It's a big deal Get 25% off Zendesk until December 2 Tell me more

Ecommerce customer service: A guide

As online shopping continues to grow, businesses need an ecommerce customer service approach that lets them provide excellent virtual care to their customers.

A guide to providing the best ecommerce customer service

These days, you can purchase nearly anything online using any device. Many retailers and small businesses have turned to online sales, making purchasing their product or service as simple as a few easy clicks on a mouse or taps on a screen.

But it isn’t enough to make buying your product simple. If you don’t have the ecommerce support service in place to help customers when they have an issue with your product, you could easily drive them to the competition — which is also just a few easy clicks away.

In this guide, we’ll overview the benefits of ecommerce customer support, best practices for serving customers virtually, and help direct you to choosing the best ecommerce customer service tools for your business.

What is ecommerce customer service?

Ecommerce customer service (sometimes spelled e-commerce customer service) is a strategy for providing customer service to people who purchase from online businesses. When retailers invest in improving their ecommerce customer service, delivered via a call center, live chat, or other channels, they tend to be rewarded with more loyal customers, better conversion rates, and an advantage over their competitors.

Online shopping is different from in-person shopping in a lot of ways, but both kinds of customers need an easy avenue for seeking assistance. Customers who have to work too hard or wait too long for answers can very easily close your tab and move on to another option.

The best ecommerce customer support experiences are fast, positive, and conclude with the successful delivery of whatever assistance was needed. Without those three elements, customers may be inspired to try out your competition to see if they can offer more.

Why should online retailers invest in ecommerce customer service?

Providing a great customer experience is one of the few ways to genuinely stand out in an already saturated online retail marketplace. Customers who don’t get the service they’d prefer can simply take their business to another store.

Customer service for ecommerce is all about responsiveness. The moment your customer has an issue with your product or service, your business needs to be able to step up and help resolve it. To do that, the customer needs three things:

  1. They need to know where to find assistance from your business.
  2. The assistance needs to be fast and efficient.
  3. The experience needs to be positive.

Providing all three of those needs without some kind of ecommerce support service would be nearly impossible. The fact is, the internet is the first place people turn to for help. That means if you’re selling online, you also need to be assisting online.

What are the benefits of providing ecommerce support services?

  • An increase in customer acquisition. Online shopping provides a wealth of options. This can easily become overwhelming, especially if the product or service in question is complicated and requires many touchpoints in order to close a sale.

    Customer service for ecommerce allows your business to provide fast, comprehensive assistance to leads from the very beginning of the relationship. By having a system of support established from the get-go, you increase your chances of catching those customers who otherwise would have let their confusion drive them to start their shopping venture over with a new search.

  • Higher customer retention. Having a fast, efficient customer support service is critical to maintaining customer loyalty. In fact, in its 2018 State of Global Customer Service Report, Microsoft found that 95% of survey respondents said that customer support is important to them when choosing and staying with a brand. The study found that customer service is a cornerstone to customer retention and brand loyalty.

    No matter what issues customers may have along their customer journey, offering the proper method of assistance ensures that the customer’s experience remains positive. Because a single negative interaction — whether it involves waiting too long for an answer or resolution, encountering too many confusions during the process, or interacting with an unpleasant representative — can be enough to drive a valuable customer away forever.

  • More attentive customer service. Ecommerce customer service involves technology. It has to — that’s the nature of online shopping online. And while some business owners may be hesitant to make technology a more prevalent player in their operations, the truth is that there’s a reason software tools are so popular.

    Ecommerce support services tools — like automations, software management systems, and integrations — save enormous amounts of time when handling customer service activities. And the hours saved by letting software tools organize your processes and handle repetitive tasks can be allocated to providing even more personalized, attentive care to customers.

How is ecommerce customer service different from retail customer service?

Since the experience of online shopping has some fundamental differences to brick and mortar stores, online retailers must approach customer service slightly differently. One of the key differences involves customer context.

When a shopper enters a store, a clerk or customer service agent can begin to identify some things that will help them decide how to provide support. Is the customer in a hurry? Does the customer appear to be in a good mood? Do they look determined to buy something or are they just killing time while they wait for someone?

Having a sense of some of these bits of information will inform retailers how to best provide service. They can read body language to see what kind of mood a shopper is in, which might determine whether a service agent offers help or leaves the shopper alone. But online shopping doesn’t give you the benefit of these types of visual clues and interpersonal relationships. Ecommerce shoppers still require the same kind of assistance they’d get in a store — the difference is in how the service agents observe, analyze, and respond to those needs virtually.

