In a brick-and-mortar store, customers can be served with a smile and a helping hand.
However, in the online world, there are many other factors to consider, such as dealing with postage and delivery issues and handling online queries. Luke Telford talks with two people from online stores about the challenges they face and how they use their service strategies to ensure their customers are taken care of online, all the time.
Monsterthreads: tailoring your style
“Effective communication is essential in business, and the internet is essential for connecting with the public, especially gen X and Y,” says Mark Mamrot, CEO and owner of online t-shirt retailer Monsterthreads.
“Online and face-to-face customers have strong service expectations, and your ability to meet those expectations shapes their perception of you. In a physical shop, customers can judge the quality of your business by many elements but online, the interaction is often limited to a relatively static website. Your responsiveness, therefore, is crucial to the customer’s experience.
“When dealing with customers online, responsiveness is definitely an important factor. However, manner is also crucial. It will vary from business to business – for a company such as ours, customers need to be treated with a personal touch. We treat our customers as we would treat our friends, and often go beyond our obligations to keep them satisfied and maintain the personality of the Monsterthreads brand.
“Of course, we do accommodate customer feedback. We have a ‘comments and feedback’ field integrated into our order process, and we use mailing list software with a return address. We also perform periodic satisfaction surveys. Most importantly, we act on what we learn from those surveys.
“Every bit of feedback receives a reply, whether it’s a thank-you, an apology, or an explanation. When you deal with thousands of customers, you will encounter a diverse range of people, including some with unreasonable expectations. It’s important to understand that not everyone can be utterly satisfied with your product, especially with a product as personal as garments. However, just about everyone can be satisfied with your customer service effort.’
Mag Nation: grasping the leap of faith
“The willingness of customers to shop online means we’re not just competing with the newsagent up the block; we’re also competing with newsagents in Perth, as well as Amazon and other online magazine stores,” explains Oliver Palmer, online operator of MagNation.com.au.
“Customer service is paramount when other retailers are willing to deliver the same product at a similar price. Word of mouth is exponentially quicker than it was even five years ago. Tony Hsieh from the online clothing store Zappos said that they’re not in the retail business so much as the customer service business, and we agree with this wholeheartedly.
“It’s hard to put a figure on how much time we spend interacting with customers but we keep a keen eye on Facebook and Twitter and make a point of responding to comments and tweets. Our customers have come to view our social media presence as a resource where they find out about new magazines or when titles are coming into our stores, and that’s not only useful for them but it’s also a great way for us to keep in touch with demand and shifting trends.
“We don’t have any complicated CRM systems to handle feedback; everything we use is off-the-shelf. Email, Twitter, Facebook, and our blog runs on WordPress. We have a contact form on our website and get a lot of feedback via Facebook and tweets.
“Some essential elements for good customer service involve open communication and delivering what you promise. If something goes wrong, be honest and do whatever it takes to fix it.
“An anonymous commenter recently spammed seven of our most recent blog posts, accusing us of a litany of crimes. We decided to publish the comment in its entirety on a dedicated post and to debunk each of their accusations one by one. In this case, many of our customers sprang to our defense.
It took us a while to realize something that’s seemingly obvious – our customers online are taking a leap of faith by purchasing from us, or indeed any online store. They’re giving us their money upfront for a product that will be delivered over the course of an entire year and as a result, they often need a bit more care than in-store customers.
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