increased competition, and a greater need to differentiate your products and/or services. Let your customer service be your star attraction.

Top 5 ways your customers want to contact you

UPDATE FEB 3, 2015: Casengo adds WhatsApp to customer service software.

You might love communicating with your customers via email or phone, but do your customers love it as much as you do? As the song goes, the times they are a-changin’: customer expectations for fast and convenient communication are growing rapidly. The average customer uses up to 6 (! different platforms to get in touch with companies). Online communication is the new standard in customer service.

So what do today’s customers want exactly? Get ready for the most compelling, successful and innovative customer support practices.

1 | Inbox kings: they want email

The first step to providing fabulous customer service still is a great email platform. Sending an email is easy, fast and effective. Customers can go along their merry way until an answer arrives (hopefully within a reasonable time). A 2012 customer preferences surveyreveals that 76% of customers prefer email when inquiring about products or service.

Flash forwarding to 2014, we estimate this trend will stand its ground: email will remain a strong customer service tool for current clients and a communication portal for potential ones. Bottom line: an email management platform is a must-have. Email is still the first channel for most customers with questions.

2 | Live on demand: they want to chat

Here’s a survey that translates our intuition into numbers: 24% of customers prefer to use live chat when they need help. As this survey dates back to 2012, we estimate that by now, well over 30% of customers expect to be offered live chat.

Live chat combines the best of two old worlds: it links the immediate human interaction of a call center to the convenience of email. Live chat allows your potential customer to contact you directly, anonymously and for free. It’s especially appealing for first time queries, as it does not create an obligation to purchase, allowing freedom to ask all sorts of questions. Bottom line: At least 1 out of 4 online visitors appreciates customer service through live chat. Not offering live chat means you’ll miss out on this group of potential customers.

3 | Fast & furious: they want to go mobile

Mobile usage for customer support is growing rapidly every year. Dedicated mobile applications and the customer service through WhatsApp are not only innovative but also convenient to today’s smartphone-addicted population. The use of mobile attracts young customers, as stuck to their phone as they are. They don’t think twice about taking pictures of a damaged product, for example, and ‘apping’ it to customer support.

Having your own mobile app is a great way to spark conversation with your potential customers whilst providing excellent service. And if customers trust you enough to give you their personal phone number - which you need for WhatsApp - you’re doing something right! Bottom line: Smartphones are part of the natural flow of daily life for customers. If you want to get close and personal with your customers, a mobile application is the way to go.

4 | The social network: they want to go public

Approximately 1 out of 4 customers require service on social media. People know that the public nature of social networks can force companies to provide better service. Twitter and Facebook have become a platform for customers to complain (and compliment). They expect companies to reply quickly with personal and effective answers. Some of the most successful companies out there get loads of positive attention thanks to their excellent social media conduct.

Worldwide fame is awaiting you, too, if you use social media in a clever manner to personally address your customers. It’s your time to shine! Bottom line: 1 out of 4 customers will seek help through social media. Twitter and Facebook provide a priceless opportunity to fix bad experiences and to benefit from positive mentions. Get involved to improve relationships - and build new ones!

5 | Old but gold: they want to call you

Customers still love talking to a real human being, and they still hate complicated automated menus that take forever to get through to the person they need. Although calling is still popular on its own, surveys find that 50% of customers choose to callif none of the other communication methods brought the desired result. Which means that communication channels don’t stand alone; they complement each other. E

xpectations of talking to customer support staff are high: right at the start of the conversation, the caller expects the representative to know everything about all past communication in all channels. Bottom line: Half of your callers call because they’re not satisfied. Once they reach you, they expect you to know the history of all previous communications immediately, so make sure you have a powerful customer service platform. There are a lot of communication channels out there. Sure, you could just stick to your good old phone, but remember this will make you miss out on a big group of potential customers.

If you are willing to implement some changes to reap big gains, then you should definitely look into finding a seamless system that facilitates multiple customer support solutions. Your customers will love you for it, and your bank account will, too.

UPDATE FEB 3, 2015: Casengo adds WhatsApp to customer service software.

Going on holiday? A how-to manual for owners of small online shops

For all of us there comes a time when you need a break. Even if you don’t think so yourself, you’ll probably find that your nearest and dearest are nagging you to step away from the computer and hang out with them for a while. But if you run your own online shop, taking a break is not as simple as just booking some leave and perusing the holiday brochures. Who’s going to look after the business while you’re away? Or is it easier to choose the ‘blackout’ option and close the whole thing down for a few weeks? Here’s a beginner’s guide.