In ecommerce customer support, context comes in the form of data, not visual observations or personal interactions. This information, gathered from whatever connected platform your customers are using to interact with your business, gives you insights into how you can provide better experiences.

Now that you know what customer service for ecommerce is, let’s examine some of the best practices that help online businesses maximize customer acquisition and retention.

Best practices for effective ecommerce customer service

While online retailers will not have access to visual context, they will be able to base the ecomm customer service they provide on data. In order to get the best data and use it effectively, however, you should try to implement these nine ecommerce customer service best practices:

  1. Offer multi channel support. Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses. Measuring how customers use each channel will allow retailers to take full advantage. They might prefer direct support via chat or a chatbot, but communication (like new offerings or sales) might be better through social media.

  2. Personalize support and marketing. Since all activities, from browsing to buying to customer service, happen online, it’s possible to track and measure customer behavior. That means when a customer reaches for support, the support agent will already have access to information about the customer, including purchase history, which will allow the agent to treat the customer like a valued individual.

  3. Offer self-service support. Since many customers prefer to help themselves, many online retailers benefit from offering a help center. These can include answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), return policies, and more. Offering self-sufficiency as a form of customer service is a fantastic way of empowering customers to assist themselves while saving your team time.

  4. Use the right organizational tools. There’s only so much that can be done with spreadsheets and emails. Managing your ecommerce customer support system will have to include some kind of technology tools that are designed for all of the different administrative tasks involved. Otherwise, a task as simple as retrieving an invoice could become a five-minute search if the document is lingering in someone’s inbox.

  5. Offer an avenue for providing feedback. Letting customers offer their feedback helps to identify where customer frustrations are. You can fix solutions internally so the same issue doesn’t happen again, and reach out to the customer to solve the issue — if that’s still an option. Reviews are also great social proof that illustrate specific examples of when your customer service delivered as promised.

  6. Develop a need for speed. According to a study by Statista, 12% of respondents cited lack of speed as the cause of their frustration. That means you should always be examining your current practices to see where response time is lagging, and do your best to adjust your process and eliminate those wasted minutes.

  7. Templates, templates, templates. The same issues and questions will arise again and again, which means you’ll be continually supplying the same answers or resolutions. But starting from scratch for every interaction eats up valuable time. Templates for emails and call scripts allow you to standardize a response to the most common issues, while still leaving room for personalizations to ensure that the communication applies directly to the customer in question.

  8. Have a comprehensive knowledge base. A knowledge base is like a library of information for your customers. It’s a place they can turn to if they need help using your product or service, but don’t want to do it over the phone with a representative. Knowledge bases should be well organized so that they’re easy to search, and the content should be clear enough for all users to follow and implement successfully, without ever having to reach out for help.

  9. Automate where it makes sense. Automations save enormous amounts of time and effort, allowing your team to be more efficient with the tasks that really matter. Examine your process and pinpoint tasks that are eating up too much time. Very often, there are many administrative tasks that could be automated with the right software, saving your team tons of time down the road.

For more tips on making the most of your ecommerce support services, check out this article.

What is ecommerce customer service automation?

As stated above, automations are software tools that perform repetitive administrative tasks and cut down on manual data entry. And there are automations for nearly every process involved in operating a business. But the automations that are most useful in an ecommerce customer support setting are:

  • Self-service widgets. These widgets live on your home page and serve as a point of entry to your help desk. It’s the equivalent of having a retail support member approach you in the store and say, “I’ll be over here if you need me.”
  • Auto responders. You can save your customer service team a lot of time by setting up autoresponders. If a customer sends a message with an inquiry about something like cancellations, refunds, or how to use your product, the automation tool identifies specific words in the message and sends an automatic response detailing the proper steps for the customer to take.
  • Chatbots. Chatbots are a conversational commerce tool that is transforming how online retailers are crafting customer experiences. These automated bots scan and interpret incoming messages, then simulate human conversation in order to assist online customers. They can either be used to help direct visitors to their desired product, solve common customer issues, or gather the relevant information needed before passing them to a live representative.
  • Macros & canned responses. These are pre-written responses to the most commonly asked questions and issues. The representative interacting with a customer can select and personalize any of the macros, allowing them to put out vetted and concise information while still providing personalized service.
  • Automatic ticket assignment. Use business rules to determine which agents handle which inquiries, so that tickets are automatically assigned to the right representative.

How to automate ecommerce customer service?

The first step is to find the right software tool. Different providers will offer various automation features, so you’ll want to know which platform is best for your business before starting the process of automating.

