Customer service and communication are keys to increasing customer lifetime value, and eCommerce businesses are no exception to this guideline. Effective customer service makes the difference between one-time purchasers and customers, therefore increasing your return on the investment required to acquire that customer, yet some online businesses neglect customer service since they’re not in a face-to-face situation.

Using the most appropriate eCommerce platform for your store, having a responsive website, or optimizing your site for conversions won’t matter as much if you have poor reviews from customers or constantly have to seek new customers out. Up to 59% of customers are willing to try a different company to receive better customer service – do you really want to be at the bottom of that food chain?

So how do you improve your service or support so that you’re keeping customers happy while maximizing your own customer LTV? There are some tools and systems your customer service team should be testing to ensure that you’re retaining customers and turning them into your own brand ambassadors through great service.

Offer Reasons

Offering a reason for a purchase or why a product works is one of the first rules of selling, and customer service is no different. For example, imagine that you have to put a customer on hold to ask a question or check on something. Many times, we hear “Please hold, blah blah”. I hate hearing that on the phone. However, I recently had a call with American Express and had to be put on hold. Irene, who was very pleasant and helpful, said, “You know, I’m going to need to check on something to see if we can streamline this process for you in the future. Could I put you on hold for one second to do that?”


Well Irene, of course you may. You know why? I know that you’re helping me and that it’s necessary. You’re not ignoring me and we’re totally getting stuff done. Does it really matter that Irene may have been blowing her nose, taking a sip of coffee, or rolling her eyes at helping me on a Saturday? Nope, I don’t really care. Irene made me feel like putting me on hold was valuable for both of us by giving me a reason for doing it.

Don’t be short with customers or try to resolve situations quickly. Resolving them well is the ultimate goal for effective customer service, and as a result, taking a few second to explain something can make all of the difference. Which brings us to the next point…

Be Patient

Let’s start this one with a story, though it may only relate to me 🙂 . Imagine you’ve just had a great meal with a loved one. Service was good – wine glasses were filled as they were emptied, spacing between appetizers and the main course was appropriate, and the server was attentive without being intrusive. You get the check, pay it, and then…the server takes it before you’ve had time to finish your conversation with that last glass of wine.

Feel like they’re in a hurry to turn the table over? I really hate that feeling. Like truly hate it, especially if I’m enjoying myself and want to finish whatever I’m talking about before I leave the table, but the server is now eager to get the next tip.

So how does this relate to your customers? Make sure you answer their concerns thoroughly and completely before moving on – last impressions are important in addition to first impressions. If customers feel like you’re rushing them out the door in order to maximize the number of resolved cases per service rep, they won’t leave the table feeling great about the experience.

And restaurants where this happens? I avoid going back if given other choices, even though only one person may have put a mark on an otherwise fun evening. Think about whether you want customers to look at you the same way based on your interactions.

Empathize with Customers

It’s really easy to think people are crazy. Sometimes they have really unrealistic expectations of what they’re buying, which we’ve definitely seen while selling software. However, your response shapes the conversation, not the customer’s initial inquiry. For example, what about the customer who has issues while using your product, or whose order arrives scratched or broken?

It’s easy to say, “I’m sorry, let’s fix this issue,” and move on. However, empathizing with the customer, then fixing the issue generates a far more positive response and makes the customer feel like you’re both working towards the same goal. Instead, imagine if you got responses like this as a customer:

  • I’m very sorry that your order arrived in that condition! I know that must have been disappointing, and I’d like to help you out by…
  • I’m so sorry you’re experiencing issues with our product! I know we both want to get you up and running as soon as possible, so I’d really love to help you by…

Yes, apologizing and making customers feel heard is important, However, empathizing with customers and aligning yourselves towards the same goals ensures that customer don’t feel as if you’re adversaries, but rather team members.

Use Positive Language

Challenge yourself or your customer service team to stop using the word “not”, or “can’t”. What if a product isn’t in stock, but will be available in a month? Consider these two responses.

