As the holiday season revs up, many sellers are focused on their promotional calendars, hoping that savvy discounting strategies and big wins on key dates such as Black Friday will bring success. But just as important, though often overlooked, is customer service — a core component of the shopping experience that can make or break brand loyalty.
Given that few brands can compete on price with discounting juggernauts such as Amazon, customer service is increasingly a key differentiator for small- to mid-sized merchants. Those who promote and deliver on the promise of stellar service — from helpful pre-purchase interactions to on-time order delivery to convenient returns — stand to retain customers and earn word-of-mouth buzz. Those who’ve had positive prior experiences spend an average of 140% more than those who ran into customer service roadblocks, according to the Harvard Business Review. And thanks to social media, the potential downside to poor service is significant: Fully 46% of consumers — and 56% of Millennials — have called out brands on social networks for poor customer service, according to Sprout Social.
Customer service is so important that Kibo’s customer success team devoted an entire holiday readiness webinar to the topic. Among the priorities they identified:
Spotlight holiday shipping deadlines now.
Given that some 40% of shoppers have begun their holiday gift-buying in October or earlier, according to the National Retail Federation, merchants should stack the deck of free shipping promotions in favor of early purchasing and spotlighting those specials now, along with shipping timelines for the pre-season as well as the peak period after November. To further stimulate planning and early purchasing, merchants should message holiday cutoff dates early and often via multiple touchpoints — from triggered email messaging to social media.
And “early” doesn’t just apply to the holiday calendar — it’s also relevant for the path to purchase. Shipping processes and timeframes should be tailored to the item level and displayed on the product detail page as well as in the cart and checkout. For perishables, large items, and other merchandise requiring special handling, information should be tailored and specially flagged. Overall shipping cutoff dates and holiday delivery services can even be promoted via banners from the home page and category pages, as well as on advertising landing pages.
Vet BOPIS order process end to end.
Speaking of order fulfillment, merchants should cater to the 79% of shoppers who use Buy Online, Pickup in Store, aka BOPIS, services as a speedy and free way to take possession of their goods. For starters, sellers should list BOPIS options alongside home delivery options wherever shipping information is displayed — and highlight BOPIS in particular, especially as delivery cutoff dates speed past.
In addition, merchants should vet their BOPIS experience thoroughly in advance of peak crowds to make sure messaging is accurate and consistent, from the first inventory lookup option on the product detail page through to the in-store signage directing shoppers to the pickup desk. While it’s late for major technical overhauls, sellers can tweak verbiage to clarify the process, adjust in-store merchandise displays to tempt pickup customers to make additional purchases, and find ways to proactively message about any potentially confusing hurdles that might lead to dissatisfaction or delays.
(Merchants who don’t offer BOPIS should move it to the top of the 2018 priority list — and consider Kibo’s industry-leading omnichannel solution to create a seamless customer experience.)
Make returns a win-win.
Given the uncertainties of ordering items online without touching and trying them, it’s no surprise that fully 30% of eCommerce customers go on to return purchases — a percentage that jumps during and after the holidays, when gift returns are rampant.
So given how prevalent returns are, they needn’t be the end of the customer relationship; rather, they can be an opportunity — if the process is painless. Indeed, fully 92% of shoppers returning items say they’re willing to consider purchasing from the same merchant again based on the ease of the returns experience. Shoppers who can return online orders in-store may reward that convenience immediately: 70% make an additional purchase during their visit.
During the holiday season, merchants should highlight convenient return policies — from free return shipping to in-store returns for items bought online. And while it may seem self-defeating to promote returns even before orders are placed, such transparent messaging signals a commitment to service that can boost trust and brand loyalty. Proactive messaging about returns via social media and on the eCommerce site can reassure harried holiday shoppers that their gift picks won’t go to waste if they’re not a perfect match.
Use chatbots sparingly and transparently.
Shoppers have ever-heightening expectations for swift customer service, especially when it comes to social media. Upwards of 40% of shoppers who use social media to reach brands expect a response within an hour, according to research from The Social Habit.
With this need for speed, it’s tempting for merchants to turn to artificial intelligence and chatbots to handle customer service complaints instantaneously. But chatbots that merchants attempt to pass off as human rarely succeed, and can alienate shoppers with generic or irrelevant responses that complicate rather than speed resolution of their requests.
To ensure both speed and satisfaction, merchants should triage incoming requests and route complex questions to live humans; chatbot usage should be limited to use cases where responses are clear-cut. Whatever chatbot interactions do occur should be clearly labeled as such, and easy access to live human help — via a link or toll-free phone number — should be readily available. Given that 90% of support requests are for order status updates — a task easily handled initially by chatbots — sellers can still realize cost savings in the call center even if that’s the sole service topic they delegate to AI-driven systems.
To help slow the tide of incoming requests in the first place, merchants should also beef up their self-service content. A growing number of shoppers consult FAQs and customer-contributed Q and A resources before even trying to reach live help, and 39% of Millennials turn to self-service help first and foremost. As the holidays approach, merchants should review Q&A content for top products, update FAQs, and incorporate common responses into core product page information.
Looking for more holiday readiness tips? Read the first and second blog posts in the series here. To ramp up the shopping experience for 2018, check out Kibo’s omnichannel commerce solution and gain access to strategy expertise during the holidays and year round.