People often think of online stores as being devoid of customer service compared to the local retail outlet. After all, in a physical store you can ask for help, discuss various products and what they do, and receive your product immediately.
However, a scenario over the Christmas break gave me an example of where online shopping comes into its own with respect to customer service. My mother thought she would try out buying her groceries from Coles online rather than making what has become an arduous trip down to the supermarket. It’s arduous because she would need to take my handicapped sister with her, and she can be quite a handful, especially when you are also trying to push a trolley, and keep her with you as you are walking back through the carpark, and cars … and of course my mother is no spring chicken. In addition, my mother has recently hurt her shoulder and therefore pushing the trolley, and carrying the groceries from the car to the kitchen is also an ordeal.
Introducing online grocery shopping … my mother was so excited to receive her first delivery from Coles. “This is really living” she exclaimed. “It’s as if you are back to the old days of customer service where you went to the grocery store counter, gave them your order written on a piece of paper, and they packed it all up for you.” My mum was very pleased with the ‘delivery-to-the-kitchen-table’ service, ensuring that she didn’t need to pick up or carry bags anywhere, and the delivery cost where she lives is next to nothing compared to the convenience. Actually, Mum expects to save some money by not buying impulse items placed in strategic locations around the store. She was delighted with the products selected, feeling that she got the best on offer (not those picked over and prodded by others), and amazed at receiving SMS messages telling her when it would be delivered etc. Placing a future order is even easier with prompts to order commonly purchased items and the option to save your shopping list for future use.
Of course online grocery shopping isn’t going to suit everyone; we can’t all be home during the available timeslots to receive our delivery, and sometimes we do just need something right now. However, it reminded me that online stores by very nature give us the opportunity to provide even better customer service than the physical counterpart. Below I have described some unique ways in which customer service can be improved through online stores. Consider these in relation to your online store (or that of your friends / colleagues):
- Quick searching through the available products – have you ever been up and down aisle after aisle in a supermarket trying to find gelatine or horseradish? With your online store think about the different ways people might like to search for your product, and include those words in the product names or descriptions to ensure they can be found on those words.
- Availability information – again at the supermarket, when you get to the place where you think you should find product xyz but can’t find it there, you have no idea whether you are looking in the wrong place, whether it is out of stock, or if it’s been discontinued. For products with different sizes, you might not know whether your size is actually made in this product. This extra information is easy to supply via an online store.
- Reference material about the products can help your customer make informed decisions e.g. where it is made, why you would want the product, how to use the product, list of ingredients, awards won by the product, example images of the product in use, other products that people bought to go with this product, customer reviews, social media feedback etc. This is much easier to do online where you aren’t paying for shelf space to store all the extra information, or for shop assistants to help each customer. It may take some time to put this information in, but it never ceases to amaze me the number of online stores that give scant information about a product and expect the customer to guess about its properties when they can’t touch or feel it, read the box, talk to a person … The reference material may also include details of extended warranties and other product support; when you are offered these as a last minute option at the checkout, it’s very easy to say no thanks and not even really understand what they give you and why they might be worthwhile.
- Immediate assistance via online chat. It is often hard to actually get assistance in a store; once you find an assistant walking the floor, you’ll often be waiting for them to finish with another customer. When you get to talk to a person, they often don’t know much about the product you are considering. Online chat, whilst requiring people to be at their PCs to respond, can allow a single salesperson to deal effectively and quickly with multiple people at once, or pass the enquiry onto someone else who can help. The Miami Stainless website is an example of one of our client websites using online chat very effectively to support the sales process. Online chat also provides the personal touch, counteracting the claim that online stores are devoid of human contact.
- Access to Transaction History is usually not a service provided in a physical store, and certainly not at the customer’s control. Online gives you the opportunity to show the customer what they have purchased before, store a wish list, store a “standard” order, remind customers of the consumables they need for previous purchases, notify customers when the consumables are on special …
- Delivery is an important part of the customer experience, and must be handled with care for online customers. As in the case of my mother’s online supermarket shopping, and in the case of the time poor, or remotely located persons, it might actually be an advantage of online shopping for some customers. Providing a range of delivery options (express, standard, insured) provides even greater customer service. Because you are packing and sending the product, you also have the opportunity to add items to the delivery. Lots of online retailers take the opportunity to add a little something to give an element of surprise to the customer. I always feel happier receiving my deliveries when my products have been lovingly packed (which is a bit like unwrapping a gift, even though you know what’s coming) compared to stuffed in a parcel bag with a grotty picking slip.
Of course for downloadable products, the delivery is immediate, and you need to ensure that the delivery mechanism is secure, easy for the customer, and repeatable where something goes wrong.
- After Sales Customer Service via email or phone is also a very important way online shopping can provide better customer service than in store. The customer doesn’t need to get back to the store and remember who they spoke to and on what day, they can simply refer back to their order. Online store operators need to check emails regularly. Depending on your product, having a knowledge base of likely questions or problems the customer may encounter is very important. Providing an easy process to follow with regard to returns (if you allow them) is very important also to ensure your customer comes back again.
You may have experienced yet other ways in which online shopping can provide additional customer service. I’d love to hear your examples here, so please add your comments below.by