Your best bet is to find a provider who specializes in customer service software, and then make sure that it integrates with all of the ecommerce software tools you’re currently using. For instance, if you’re currently using Shopify to sell your products, your ecomm customer service tool should be able to integrate with it to ensure data is shared accurately across platforms.

Next, you’ll have to implement your chosen automation features. Whether your goal is to use more templates for your call scripts or embed a widget onto your shop’s site, make sure you’re also using the platform’s reporting and analytics function. It may take you some time to maximize your use of your automation tools, and having an accurate account of how you’re using it will help you improve your practices over time.

What can be some customer service issues in ecommerce?

Ecommerce is a special brand of business. Customers don’t have the benefit of touching and experiencing what they want to purchase — and they don’t get to take it home the moment the payment goes through.

Using the right e-commerce customer service software lets you deal with the unique challenges that come with providing service to customers who make their purchases online. Some of the most common issues online business encounter are:

  • A long or complicated checkout process
  • Customer service doesn’t operate outside of regular business hours
  • Difficulty in tracking orders
  • Desired item is out of stock
  • The mobile app isn’t user-friendly
  • The return process is confusing or unclear

How to improve customer service for ecommerce businesses?

Improvement starts with knowing where it’s needed most. If you’re using a customer service software platform with analytics and reporting features, you can use these tools to get more visibility into how your daily activities affect the big picture. Then, by noticing patterns in response and ticket resolution times, you can identify the practices that produce the best results, and the ones that are causing delays.

Also, remember that when it comes to customer service, speedy responsiveness is critical. Even if a customer ultimately ends up with a resolved issue, they may not be happy with the overall experience if they ended up waiting for answers at any point during the process. The best way to improve your ecommerce support services is to implement the tools and practices that allow your team to respond quickly and efficiently to any requests for assistance from new and existing customers.

How to choose the right customer service software for ecommerce?

Ecommerce customer service software comes in many shapes and forms, but selecting the right platform doesn’t have to be difficult. Examine your current process and research the different features that you believe would have the most positive impacts on your ecommerce support services. Then, once you’ve made a list of the software options that fit your budget, don’t be hesitant to test drive it if a free trial is offered.

Zendesk’s 14-day trial is more than enough time to explore all of its streamlining customer service features. From building an easily searchable knowledge base, to installing and setting up website chatbots, Zendesk offers the full scope of all the tools your customer service team needs to manage your customers’s needs from afar.

With Zendesk Service, here are some of the helpful resources you can use to enjoy that will speed up response time and produce successful resolutions:

Frequently asked questions

What is an ecommerce customer experience?

An ecommerce customer experience is exactly what it sounds like — the experience a customer goes through when purchasing from or interacting with your customer.

Every step of the purchasing process should be designed and delivered in a way that makes buying your product or service easy, fast, and informed. You don’t want people buying your product without truly understanding what it is, or else your customer service team will be overwhelmed with returns and exchanges. Providing a good customer experience is all about giving customers the information they need to make speedy, stress-free, informed purchases that will serve their exact needs.

How do you capture customer feedback?

You can capture customer feedback in a number of ways. You can set up an automatic survey to appear after they’ve made a purchase — possibly with an offer of a discount off their next purchase as a bonus. Or, you can use your ecommerce customer service software tool to monitor activity on your online store and see what’s drawing the most interest. You can also read and respond to customer reviews, and track comments on your business’s social accounts.

The key to handling customer feedback is to be consistent in your responses. No matter what the feedback is, the way you respond to it will have an impact on the business as a whole. Make sure your customer service team is operating with a unified voice that upholds your brand’s integrity and professionalism, even when dealing with less-than favorable feedback.

Why does ecommerce customer experience matter?

Simply put, creating a positive ecommerce customer experience makes your business more competitive. If your business is the only one of its kind, people might have no choice but to purchase from you. But if you have competitors with similar pricing, one poor customer experience from your business might inspire customers to leave you for another — even if they like your product or service.

Whether you’re a B2B or B2C ecommerce operation, your customers are the lifeblood of your operation. Customer service matters to your customers — for that reason alone, it should matter greatly to you.

Ready to provide customer service for ecommerce?

Zendesk helps retailers build great relationships with their customers by improving all aspects of the customer experience. Zendesk offers tools that handle everything from phone support software to customer service analytics, social media to internal operations. It’s fast and flexible so retailers can easily adapt to the changing landscape of consumer expectations and scale when they grow.

Sign up for Zendesk’s free 14-day trial to test drive its efficiency-boosting ecommerce support services tools today.

We have more to say about this. Have a look below.

Providing ecommerce customer service can be difficult, but Zendesk is here to help. Here are some resources to help you create engaging customer experiences: