We recently explained how to create an online store to help online sellers like you get started. However, that leaves one big question: how do you set up your own ecommerce customer service system? That’s all taken care of when you’re selling on eBay or Amazon. How do you handle it on your own?
Here are seven steps toward providing the best customer service possible. We’ll start with the basics for small companies, then move on to more advanced options and long-term strategies.
1. Set Up Your Own Ecommerce Customer Service Email Address
You NEED a support email address. It’s the foundation of any good ecommerce customer support system.
We recommend this as the first stop for your online business for several reasons:
- Setting up a branded customer service email address is easy and inexpensive. It may already be included as a feature of the hosting or software you used to set up your store.
- It’s the easiest way to handle your customers. You don’t need dedicated support hours, and you can take as long as you want creating a good response to every question.
- Nobody ever has to wait on hold.
- Your customers do business with you online and they expect to be able to contact you online.
How Do You Do It?
The easiest option is to post your private email address on your website. However, that’s certainly not the best option, as an address like jim@gmail just doesn’t look very professional. You’ll also get plenty of new spam.
There are lots of different ways to create an @yourwebsite.com email address. This makes your business look more serious and lets you keep your private email private.
A great option for Gmail fans is to start a G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work) account. The basic version costs $5 per month. It includes domain-specific email addresses, as well as several other helpful tools for the fledgling ecommerce business.
You may also want to consider using a contact form to cut down on spam. The Web is full of ways to create contact forms for free, but many require a subscription once you get more than a few messages per month.
There are plenty of other options out there. Check any service you already use with your website—they might offer you email forwarding, domain email addresses, and/or contact forms for no additional cost.
2. Create an FAQ
An FAQ is a great thing to have on your site. Here’s why:
- It’s easy to set up.
- You can do it for free once your website is up and running.
- It saves your customers time by letting them find answers without having to wait for a response from you.
- It saves your business time and money by reducing the volume of support requests you get.
How Do You Do It?
The simplest option is to create a page on your site where you answer your most common questions. If you have a lot of questions to answer and need something more advanced, you can use something like the knowledge base provided with a Zendesk Help Center (recommended) or a UserVoice account.
3. Provide Support over Social Media
Social media is gaining popularity as a support channel. Back in 2012, Nielsen reported that almost 50% of American consumers used social media to contact businesses, and there’s no reason to believe that number will go anywhere but up.
Here’s why you should use social media as an ecommerce customer support channel:
- It’s generally free.
- You can use the social media pages that you’ve already set up to promote your business—no extra work required.
- Nielsen reports that one-third of social media users would rather get support over social media than the phone.
How Do You Do It?
Easy—create business accounts on the different social media channels, then when customers contact you, answer them. This is generally straightforward. However, you may have to jump through a few hoops on some platforms.
For example, anyone can send a private message to a business Twitter account, but you can only send direct messages to standard users if they follow you. That means you can’t start up a private conversation with somebody if they contact you via a Tweet and they aren’t following you yet. Learn more about private messages on Twitter here.
Take the time to learn each platform and soon you’ll make a lot of your customers happier.
It’s worth noting that several types of customer service software, such as Zendesk and Desk.com, can convert social media messages and emails into tickets. This allows you to answer all of your support messages from one place.
4. Offer Live Chat
There is one huge reason to use live chat as an ecommerce customer support channel:
Econsultancy reports that 73% of customers who used live chat were satisfied with the support they received. In comparison, less than half of those who received phone support were satisfied.
If you’re pushing for great ratings or just want to provide exceptional customer service, live chat is the way to go.
How Do You Do It?
Several SaaS companies provide live chat software. One of the most popular options is Pure Chat, which you can start using for free (though you’ll need to pay if you have more than a few chat sessions each month). And if you choose to use Zendesk, Desk.com, or a similar product, you’ll have the option to add live chat to your current plan.
5. Support Your Customers over the Phone
Phone support may have low customer satisfaction ratings in general, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use it—or that you can’t do a good job with it! Here’s why you should offer phone support:
- Hearing a human voice is important to many customers.
- You can often get a better idea of your customers’ opinions about your services and products by talking to them directly.
- Due to the fact that the phone is one of the oldest and most popular customer service channels, people are just used to it. My experience has shown me that some customers, particularly older ones, will expect or even demand phone support.
How Do You Do It?
You could use your personal phone number. However, do that and I guarantee you’ll get floods of scam calls and a bewildering number of rings from people who have the wrong number. (I speak, tragically, from experience.)
You should handle phone support professionally from the very beginning. Set specific support hours that your business can reasonably handle. Get a dedicated support number that you can use online fearlessly.
There are some great places to buy business phone numbers online, such as Grasshopper.com and 800.com. This Shopify article also lists other options worth investigating. You can also get support phone numbers from Zendesk and integrate them right into your existing support system.
6. Create an Online Community
Here’s why it’s a good idea to set up an online community, such as a forum, on your site:
- It allows customers to answer each other’s questions, cutting down on the amount of support you need to provide.
- It’s low-maintenance—you just need moderators to catch spammers and the occasional rude post.
- If you’re willing to invest more time and money into your forum by answering the questions your customers post there, it can serve as an extension of your FAQ, leaving permanent answers online where everyone can see them.
- Forums often get lots of traffic from the search engines.
How Do You Do It?
If you built a WordPress site, there are numerous ways to add a forum, many of them free. Sometimes webhosts provide forum add-ons. And if none of your other services provide forum functionality, you can use dedicated programs like vBulletin.
However, it’s best to create a community specifically designed to work as a customer self-help center. I’m probably sounding a little like a broken record here, but such self-help options come included with Zendesk, Desk.com, and some of their competitors.
7. Integrate Your Ecommerce Customer Service
There’s only one downside to offering customer service through so many different channels: it becomes difficult to manage. If you used a different provider for each one of these channels, you could be answering emails with Gmail, replying to messages on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ in separate windows, managing chat through its own client, dealing with phone calls through the company that provides your phone support system, and managing your forums through their own software.
And that’s before going into the fact that you’d be paying five or six different monthly payments, and contacting a different company for support every time something went wrong!
You might have noticed that Zendesk and Desk.com integrate just about every imaginable channel. Both allow you to handle everything from one place, meaning you don’t have to switch between windows all the time. You only have to contact one company for support, and you only have to pay one company each month.
This is called multichannel integration. And once you achieve it, you can provide support that blows away your competitors without bogging down your business.
As such, we highly recommend using Zendesk, Desk.com, or a comparable competitor from the very beginning. They offer free trials and low-priced starter options. Trust us: it’s way better to start with all of your ecommerce customer service channels in one place than to open a gazillion accounts and try to integrate them later!
Psst . . . do you sell on eBay or Amazon? Pretty much the only thing that Zendesk and Desk.com need help with is integrating with those marketplaces. That’s where ChannelReply comes in.