The Path to Autonomous Customers: Trends and Tasks of the Customer Service
What determines a good web shop? Of course, high sales figures. What determines a really successful web store? High resale numbers from frequently returning buyers. However, this requires you to do some groundwork to get the (potential) customers to order something, let alone order repeatedly.
The reasons for canceled purchase processes are varied, but can definitely be removed when the customer's wishes are truly being listened to. This is the one side of the coin. The other side is labeled customer loyalty and doesn't require any less empathy and effort.
Factors of Success
Knowledge of the factors that may not guarantee the desired success, but still make it more likely, is the basis for the optimization of an online shop. Those that expose themselves to this topic – like the E-Commerce Center Cologne in its study "E-Commerce Success Factors. Germany's Top-Online-Shops Vol. 4" (PDF in German) –, will quickly realize that the customer expectations are rather high.
In order to end up with a satisfied customer at the end of the purchase process, an extensive product range is not the only guarantee of success, and a perfectly designed landing page doesn't do the job on its own either. Both are partial aspects that need the support of other factors. Only the coherent and smooth interaction of all individual components allows the shop to work as a whole. Pieces of the puzzle that is supposed to turn into customer satisfaction are the following:
- the design of the website
- the product range
- the cost-benefit ratio
- the shipping and delivery
- payment and checkout
- the usability
- the service
In fact, the availability of different payment methods is one of the most common reasons for premature cancellation of a virtual shopping spree. Even if this is not the case, it leads to paradoxical phenomena: people pay via prepayment even though they would have preferred different types of payment (which usually is the payment via bill after receiving the product). This can be roughly summarized under the term of comfort, which is a major reason to shop on digital channels in the first place.
Trust is another factor of success, simply because it plays a major part in many of the named aspects. Reliability is expected when it comes to payment, costs, and delivery, as well as in everything that's related to the page navigation. Customers that buy online want to be able to rely on receiving correct information for the searched products, or to even find them in the first place.
However, all of these are known factors that are pretty much defined as standard. I don't think anyone would dispute the significance of a good, professionally designed first impression, or the fact that said impression is not enough on its own. What's the point of a convincing first impression if it's not solidified in the following experience? Still, the question on how the path from customer satisfaction to customer loyalty can be taken remains.
The Autonomous Customer
One of the results of ECC Cologne's studies is the realization that the consumer always needs to have the right to freely decide how to access information, and where he ends up buying. In return, this means that the online shop should be prepared for a variety of different customer wishes, offering the largest possible range of options. This does not only include the previously addressed areas like shipping options, or the composition of theme worlds with according outfit suggestions.
Primarily, this is about customer service - and not only in the sense of an easy, comfortable shopping experience but also in the sense of supervision that goes beyond that. Even here, there are features that are bon ton, especially in larger shops. Using the product information to provide the customers with content is both a reason to stick around longer on the first visit and, even more importantly, a reason to return for another go in the first place.
Aside from content, customer support, in general, is always an important topic. Under certain circumstances, this is a broad field, as working on it begins with the optimization of shop pages for mobile users, but includes the entirety of support options that can, and should be provided to customers.
The Customer is On His Own - and Socially Networked
Surveys of Detecon International in cooperation with the Munich Business School have found out that bad customer service definitely is a reason for the cancellation of a business relationship. Hence, support should not be separated from customer satisfaction, and the service is of very high importance for the same reason.
Moreover, in a market environment where everyone deals with the optimization of their online presence for the purpose of mere advertisement, a really good service is even more important, since it works as a differentiating factor to competitors. This is often referred to as the company's business card, and the proper realization is as challenging as the principle is clear.
The field between the satisfaction of the customer and the competitiveness is only one of the challenges that businesses have to expose themselves to. There are additional developments to keep in mind:
Self Services Promote Automation
However, there's another trend before automation that almost can't be called a trend anymore, because it turned into the norm: customers act more autonomously, a result of the continuous digitalization. The increasing level of networking and mobile communication also increases the urge to be able to freely decide when service offers will be taken. Here, the factor of time plays a role, but the "how" is just as important.
Customer Service Goes Social Media
Social media is pretty much indispensable as a channel of communication in our everyday life. Most likely, there is no other medium that can reflect the daily life as extensively and as detailed as social media. In consequence, this means that customer service also won't be able to avoid this channel. After all, this is a vivid opportunity to take care of client contact.
The Evolution of Customer Service
What do the current types of client contact look like? The previously addressed self-services are the starting point for an automatic supply of information that basically picks up the client before the actual approach. They are advantageous for both sides, as the business saves costs because no staff needs to be put on to answer questions, and the customers save frustration, as nobody is available for these answers.
For these reasons, FAQ is a cross-branch classic, as many questions are replied to in advance, without the customer being reliant on support. However, the options of this support are limited, as "frequently asked questions" does not equal "all questions," and to guarantee customer satisfaction, the provision of extensive help offers as an addition to the FAQ is almost compulsory. By the way, this also applies to the general design and availability.
This means, the support for clients has to be easy to find, and even if that is guaranteed, there can be disrupting factors regarding the clarity (general extent, used fonts, basic structure). Not to mention the validity and actuality of the provided information. Thus, it is even more important to assume the client's perspective here. However, this is the only really relevant instruction regarding service offers as it is.
On this level - even if it is expanded by audiovisual elements like videos, podcasts, or language portals, and shaped even more interactively -, the communication remains a one-to-one, meaning that it limits itself to the exchange between one business and its customers. This is still legitimate, but in the future, this focus will shift towards a many-to-many communication.
This has the advantage that the exchange of information in social media is conducted this way already. Especially for the contact with younger target audiences, this has a lot of potential. An interactive service platform is not only able to reach a lot more people overall, but it is also able to use that knowledge to collect information. The task of the company is to make the provided platforms well-known while feeding them with information, and available service applications (podcasts were mentioned above, another option would be special wikis etc.), and, above all else, to keep them up to date.
Targets and Target Groups
As fertile these measures for client satisfaction may be, keeping this condition up, in the long run, requires you to constantly question its effectiveness and adequacy. Primarily, this means being even more exact with client wishes and realizing them in respective services even more precisely. That's the only way to generate long-term economic success - saving costs via targeted customer service, more turnover due to improved rebuy rate - from your customer satisfaction efforts.