  • I’m sorry, but that product isn’t available at the moment, so I can’t place the order. You can backorder it for next month.
  • That product will be available in a month, so I can backorder it for you now and it will ship when it’s available.

While neither response is “bad”, one response creates a feeling of disappointment that the product isn’t available now, while the other creates anticipation that the product will be in stock soon. This doesn’t seem like a big difference overall, but it encourages positive language and feelings, while making sure that your company is aware of the language you use and message that you create.

Leverage all communication channels

Have channels of communication open for your customers. Not only will they be frustrated if they can’t get in touch, but they can also sometimes give you insight or ideas to expand or improve your offering that could bring in more revenue.

This one will obviously depend on your demographic, but Twitter can be a valuable customer service asset. For example, take a look at the way Starbucks or Chipotle use Twitter. If a customer has a less-than-optimal experience at Starbucks or a drink order is incorrect, Starbucks frequently Tweets a Coffee to that customer as an apology for the experience. They do a great job of this in-store as well, as they’ll typically upgrade a drink order if they can’t make it just the way you want, or give you free drink cards if your wait time is longer than average.

Starbucks Customer Service | Sell with WP

Photo credit: Flickr

While Twitter is just one (very easy) way to keep in touch with customers, it may not be best for you depending on your customer demographics. Having a customer service email visible (or links to other channels, such as Facebook), is important to make sure customers can get in touch and be heard.

If you’re starting out, I’d recommend offering several ways to get in touch, tracking which are most popular and which result in the highest customer satisfaction with the experience, then narrow down and optimize those channels. I’ve found the most success with phone, email, and Twitter across different projects.

Be Creative

I know this one seems vague, but giving your customer service team the latitude to be creative and make decisions can be one of the most valuable instances of delegating that you’ll do. Even sending a thank you card or a token gift can go a long way towards smoothing things over with an unhappy customer, and gifts don’t always have to be related to your products.

Many times, you can make an impression on a customer for a very minimal cost, but that customer has then become loyal to your brand unless you really mess something up. They’re also likely to tell other people about their positive experiences, and that impression can go to work for you and leads to new customers giving you the benefit of the doubt.

For example, check out the notes on creative customer service reps from Helpscout (who we’ve used and highly recommend). Yes, sometimes unhappy customers can be tough to deal with, and you can’t always resolve things in the way that they’d like. However, doing something nice (like sending the box of chocolates in that article) can be a really powerful gesture.

Think of how that shapes the conversation about you – will that person now recommend you? What first impression will that generate when they talk about you? The cost and time required of your customer service team for this type of response is minimal, but is good for business in the long run and encourages brand loyalty and positive recommendations.

In Conclusion

In the short run, offering great customer service may not feel worth it. Sometimes customers will be extremely rude or disproportionally upset. It’s tempting to respond in kind, and you’d be justified in doing so.

However, that’s a short-sighted game. You’re in this for long-term value and revenue. While you may not win over every customer, and in fact may sometimes lose money on offering great service, don’t optimize for revenue in the short term. Cutting a customer service budget or discretionary spending may be an easy place to streamline your business, but that’s only going to yield short-term gains.

Instead, consider potential revenue, and factor a customer’s future purchases into that equation. Think about the possible revenue loyal customers can generate over a lifetime, as well as the customers they can help you in acquiring, and you’ll see why effective customer service strategies are so important.

Special thanks to Linda Le Phan at Cornerstone Content for sending some of the resources mentioned in this article and further reading!

Read More

Here are some other great customer service resources.

  • Here’s a handy infographic from KISSmetrics on How to Calculate your customer LTV.
  • Want to test yourself on your service? Click Software has an interactive Service Provider Challenges web app that walks you through common scenarios and some different solutions.
  • Need training resources? Here’s a copy of Customer Service Training 101 from Renée Evenson that has a couple great chapters on communication and relationship building.
  • Helpscout has another article on essential customer service skills available in addition to the one referenced in the article.

Cover Photo Credit: CWCS Managed Hosting (CC BY 2.0 license)

Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.