Much is at stake to get customer service right in a customer-centric world.
E-commerce consumers expect convenience and responsiveness – right at their fingertips. Shoppers will share a poor customer service experience with others, gravitating toward companies that offer great customer service.
For e-commerce brands and retailers, customer expectations for a seamless customer experience across channels only raise the stakes for customer service teams. The quality of customer service is directly linked to customer loyalty and repeat purchases.
For consumers, the desire to easily reach customer service in a preferred channel is a universal trend with little variance by world region, according to the Shopify eCommerce Market Credibility Study, a global survey conducted by Forrester on behalf of Shopify. 54% of consumers around the world said the ability to easily reach customer service in the channel of their choice influenced their decision to make a purchase.¹
Moreover, 58 percent of consumers in the Shopify worldwide study said they have purchased from a specific brand due to excellent past customer service. Beyond phone and email, merchants now have many ways to provide customer service: live chat and video chat (via a website, social media apps, and messaging apps), SMS, social media, and self-service options such as FAQs and chatbots.
Interactions with customer support are most likely to occur after a customer has tried to resolve the issue on their own, such as through third-party sources like product reviews and online forums. Across industries, an estimated 80% or more of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative, according to research from CEB Consulting.²
Younger audience segments like Gen Zs and Millennials are more likely to notice a frustrating brand experience than a seamless one. Gartner research found that younger audiences increasingly turn to third-party sites to find an answer to their issue, and many consider these outside sources just as trustworthy as company-provided information.³
Old habits die hard as consumers tend to stick to previously used channels – but they will switch channels if their issue can be resolved in a one continuous interaction. ⁴
All of these consumer behaviors make the case for prioritizing customer service. Here are initiatives and trends that are helping to turn the tide for omnichannel and e-commerce customer service in 2022:
The good news is that most companies are working toward improving their customer service and are turning to technology to do so, according to Gartner’s extensive research of over 4,000 customer service leaders worldwide. 74% of respondents said that creating a seamless customer journey across assisted and self-service channels is either important or very important. However, just over 50% of companies don’t believe they make it easy for customers to manage their customer service issues and requests.⁵
Consumers want a speedy resolution to their problem, whether it’s delayed delivery, a damaged or defective shipment, the wrong order, or any number of issues. If an item is on back order, for example, merchants can provide a personalized email with an estimate of when the shipment will be available and stay in communication.
Consumers want quick access in real-time to an agent on live chat or by phone. Many expect an email response within a few hours or even within one hour. E-commerce customer support platform provider Gorgias recommends that e-commerce merchants send out automated email responses immediately after a customer reaches out, to let them know they are working on the issue.⁶
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can be used to create a personalized customer service experience, supporting more actionable analytics and increased agent efficiency.⁷
Merchants can also leverage AI-enabled tools such as marketing automation and combine these applications with customer order data to create proactive outreach. Reaching out proactively after a purchase, especially for first-time customers and high-ticket purchases to solicit feedback or invite questions, can be made more appealing with other offers or information on a rewards program.
All of these efforts support brand loyalty and help prevent complaints about poor customer service. Gartner’s research shows that proactive service results in higher customer satisfaction scores prompts additional customer service engagement, often in digital-assisted channels.⁸
AI is already fueling smart chatbots to speed response time and resolve customer issues quickly. Smart chatbots are one form of self-service for customer support that is no longer limited to canned responses. Communications take on a personalized, conversational feel and can integrate with other customer data sources such as CRM systems, purchase histories, and order information to efficiently resolve customer issues.
If chatbots can’t resolve the issue straight away, they should be used to diagnose and triage the customer issue. A best practice is to use smart chatbots as an intermediary to determine the next steps and route the information to a customer service agent or other self-service resources.⁹
E-commerce and multichannel customer support platforms are the gold standards for merchants, allowing them to manage workflow, prioritize, and assign agents to support tickets in a centralized place. When selecting a support platform, merchants should look for integration capabilities with e-commerce and enterprise systems such as inventory management, OMS, CRM, and shipping software, enabling real-time information and order and customer data visibility.
Managing customer service requests can get out of hand as a merchant grows. Omnichannel customer service platforms provide workflow by automatically pulling in customer tickets from multiple sources such as phone, social media, and email. These solutions can incorporate time-saving templates and automated macros that automatically fill in customer-specific order details, and allow customization by customer service reps to add information and personalize the response.
Some support solutions are broad, offering a lot of functionality such as accommodating knowledge bases and sending out customer satisfaction surveys; one is the Zendesk platform, ideal for large e-commerce brands. Others are more narrow or channel-specific, such as Sprout Social for social media optimization and engagement. The best support platforms give customer teams the tools to collect and analyze customer data in one place for troubleshooting and improvement, and do channel-specific tasks, like identifying patterns in social media comments.
As a merchant grows, a solid customer service strategy requires robust data tools and communication with other teams to ensure the quality of customer support and drive improvements, whether process or product related.
This means going beyond only mining customer ticket data but “listening” online and on social media and looking at brand performance metrics like customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and Net Promotor Scores. Other KPI categories can be monitored such as fulfillment KPIs like order fill rates and on-time delivery—not just support-center related KPIs such as average response time, first-call resolution, and customer churn rates.
Despite all the reliance on technology and digital-assisted solutions, the human factor of customer support remains essential. Especially post-purchase, consumers want human interaction or at least the ready option to quickly connect with an agent via phone, live chat, or video. It all boils down to making customer service work hard to add value for the customer.
1 “Future of Ecommerce: The ecommerce trends, insights, and advice you need to succeed in 2022,” Shopify. https://www.shopify.com/research/future-of-commerce
2 “Kick-Ass Customer Service,” Matthew Dixon, Lara Ponomareff, Scott Turner, and Rick DeLisi, Harvard Business Review, January–February 2017. https://hbr.org/2017/01/kick-ass-customer-service
3 “The Customer Service Experience: Top trends, channels, and behaviors to watch in 2022,” Gartner, 2021. Download available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/customer-service-support/insights/service-leaders-priorities
4 “The Customer Service Experience: Top trends, channels, and behaviors to watch in 2022,” Gartner, 2021. Download available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/customer-service-support/insights/service-leaders-priorities
5 “Insights From 2022 Gartner Customer Service and Support Priorities Poll,” Gartner, 2021. Infographic download available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/customer-service-support/trends/2022-key-priorities
6 “15 Ecommerce Customer Service Best Practices to Help You Level Up,” Julien Marcialis, Gorgias, updated May 29, 2022. https://www.gorgias.com/blog/ecommerce-customer-service-best-practices
7 “Artificial Intelligence Call Center: How is AI Used in Call Centers [+How Will AI Impact Customer Service],” Rebecca Riserbato, HubSpot. https://blog.hubspot.com/service/artificial-intelligence-call-center
8 “The Customer Service Experience: Top trends, channels, and behaviors to watch in 2022,” Gartner, 2021. Download available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/customer-service-support/insights/service-leaders-priorities
9 “The Customer Service Experience: Top trends, channels, and behaviors to watch in 2022,” Gartner, 2021. Download available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/customer-service-support/insights/service-leaders-priorities
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