Last month, we were guests at Gorgias’ “All You Need Is Love: Improving the Ecommerce Customer Experience” virtual summit. Our talk was about one of the hottest topics in the ecommerce space: branding—specifically the holistic kind of branding that touches everything a merchant does—even customer service.
What do pizza and haircare have in common?
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the best customer service you’ve ever received. For us, it came down to two: one was from regional pizza chain &pizza, and it came after ordering from their app. Immediately after submitting payment, the brand sent an SMS message with a message indicating that the pizza was in the works. Along with the message, &pizza also included a link to a Spotify playlist to set the mood. About half an hour later—timed perfectly with the creation of the pizza and subsequent eating time—&pizza sent a follow-up message with an encouraging quote and a link to a survey. (Good timing, as most customers would be happily full of pizza by the time the survey comes around.)
The other stand-out customer service interaction that we remembered was with Briogeo, a natural haircare brand. Though the products arrived without an issue, a problem with the dispensing mechanism developed after a few uses. When problems like this arise, it’s often difficult to forget to contact customer service—which is exactly what happened. However, about two weeks later, Briogeo sent an email asking for feedback. Boom. The lines of communication were instantly opened.
Why is it important to be good? (Besides someone talking about your brand in a blog post.)
Study after study shows that customers are more likely to remember and share a bad customer service experience — in fact, they’ll tell twice as many of their friends and family about it. However, good experiences aren’t easily forgotten, and if they’re worth sharing—like the ones we just mentioned—they will be shared.
“Customer service practices should serve as an extension of brand voice in order to establish value and bring on returning customers.”
Will it take a lot of extra work? We don’t think so. Between having good tech that will make customer service efforts seamless for your ecommerce brand, and finding various ways to apply your brand story and voice to customer service, you’ll be able to create memorable experiences in no time.
When all else fails, just remember this: customer service practices should serve as an extension of brand voice in order to establish value and bring on returning customers.
Your customers are investing their hard-earned cash in your product. Does your approach to customer service thank them for this? Time is money: are you telling them that their time is valuable to you? Now the question is, how?
Stay authentic to the story you’re telling.
Believe it or not, your customers know your brand better than you think they do: and they’re craving authenticity.
We started with some good examples of customer service, but what kind of article would this be without some bad examples? Now, who could forget the fairly recent string of United Airlines missteps? In a world where “you get what you pay for,” subpar customer service would almost be expected from a budget airline like Spirit or Frontier, but United Airlines is the third largest airline in the world, with almost 90 thousand employees.
United’s longtime slogan has been, “fly the friendly skies,” but a disconnect between this branding and employee training — or a lack thereof — has resulted in one man getting violently dragged off an overbooked flight, a suffocated puppy, and two teens being kicked off a flight because they were wearing leggings. Though these scandals are still far from what the majority of United customers will experience, most have experienced long, difficult waits to get in touch with a customer service rep. Though it’s safe to say that the thousands of travelers on United flights won’t be pulled from their seats to make room for a crew member on an overbooked flight, they still may experience smaller disappointments throughout their journey that make the skies feel far from friendly.
On the other hand, the Ritz-Carlton brand is famous for going above and beyond for its customers. There are countless stories outlined on travel forums and even some books that spread the word about the Ritz’s commitment to excellence. With those prices, you’d figure: but still, Ritz hotels stay true to their brand story in that the hotel empowers every employee to work to the best of their abilities to create a positive guest experience.
Any Ritz employee is independently authorized to spend up to $2,000 per day to improve guest experience. One particular story that went viral involves a business traveler who had left his laptop charger in his hotel room after he’d checked out. He planned on calling the hotel when he got back to his office the following morning, but he didn’t have to: there was a next-day air package from the hotel waiting for him. It contained his charger, along with an extra one.
To know your audience and holistically tailor verbiage to them that feels natural and matches your brand voice is one way to make them feel special without having to spend $2,000 a day on them. To do this, you need to step back and take a look at your brand. What promises do you make, explicitly or otherwise? And are your customer service efforts consistent with those promises, or is the lack of connectivity undermining the time and budget you spend crafting your brand?
Consider Your Social Media Strategy
Is your customer service department siloed away from marketing, branding, and even social media? If so, try taking a more collaborative approach. You wouldn’t send out emails without carefully copy-editing, why not apply the same care to customer service touchpoints?
Collaboration between the social media team and the customer service team are important: in fact, any piece of copy that will land in front of the customer, whether it’s a canned response, a social media interaction, or a more personalized message in response to an issue, should adhere to brand guidelines and fit the unique channel on which the interaction is taking place.
For example: If a customer Tweets a complaint, keep it short, sweet, conversational, and direct them to a form or a customer service agent who can fix their problem, rather than referring them to an email address or phone number where they would have to restate their problem.
If you have a young, Gen-Z focused brand, your email communications shouldn’t sound like they were written by a Baby Boomer. On the other hand, maybe abstain from using emojis in an email if your brand is filling the needs of an older crowd.
