Our Volo Levers framework blog series has detailed how you can move a range of growth and efficiency levers in your ecommerce business to positively impact your sales growth and profitability. The 5 growth levers were listing quality, inventory breadth, channel coverage, promotions and international sales. We’ve also covered 3 of the 5 efficiency levers: inventory & stock control, warehousing & operations and fulfilment & dispatch. In this post we cover the 4th efficiency lever, which is about buyer communications and how you can streamline your customer service across marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and OnBuy, and webstore platforms like Magento and Shopify.
Marketplaces are relentlessly focused on their customer, and this ‘Customer is King’ focus encourages sellers to remember that everything good for the business stems from happy customers. This kind of business logic can’t be argued. Once the customer clicks the submit button to buy their goods online, this is the moment when the waiting kicks in and we need to deliver on their expectations. They have the potential to buy from us again and again and so we work hard to delight them and build their lifetime value with us. Because it’s much easier to sell to someone who has already bought from you, it’s far preferable to cultivate existing customers than having to solely go in search of new ones.
Conversely, if we disappoint our customers in some way, and they look for a refund or return the item, then this unfortunate process starts to eat into our hard-earned margins. We work hard to make sure that returns and refunds don’t happen, but when they do we try to recompense the customer as soon as possible so that we might win them back to the ‘delighted repeat customer’ camp. Working from the principle that we all agree customer service is of paramount importance, there are a number of challenges to becoming great in this area.
First, there’s the cost challenge. Customer service is a cost centre, not a profit centre, for the business. The more people you have in customer service, answering phones, reading and sending emails, locating orders, checking their status, processing refunds and returns, the higher your costs and the more pressure on your margins. It’s no use hiring so many customer service staff that you lose money on every transaction you make.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, an under-resourced team means a seemingly unending stack of customer issues to resolve, slower response times, disgruntled customers and poor ratings. The alternative is to invest in better processes and technologies that automate some of the areas for you, save your staff time and make them more productive.
Second, there are your products themselves and how you list them. Your customer service, to a degree, is a function of the quality of goods you are supplied with and the quality of your suppliers. If your products are good quality, from reputable suppliers, with accurate descriptions and perform as advertised, then providing you have good control over your fulfilment & dispatch process your customer service costs will be lower.
The opposite should also hold true for shoddy products, poor listing information and unreliable suppliers. The more accurately you list your products, then, with realistic and accurate pictures and supporting detail, the more buyers’ expectations will be aligned with the actual products and the lower your resulting customer service overheads.
Third, there are processes to think about. The more organised your customer service is, the lower your costs and better you can service your customers. As you might expect, this is easier said than done. Customer service staff often have to check multiple systems in multiple places to do their jobs, and this takes time. Sales orders, finance, emails, the website, payment gateways, the marketplaces; these are typically separate systems. There’s also an awful lot of repetition, as customers tend to have the same or similar questions about their order.
Fourth, as we have already mentioned, there are the multiple ecommerce channels on which you sell. You decide the customer service rules and standards for your own website; that’s entirely down to you and the expectations of your customers. Each of the channels or marketplaces where you sell, however, has its own ways of working, its own customer service requirements, and its own ratings for how it measures and prioritises seller performance.
You need to be very close to how performance metrics and seller ratings are calculated in each marketplace, so that you maximise your sales here and don’t fall foul of their service levels. The last thing you want is to be removed from a marketplace and see a major source of income compromised, because you’ve failed to maintain the required service standard.
So, how to address these challenges? To start with, the golden rule is to undersell, under-promise and over-deliver. You should see your buyer as an additional salesperson for your business, since apart from your website and the marketplaces there are independent review portals like Trustpilot where buyers can leave feedback and comments. Review sites are more stringent at weeding out fake or planted reviews and a buyer will always trust the opinion of a fellow buyer over the seller.
Most sellers operate in a multichannel environment, and buyers regularly complete the search and purchase process using a combination of channels, so you need to offer good communications on each channel, ideally covering telephone, email and live web chat. There are many communications that can be standardised, so you should have ’canned’ communications and responses to frequently asked questions which can be automated or else pasted into conversations with your customers.
It’s always better to be proactive, so posting answers to frequently asked questions, and constantly adding to that bank of answers, is a good way of stopping buyers from having to contact you in the first place. Furthermore, regular product-related questions may also be a signal that you need to enhance your listing. And, by doing that you’re nipping the large part of those questions in the bud.
One of the ways of removing the need for your customer service staff to have to use so many systems to do their jobs is to integrate your systems and processes where possible and centralise the function. This can be a huge time-saver for your staff and drive up their productivity considerably. Systems like Volo allow you to manage eBay customer service, for example, from inside the Volo software, so that your staff don’t have to go to another portal. This also means that you can audit and track your communications more easily as they’re all held centrally.
Another rule with customers is ‘if you don’t know, ask.’ Although customers are a little more inured to them these days, surveys where you ask for feedback are a great way for you to stay close to your buyers and evolve your service according to their preferences. This is also a good opportunity for you to provide a link and ask them – if they haven’t done so already – to post a review on one of the independent review sites to bolster your ratings.
Finally, as we’ve seen already, it pays to stay close to what’s happening with your customer service performance. You should use systems like Volo’s reporting and analytics package to track the performance of your products and your suppliers across the regions and channels where you sell. If you start to see a trend of disproportionately high returns and refunds, for example, among certain products or certain suppliers, then you can address these early and improve the efficiencies in your business and your resulting profitability.
Companies that struggle with customer service are slow to respond, disappoint their customers and see their seller ratings suffer. Successful companies know the importance of customer service on their webstores, understand marketplace seller metrics and have frequent, transparent channel-appropriate communications and generous policies to keep their customers informed and delighted. Volo helps companies get great at customer service through the integration and automation of customer service functions with auditing and tracking.
Home and Garden merchant Mill Outlets uses Volo to manage its customer service and has grown 30-35% annually. Marcus Galliford, Managing Director, Zukeo: “We can run multiple sites on the platform, we get the control from automating our purchase orders, and we can handle customer questions from inside the system. All of these things help eliminate needless manual effort and keep the business moving.”
To talk with us about the customer service lever and how the other levers in the framework and Volo can help you, please send us a note here.