How Technology Enables E-commerce Brands to Embrace Traditional Customer Service Values

Often, when we think of “personalized customer service,” we picture the old high-end department store model. You walk into the lobby, and a friendly, approachable sales clerk is right there to answer questions, make recommendations and point you in the right direction. This model might seem antiquated today, in our era of online shopping. But actually, with e-commerce, the experience can be quite similar.

Swap out “store” for “online store,” and “sales clerk” for “customer service agent” or “bot,” and you still have a friendly, approachable avenue for help that’s available the minute you “walk in the door.” In fact, pretty much every retail brand offers multiple ways of getting remote help, from good old fashioned phone service to email to inline web chat. In a way, customer service has become even more high-end and personable in the digital era.

The problem is, e-commerce customer service options, meant to make the customer feel taken care of with personal attention and convenience, can end up causing confusion for everyone. For customer service organizations, issue routing and effective resolution become challenging when there are more customer service channels in the mix and as things scale.

The problem with e-commerce customer service: it’s disconnected

E-commerce, now a fact of mainstream life for most people, is still experiencing steady growth. From 2018 to 2019, Q2 e-commerce sales increased by 13.3 percent and accounted for over 10 percent of total U.S. retail sales. Today, nearly every big retail brand offers e-commerce. In 2018, Walmart, the biggest conventional retail chain in the U.S., also became the third biggest e-commerce retailer, capturing a whopping $20.91 billion in retail sales. And there are plenty of mainstream brands that were “born digital,” including the first two on that list: Amazon and eBay.

But as online shopping grows, e-commerce customer service continues to vex retail companies. The problem is twofold:

  1. A lot of retail organizations started with one customer service channel, and as they added more, the channels stayed siloed. From an operational standpoint, they’re simply not easy to connect behind the scenes.
  2. They never brought in a comprehensive customer service technology to link together all these siloed channels.

When customer service channels don’t communicate with each other, it makes life harder for both the customer and the customer service organization. If a customer can’t get an issue resolved right away, they often need to start again with a different agent or channel. Repeating personal information they’ve already divulged is incredibly frustrating for customers, as is explaining their problem all over again.

And for the customer service organization, disconnected channels make workflows difficult for human agents, who don’t have insight into conversations the customer may have had prior. The use of bots, meant to make organizations more efficient and scalable, becomes another obstacle when the information customers give them don’t translate seamlessly to a follow-up conversation with a human agent.

Without a unified customer service platform, the customer service organization can never operate at peak performance, and the customer’s experience is disjointed and fraught with frustration. A bunch of disconnected or ineffective customer service channels can never replace the comfort of asking a human being for help in person. However, connected customer service channels certainly can.

How connected e-commerce customer service raises the bar

Within e-commerce customer service, a customer should be able to start a conversation with a bot on a website or within an app, transition to a typed or verbal conversation with a real live human agent, pause the conversation and come back to it when convenient, and never lose momentum on resolving the issue.

For this to be possible, agents and bots must be privy to the same conversational thread and have insight into the customer’s history and current issue via an easy to use dashboard. By connecting all of the disparate customer service channels in this way, e-commerce organizations can raise the bar for service back up to the old model of the friendly in-person sales clerk… and far beyond that expectation.

At the heart of e-commerce customer service: good old fashioned values

E-commerce customer service strategy is an entirely different animal than the old model of the friendly clerk in a department store. But when done well, it retains the very most important qualities:

  • It’s right there when you need it
  • It’s friendly and engaging
  • It helps customers find what they’re looking for quickly
  • It’s personal

Of course, a modern e-commerce customer service strategy adds a lot more value than the smartly dressed and expertly courteous sales clerk ever could. There are opportunities to automate easy tasks, give customers self-serve options, scale your organization infinitely and gather data back to inform your future planning. But without the basics of friendly, personal customer service, these additions are all for naught.

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