Holiday option 1: closing up shop

From a customer service point of view, there’s no way that you should close up shop to go on holiday, however small your business is. It’s simply not professional, and it contributes to the mistrust some people have of small online retailers. Unless you need to suspend trading for religious reasons – like Dutch company Babypark, which famously closes its website each Sunday to observe a day of rest in line with their beliefs – you really need to come up with an alternative solution.

Also, given that laws in many countries require a brick-and-mortar address to be displayed on retail websites, you might even be setting yourself up to be robbed: many small businesses are based in the owner’s home address. You’d be advertising that you’re not at home!

Holiday option 2: servicing your customers from afar

So you want to keep your business open, and you want to take a break. As cloning yourself is unfortunately not yet an option, you’re faced with two choices: you can keep responding to customer questions while you’re on holiday, or get someone else to do it.

Personally, I’d advise against the first option – even though Casengo makes it really easy to keep on top of your inbox wherever you are. Thanks to the mobile app, you need never be out of touch with what’s going on in your business. But that way lies burnout, exhaustion and frustrated friends or family members.

Sure, work is important – and at Casengo, your work is our bread and butter. But, though it pains us to admit it, it’s not the be all and end, 24/7/365. Give yourself a week or two off each year, huh?

Holiday option 3: getting a temporary assistant

I hear you – you’re listing the reasons why your shop can’t be run by someone else, even for a short while. Let me be frank: you might feel like (and want to feel like) you’re indispensable, but the fact is that nobody is. As Tim Ferriss says in his guide to training online assistants: “Get over yourself. Checking e-mail isn’t some amazing skill that you alone possess.”

Anyway, given that you’ll only be away for a week or two, it’s not like you need to completely train someone else in the workings of your business. Just enough to keep things chugging over while you’re away, plus a phone number for them to call you on (perhaps a once-daily check-in?) if anything comes up that they’re not sure how to deal with.

All you really need to do is to set your temporary assistant up with a few scripts and/or macros (though not too many of those!), explaining the most common queries and asking them to refer anything more difficult to you. Depending on the volume of emails your business receives, you could even share the workload; have your assistant pick out the simple queries, leaving the difficult ones for you to deal with at a predetermined time each day. And at other times? Don’t check your email! You’re on holiday, remember?

If you’re a one-person business, you might balk at the idea of hiring someone for that kind of short-term work. And it’s true that your usually stellar customer service might suffer just slightly – giving great service is an art, after all. But look at it like this: there’s little point in going on holiday if you’re not actually going to take a break. Plus, even if the cost of an assistant is more than what you make on sales while you’re away, the intangible benefits (how do you calculate potential lost business from customers faced with a closed webshop?) make it more than worth it. And you’ll return to work refreshed, ready to work harder than ever!

5 signs your business is outgrowing Outlook or Gmail

Yes! Your business is finally picking up. You’re getting more orders, more customers, more emails. You’re doing your very best not to miss any opportunity out there - but you are. There always seems to be a customer whose email slipped through the cracks.

Sounds just like you? Then you might want to admit that a standard email solution no longer works for your growing business. Honestly, we think Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook.com are great: they’re free, easy and familiar. But can you go on using them as a successful entrepreneur? If you’re showing any of the following 5 signs, you’re ready to move on.

Sign #1 | You’re sending several replies to a single question

A standard email inbox doesn’t allow one user to know what the other is doing. This typically results in various team members answering the same email simultaneously, each providing the customer with a slightly different answer. Or, even worse, no-one responds to an email because everyone assumes someone else is dealing with it already.

Confused customers are not happy customers. Similarly, disorganized companies generally aren’t successful in the long run. Your team should know exactly what’s going on.

Sign #2 | Your folder structure is failing fast

You thought you had it all figured out when you started hiring people. You explained the brilliant ideas behind the folder structure you meticulously devised. Everyone should drag their sent emails to this folder, and pending questions should be put in that folder right there. Easy as pie, right? Turns out assigning emails manually to specific folders is asking for trouble. Put an email in the wrong folder, and entire conversations - usually the ones you will need again - vanish. Before you know it, the overview is gone.

A poor folder structure leads to slow response times, unhappy customers and frustrated team members. You should know at a glance which customers are still waiting for an answer.

Sign #3 | You can’t sort out your priorities

Not all emails are created equal - and neither are all customers. Some questions are more urgent than others. If you have an on-going conversation with an angry customer, replying to him NOW is of the utmost importance, even with a 24-hour response policy. But if your staff answer emails chronologically, how can they detect that one customer already sent 6 emails on the same topic?