The key here is to be as approachable as possible. This will let the customer know that their time is valuable, especially if you make it as simple as possible for them to share their issue with you and don’t make them just through hoops in order to get a response.
After all, more often than not, customers will take the path of least resistance, which is why this next point is crucial.
Be proactive with customer service efforts.
Remember our two positive examples from the beginning of this article? Those are some great examples of proactive customer service. A sale isn’t the end, but the beginning of a relationship — and like in all relationships, communication is key. And, as most people in relationships know, communication is a two-way street, and being proactive is more effective than being reactive, and, often, defensive.
Studies have shown that for every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent.
Let’s take a look at the juxtaposition created by two ways to catch up on the latest in entertainment: there’s the old school way — Comcast, and then there’s the newer method found in the popular streaming service Netflix. Both found a need to up their prices: however, only one was proactive in notifying customers about the increases. (Can you guess which one?)
The notification for the hike in prices for Comcast came in the form of a bill: unannounced. Some customers saw their costs go up by $31 a month due to a special bundle discount no longer being available. In this situation, customers were faced with a decision. Should they wait on hold with Comcast customer service to dispute and re-negotiate (which by the way, is an average of 40 minutes), or to eat the cost and continue paying it, because their time is more valuable? Then, of course, there is a third option: to cut the cord altogether.
On the flip side, Netflix sent out a mass email to its entire customer base to give them a heads up about a $1 per month price increase. The email not only notified users that a price increase was coming soon, it also explained why it was necessary: the additional funds would be used to provide customers with more, higher-quality choices. There’s an obvious difference between a $31 price hike and a $1 price hike, sure, but the proactive method showed more respect for their customers’ time.
Why is this important?
Studies have shown that for every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent. A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9–15 people about their experience. It costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one, and repeat customers spend twice as much as first-timers.
Improving any one of these metrics will increase your customers’ trust in your brand as well as your bottom line.
We’re going to say it again: customers will always choose the path of least resistance — but you can make it more likely that they’ll reach out for help if you make it as easy as possible. Some ways of doing this include:
- Proactively notifying customers of price increases or changes to their service.
- Addressing “the marketing email black hole.” Many customers may be responding to marketing emails with genuine customer service requests — this could be because they have no idea how to reach actual customer service agents, or because they don’t know better. (Even if it’s made clear that the emails are sent from an unmonitored account, some may miss that detail.) Try instead funneling marketing email responses to your customer service help desk.
- Keep in mind that if it’s easier for a customer to write and send an angry Tweet than for them to actually get in touch with customer service, you have a response problem and it may be too difficult to get in touch with your customer service.
Above all else, a clear customer journey post-purchase is critical. Small steps you can take to make sure they customers can get a hold of you in the inevitable event of customer service needs, put your preferred methods of customer service front and center, whether it’s in a package insert, in the form of an email containing a link to a survey sent after an item’s arrival, or having customer service channels prominently displayed on your website itself, don’t make it difficult for your customers to reach out when they need help.
We’ve said a lot of negative things (hopefully no one from Comcast or United is reading) — but how about the positive? We’ve already discussed how missteps can undo years of brand building and budget — but what about the opposite? What about when your customer service dovetails so nicely with your marketing efforts that your customers can’t help but sing your praises and do the marketing for you?
Then, congrats! You’ve created advocates, the crowning achievement of holistic branding efforts.
Some would say that the way to accomplish this is to focus on holistic customer experience than tactical customer experience — or, rather, paying more attention to the overall journey than to specific touchpoints. The first step to determining this journey is to look at it through the customer’s point of view by going through it yourself as objectively as possible.
How do you do it? First ask yourself these questions:
- Do customer service agents know how to navigate the website, and are they aware of the journey that most customers take through specific pages?
- Is the person in charge of drafting customer service responses doing so in a bubble?
- Is an emphasis on specific touchpoints and siloed customer service channels distracting from the overall customer journey?
If you can’t answer those questions, it’s okay: a lot of merchants can’t. Here are some ways to figure them out:
- Empower new hires to share their fresh perspective on your customer journey. Make this part of the onboarding process: go through the moves of browsing and purchasing, then practice — from the customer’s point of view — reaching out in the event that something is wrong with their order.
Make it a safe space for them to share constructive criticism.
- Include the marketing department on conversations about customer service and customer experience, that way, they can leverage those efforts into their marketing plan and branding guidelines.
- In the same way, allow the customer service department to share pain points with those in charge of marketing and branding.
- Involve your customer service team as stakeholders during periods of change. Making updates to the website? Or doing a full redesign? Make sure the customer service experience is being considered alongside the customer funnel.
- Doing new product testing? Your customer service team is a great place to get feedback — as long as, once again, they’re given a safe space and feel empowered to share their thoughts without the fear of retaliation.
Seems like a lot? We get it. It can be. If you’re feeling bogged down by all of this information, just remember to stay authentic to your brand and the story you’re telling above all else and the rest of the details will begin falling into place.
Best of luck!