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Customer Care: Amazon vs. online stores

Seas of questions. Requests. Refunds. It sure can be overwhelming to deal with ecommerce customers nowadays. But doing it right is a quest of the highest importance for online retailers. What are the key components of delivering an excellent customer care experience and therefore maintaining a successful business? How does it differ between Amazon sellers and businesses with their own online stores? Is one easier than the other – and if so, how? What channels prove to be the most efficient? What are the metrics to focus on in order to increase your company’s performance? Or should you outsource? These are some of the hottest questions to date, and we looked to experts as well as data to give you clarity.

Components of a successful customer care experience

Fully-functioning customer service is:

  • Efficient. It meets customer needs swiftly, with the optimal response time being within hours, or at least within the first 24 hours.
  • Easily accessible (channels and software) – both for customers to contact you and your “customer happiness” employees to deal with.
  • Steady and sustainable, especially in times of increased demand (November to January) or growth.

That all sounds nice and makes a lot of sense, right? Now, what does it mean in terms of building a customer care process? What systems or metrics do you need to implement?

 

How to be efficient

The response time to customers’ requests is one of the most important factors in ecommerce.

Speed matters. The faster you solve people’s problems, the better. Nailing your customer relations makes for loyal buyers, always! For starters, you can strive to match these companies:

Some say you should ideally answer within the first 2-3 hours, while Forrester Research found that 41 percent of consumers expect an email response within 6 hours. It turns out, however, that the actual number you should strive for depends on your company’s size, what industry you’re in, and what you are currently capable of – meaning that it is still better to respond within the first 24 hours, but answer each and every inquiry your customers have. Or set up an automated email reassuring your customers that their request is waiting in line and will be answered within a number of hours (or days, in more complex cases).

 

How to be easily accessible

In terms of channels, customers usually use five ways to ask their questions or express their frustrations (or, well, leave a happy and satisfied recommendation!). It can be either via 1) email, 2) phone call, 3) website form or live chats, 4) social media or 5) personally in your store. Written online communication is preferred by ecommerce companies, as both phone and personal interaction demand you to have highly trained specialists and take up more time. Live chat stands between the two categories, as your agents should be online during business hours, and for best results, 24/7.

Within the company, you want to make sure your customer care process is managed well, giving every customer care specialist the tools, responsibilities, and clarity on how to work according to your company’s best standards. If you have a business running, you or your people should know the answers to these questions:

  • What do you do when you get a customer service inquiry?
  • Who answers it?
  • How do you decide who answers it?
  • What kinds of things take precedence over others, and how do we determine that?

Your company’s customer service should have a clearly established process where nothing goes unanswered.

“Managing a customer care department isn’t about keeping up with your agents, but the managing systems they work in,” Adam Černy of 8commerce tells us. Having built himself up from being a B2B customer care agent to supervisor in a leading global company in telecommunications to now a customer service process specialist, he knows what he’s talking about. Building customer care strategies, hiring and training agents, ensuring systematic monitoring, and managing medium to large e-commerce companies have all led to him putting more emphasis on systems.

 

How to be sustainable

Small businesses are often a one-person-show. When you’re starting, it is possible that you will take care of customers’ demands organically as they come in. But with increasing sales, there is more and more to solve and a team of people comes in handy. At this point, founders should pass customer service on to another team member, making it part of their duties. “Eventually, as you grow, you’d want one full-time customer service specialist, ideally someone bilingual or even trilingual – remember, there are such people in Europe, often combining English with native knowledge of Hungarian and Romanian or Czech and Polish at the same time,” Černy points out.

At this point, you want to draft customer service standards including details such as:

  • what ticketing categories there are and how they are tackled. Ticketing helps requests stay organized with appropriate statuses such as reply needed, awaiting comment from the user, solved, etc.
  • templates, aka pre-packaged answers to your most frequently asked questions, comments, and concerns. Templates ensure not only quick responses, but also consistency across the whole team.
  • various metrics to keep track of your goals including number of tickets answered, number of tickets unanswered, response time, duplication handling, and accuracy of answers
  • actions and processes taking place when demand increases, especially in high-season – like hiring extra help, prioritizing certain tickets, or informing customers about any delays via automated messages.
  • the tone or style of your communication (and its variations on different channels if they do differ), grammar, spelling, etc.

