Create an exceptional customer experience for the holiday season
By Scott Voigt, co-founder/CEO, FullStory
If you sell online, here's some unvarnished truth: you can't always win on price. In fact, I can practically guarantee that you're going to lose on price nearly all the time (Amazon, you can stop reading now).
Let's face it: Shoppers who only ever pay the least amount possible for the stuff they want may never buy from you.
But here's the good news this holiday season: you can win on customer experience. If a shopper spends her dollars with a competitor, don't let customer experience be the reason.
Excellent customer experience can largely be distilled in two words: speed and convenience.
The easier and quicker shoppers can find what they're looking for, get their questions or problems resolved, and make purchases in a minimal number of steps, the higher the conversion and the more loyalty you'll likely engender. And loyalty means return customers, the lifeblood of any successful e-commerce business. You have a 60 to 70 percent chance of selling again to an existing customer. That drops down to 5 to 20 percent for new prospects. But more disheartening, 91 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again.
Your happy customers are loyal customers, and those are gold for the holiday season and the rest of the year.
Here are five often overlooked things you should do this holiday season to make your customer experience pristine:
Make exceptional customer service biggest priority
Price may attract customers, but bad customer service will almost certainly drive them away. The data on that is crystal clear. Sixty percent of customers haven't completed a purchase because of a bad customer-service experience. Eight in ten shoppers say bad customer service will prompt them to switch brands. A whopping 96 percentof shoppers say customer service factors into their loyalty to brands. By 2020, one study found, customer service will top price and product as key brand differentiator.
So, while price is certainly a driver, customer service ranks right up there as well. People want readily available and responsive company representatives who can thoughtfully solve their problems.
How to satisfy this expectation? First, make your customer service contact info obvious (consider putting the info on every page on your site, for example), and offer it through every channel you can staff and support. Many shoppers want live chat, particularly in the midst of making a purchase, so provide that if possible. Provide phone and email support as well, and, this should go without saying, but respond to those channels right away. Even if you're simply offering to find out more info and get back to the customer, do that immediately, and be sure to express empathy in your response.
Monitor social media for customer service issues, even if your company doesn't officially use its social channels for that purpose (more on that below).
Make sure your customer service reps are well-informed and empowered to solve customer problems. Seventy-eight percent of customers say competent reps above all else make a happy customer-service experience.
If you do nothing else this holiday, make sure your customer service is up to snuff. It's table stakes.
Stay on top of social media conversation
While many businesses see social media as a tool in their marketing strategy — a giant megaphone to yell to the assembled masses —your customers likely see it for what it actually is: a platform for two-way conversation. They turn to social channels to try to resolve a bad situation, to voice their displeasure or ask for help.
The problem with that is, too many retailers aren't paying enough attention. Fifty-five percent of customer requests for service on social media are not acknowledged. Mishandling or ignoring a dissatisfied customer on social platforms undermines her potential loyalty.
Do use technology to automate what you can in your social channels, but remember that customers crave human interaction. Don't just direct those complaining customers to the contact page on your web site. Listen and respond in the environment they're in, like a real, empathetic person.
And finally, while speedy responses in all customer service channels are important, it's most critical in social channels. Data shows the large majority of people expect a brand to respond in under an hour to a complaint on Twitter, compared to six hours for an email query. So stay alert constantly, particularly at times when you're busiest.
Ensure your site reflects inventory available at that moment
If a shopper wants to make a purchase on a site, she should never find out after-the-fact that the desired item isn't actually available. Your site should reflect your actual available inventory, in real time.
In the best case scenario, items that sell out should be indicated as such the minute it happens. A surprising number of companies still manually update inventory on their sites, virtually guaranteeing a lag between inventory sell-outs and what shoppers see. Some even notify customers days after the purchase, via email, that an item is sold out. You can't expect any customer to be happy in that scenario.
Being surprised (and disappointed) after making a purchase selection is a surefire way to drive that customer directly to a competitor.
Send emails quickly that are beautiful and engaging
Every email you send in response to customers' actions on your site should arrive promptly, provide both the information expected and other genuinely useful content, and reinforce your brand's visual identity to remind shoppers where they made the purchase.
Consumers open and click on transaction-related emails — a purchase or shipping confirmation, for example — far more than other types of emails from retailers, research shows, so they're a slam-dunk (but too often disregarded) opportunity to engage your customers.
Slow, uninspired, boring transaction-related emails are a missed chance to cultivate loyalty with customers who will actually open that email. Additional revenue derived from these emails can be two to five times greater than standard bulk emails, so experiment with additional product recommendations there to see what prompts more purchases.
Get rid of intrusive surveys or exit messages
Any marketer worth her salt craves data that reveals what her customers like or don't about her brand. And for online retailers, that can mean serving up surveys to shoppers. Fifty-eight percent of ecommerce brands survey their customers, and many attribute higher conversion rates to the data collected that way.
Problem is, for motivated holiday shoppers, an ill-timed feedback survey can undermine the speed and convenience they want most. In one study, 71 percent of consumers said surveys interfere with the experience of a website. Remember: you should keep to a minimum the number of clicks required between arriving on your site and making a purchase. A survey that pops up at an inopportune moment — in the midst of focused shopping — can leave a sour taste in a customer's mouth and ultimately harm conversion.
Exit intent pop-ups, those little messages that appear when someone moves a mouse to leave a site, can help draw back a waffling customer. But at the wrong time, for the wrong person, they can be annoying. The jury's out on whether the pros outweigh the cons. It makes much more sense to focus on the buying experience, and making that bulletproof, rather than focus on exit intent.
In the holiday season, err on the side of caution. Now's not the time to interfere with a customer who may be in a purchasing mindset, at that moment or the near future. If you haven't successfully used surveys or exit messages to date, wait to experiment with them when your site traffic isn't as critical to sales. Then closely monitor the response and abandon anything shoppers find frustratingly obtrusive.
In summary, the customer experience you offer is the single biggest way to compete outside of price. Make yours impeccable and your bottom line will benefit.