When priorities get lost, so do important relationships. Know what the status of each customer question is, so you know which question needs your immediate attention.

Sign #4 | You can’t find information when you need it

A simple inbox does not allow you to easily look through past correspondences with your customers and know the nature of your current (or potential) relationship with them. Maybe you promised a discount on the next purchase. Or perhaps this particular customer is already calling for the third time, and you must act now if you don’t want to lose him or her. If you don’t remember whether your customer has asked a question before, you can’t pretend you know who you’re talking to. It won’t be long before your customers forget all about you, too.

Customers feel they don’t matter if you keep forgetting who they are what you already talked about. You should be aware of the background and history of your customers - or else they’ll forget about you, too.

Sign #5 | You worry about growth (instead of enjoying it)

Sure, the constant stream of emails, phone calls, chat conversations and social media posts can make customer service a stressful task. But that’s not an excuse for your customers. They couldn’t care less about how many other customers are also waiting for a reply. All they want, after all, is an answer to their question. Don’t let the growth of your company diminish the quality of your customer service. If you’re constantly worrying about handling customer requests in time, it means something is wrong.

Your customers shouldn’t suffer because your business is growing. And neither should you. A successful business handles expansion gracefully.

Does all or some of this stuff sound familiar to you? That’s great news! It means you are ready for the next step in developing your business. The process of growth is a great opportunity to give your customer support a mighty boost. Outlook or Gmail just don’t cut it anymore. It’s time to move on to a designated customer care platform. Well done!

You might want to give Casengo a try. Users of this customer service application feel they were back in control almost overnight. Their customer service people now reply to their customers faster than ever. Just start a free trial!

Time management: how to make the most of your weekly 168 hours

When discussing time management with a friend the other day, I asked her whether she has enough time to do everything she wants to do. “Everything I want to do?” she replied. “I don’t even have enough time to do everything I have to do!”

I had to tell her about a book I read several years ago, the lessons from which have stayed with me ever since. When American journalist and author Laura Vanderkam became intrigued with how some people manage to have successful careers, happy families, manageable inboxes and even time for, believe it or not, hobbies, she decided to investigate further. Why is it, she wondered, that the rest of us don’t manage to do so much? We’re all given the same amount of time each week – 168 hours, to be exact.

So what lessons can we learn from the people who seem to be able to fit everything in? To find out more about how those happy few manage to achieve balance, Vanderkam conducted dozens of interviews. The result was 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, published back in 2010.

In this boook, the author guides you step by step through an examination of how your life is now, how you would like it to be, and how to get from Point A to Point B. One thing Vanderkam discovered is that dealing with emails one by one is a very inefficient way of handling them.

While the nature of customer service work means that many of us need to make regular inbox checks to see if anything urgent has come up, you will handle your email much faster if you save response-writing for later. Unless you are on call to deal with chat queries, set aside specific blocks of time for answering email. Don’t drop everything to reply as soon as a message comes in. Yes, fast customer service is important. But think about it: 60 minutes is still a fast email response time.

Be warned though: this book is not a collection of handy hints. It’s a practical guide which takes you back to the bare bones of what you’re actually doing with your time. Most so-called ‘essential’ things in life are either a time-sucking collection of useless tasks, or (as with email management) essential tasks carried out in an inefficient manner.

As soon as I began following Vanderkam’s instructions and keeping track of exactly what I do with my time, ‘like a lawyer billing hours’, I realised that she’s right. Although I was getting a lot done, I wasted time in between the productive periods. Time that was my potential leisure time! Once you can determine your true priorities, you can claim them, using the evidence and examples collected in the book as your guide. Then you can guiltlessly let go of the things that are not a priority to you – even when it’s not politically correct to admit to them. As the author explains: “It requires more courage to say ‘I don’t read to my children because it’s not a priority’. And yet that process of determining and owning your priorities is essential to staking your claim on your time and, subsequently, your life.”

As with most worthwhile things, 168 Hours doesn’t offer any quick fixes. However, following Vanderkam’s evidence-based advice will take you a lot further along the path of leading a happier and more balanced life, without sacrificing your career. Sound good? Then read this book. Even though it was published over 4 years ago, its proven time management methods are still used by a great many peoplewho enjoy well-paid work, fulfilling hobbies and time with their lovedones. As well as empty inboxes. All of this, dearreader, will lead you to a happier life - and with it, to more happy customers.