 

Customer care pros/cons while having your own online store

+ You are in full control of your own customer care strategy, from ticket categories to channels, to your own unique style of communication.

+ Your show; your rules! This situation gives you the opportunity to ensure first contact resolution. In other words, the customer’s request is resolved during the very first interaction they have with your team. Which, applause applause, makes very happy customers!

+ Personalized relationship-building with customers. The unique experiences customers have when interacting with your company helps to build relationships and create loyal buyers and ambassadors.

– Needing to integrate requests from all channels. What can be tricky at the beginning is implementing the system and flow of customer care overall. This is especially true if some inquiries come from online or through e-mails, others through live chat, as well as having customers asking questions or complaining on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You might want to integrate them all in one tool to avoid duplication and overall mess, or leave social media out and have a designated person take care of these separately. Either way, optimize til everything works smoothly.

– Building and running customer care is time-consuming and costly. You can always make it more efficient, for example with hiring a bilingual person rather than having to train, pay and monitor two individuals.

 

Customer care pros/cons when selling through Amazon

+ Efficiency is guaranteed without massive effort on your part. That’s just how Amazon works. You don’t have to worry about social media, live chats or chatbots, as Amazon’s funnel directs most requests to be written and are therefore easier to tackle from one place, with one software.

+ You don’t have to manage your own customer service at all when you take part in FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon). A considerable number of sellers choose this service for various reasons, the most common being increased efficiency, not having to worry about logistics and customer care anymore, or the fact that your products’ performance on Amazon is better when you are part of FBA.

– Amazon is super strict when it comes to you providing for your customers. Responses have to be ideally within 24 hours and your customers must be content (giving good ratings, not placing AZ claims etc). This marketplace is quite infamous for closing accounts (temporarily or for good) when customer care standards aren’t met.

– Customer care has to be provided in the native language of a marketplace where you are selling, so you’d either need a Spanish speaker for Amazon Spain, a German speaker for Amazon Germany etc., or you would have to outsource customer care to an agency specializing in Amazon customer services.

– You also have less control over the originality of your customer care. There’s little room for your own tone, style, or humor. The only way you can surprise your customers is to answer their requests within a couple of hours. Building a customer-company relationship is therefore harder.

Case study: Customer Care on Amazon

The most common requests, according to EXPANDO, are defective items, shipping queries (where is my package?!) and invoice requests. According to the company’s experience with providing customer care to Amazon sellers, 99% of customer requests are written requests. Three to four customer care specialists take care of 2000-2500 requests monthly with the high season (pre-Christmas, Christmas and January) bringing an additional 1300 more requests, mainly invoice requests and shipping queries. “Every month is unique, really. Before Christmas, we definitely witness more shipping queries due to delays in shipping, more product queries and an increase in orders starting in November, but there are new and interesting phenomena that arise almost every season,” customer care specialist Barbora Chladkova of EXPANDO said of her experience.

A few more words:

We outlined what a successful customer care process consists of, using best practices, expert opinions, and raw data. Whether you are selling on Amazon (or other marketplaces) or you have your own store, customer care pros and cons were probably not the deciding factor for which channel to use at the beginning. In fact, most businesses do not consider customer care standards until they are already up and running. However, knowing the differences equips ecommerce sellers to use their specific situation to its maximum potential.

For those of you who may be still caught up in the debate, that’s okay! Maybe you’ve noticed that although you spend a lot of time and money on customer care (and perhaps we’ve given you a couple of ideas how to cut some costs), it is also important for you to handle this service according to your own standards, which you won’t be able to do on Amazon to the extent that you would be able to in your own store. Or perhaps it’s been helpful to see how another company standardizes its Amazon inquiries. Either way, before making any major changes, talk to your employees and see where you can tweak and twist your customer service so that it can be one step (or a couple of steps) better!

So if you’re still caught somewhere in between, know we’re here to help! Drop us a comment and get the conversation going!


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