Let’s face it: customer service is expensive. And even though it plays a very important role in the success of your e-commerce business, it takes a lot of time and money to effectively handle customer inquiries.

There’s also a lot at stake. A poor customer service response time or unsatisfactory solution is far likelier to turn customers off your brand for good than other issues, like an item being temporarily out of stock.

Customers expect personal treatment when they contact support. As a result, they are much likelier to take customer support interactions personally, just like they would if buying from a high-street shop.

So, how can you come out on top as an e-commerce retailer while making sure your customers are well taken care of?

Here’s an idea: try preventing customer service inquiries before they even happen.

Customer support agent

Automation reduces customer service contact rates

It may sound counterintuitive. How can preventing customer service inquiries actually result in a better customer service experience, you ask?

It’s all about using the right automated tools and design features on your online shop. This way, you give customers exactly what they need and empower them to answer routine questions on their own.

This article explains how to develop a smart automation strategy on your shop that will:

  • Save you money by lowering your customer service expenses
  • Earn you money by boosting customer satisfaction and conversion
  • Save you even more money by streamlining processes throughout your e-commerce business

Remember, the idea is not to create an unwelcoming environment for your customers. You certainly don’t want to give customers the feeling they are unwelcome or that you don’t want them to contact your service team.

On the contrary, using automation wisely actually creates a better customer experience. It makes your customers feel very well taken care of, so they don’t even feel the need to contact customer support in the first place.

And as an added benefit, your customer service team will have more time to focus on customer queries that require greater attention, so they can provide a better experience to more demanding cases.

Which e-commerce processes should you automate?

There are lots of areas of your e-commerce business that can benefit from automation. To decide which processes you should automate first, keep track of where the most customer service inquiries are coming from.

If you find that your customers are primarily contacting your support team to check the shipping status of their orders, then this means you’re not being proactive enough about communicating the shipping status. Automation can help.

Or if customers are primarily calling or emailing you to request return shipping, you can easily set up a system for handling those requests automatically.

Here are some of the best areas to automate if you’re interested in creating more of a self-service experience for your customers:

  • Product pages
  • Upselling and reordering
  • Inventory management
  • Shipping notifications
  • Return shipping
  • Product reviews

Below, we’ll look at each of these areas in more detail. Plus, we’ll give you some automation recommendations that will keep your customers happier and lower your customer service expenses (and how to track business expenses, too!).

1. Product pages

Self-service through informative product pages

Ok, so, technically this is more about your web design itself than it is about automating a specific task. However, writing very detailed, easy-to-navigate product pages does ‘automatically’ create a self-service customer experience on your online shop.

Good product pages answer all the most common presales queries about your products. When writing descriptions, think from your customers’ perspective. Include information that is likely to be of interest to potential customers, and include lots of images or even videos.

Be sure to answer common questions like ‘is this product compatible with these other products’? This will save your support team from having to answer presales questions that your site can easily answer up front.

2. Upselling and reordering

Automation for upselling and reordering

Use automated features in your shop software to recommend related products. For example, if a customer is viewing a product, automatically display related or compatible products on screen.

One approach is to show products under a heading such as ‘Other customers also bought…’ This confirms to your customer that the products they see are probably also relevant for them. And that confirmation makes them feel empowered, so they are less likely to send an email or make a presale call to your support team.

Similarly, keep in touch with customers who buy consumables that they may wish to reorder. Use automated email notifications from email marketing software like MailChimp to send reminders to them, suggesting that it’s time to place a new order. This is a great automation tool for offering proactive sales support and boosting conversion.

3. Inventory management

Automated inventory management can reduce customer inquiries

Does your support team get flooded with emails and calls whenever a popular product is out of stock? Sounds like you could use some automated inventory management.

Many e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify, include automated inventory management features. There are also many different plugins available, such as Netsuite, Zoho Inventory or Ecomdash, just to name a few of the most popular choices.

Automated inventory management lets you proactively display a message on your product page when a product is (almost) out of stock. You can even display the expected date when products will be back in stock, which automatically answers a very common inventory-related customer service query.

Moreover, it’s never good news when a popular product goes out of stock. Automated “back-in-stock” emails also allow your customers to sign up to receive an automatic notification when the product they want is back in stock.

Automation lets you make the best of things: by communicating transparently and proactively, you build trust, which creates a better customer experience all around.

4. Shipping notifications

Shipping notifications

The shipping process is one of the main sources of customer service queries. Once a customer makes it to the shipping stage, they’ve already given you their money, so now they’re very anxious to keep track of what happens next.

If you’re not communicating effectively, your customer is likely to contact your support team to ask what’s going on with their order. And once things reach that point, you may have already put your customer off the idea of returning to your shop for a future order.

To boost retention and offer a fully satisfactory customer experience, sending automated shipping notifications is a must.

Use an automated shipping tool to send shipping status updates to your customers. A tool like Sendcloud, for example, lets you automatically send branded tracking emails at every stage of the shipping process.

Be sure to also communicate proactively in case of any shipping delays. This way, your customers feel like you are proactively keeping them in the loop.

Also remember to include mobile notifications as part of your automation strategy. A recent large scale survey of UK online shoppers found that a majority now prefers to receive tracking notifications by text message.

5. Return shipping

Return shipping

More than half (54%) of UK online shoppers say they regularly return items bought online. This is a major source of traffic for customer support teams to handle.

At the same time, the return shipping process is actually one of the easiest business processes to automate. Deflect those customer queries by setting up a smooth, user-friendly and fully automated return shipping process online.

One smart way to automate your return shipping process is to offer your customers a simple-to-use return portal, right on your shop.

If you’re using a shipping tool that includes return shipping options, such as Sendcloud, you can simply direct customers to the return shipping portal on your shop. There, they can fully self-service their return shipping needs.

The automated return shipping portal supplies them with a return shipping label and further instructions, so they’re all set to return their merchandise without having to make a single call or send an email to your support team.

In the backend, you will receive an update of the incoming return, the reason for its return, and when it is set to arrive. This will also help save time with processing returns as well!

6. Product reviews

Customer reviews

When making a purchase decision, customers love hearing what other customers think about a product. Showing customer reviews is a great way to build their trust and help them make presales choices without calling your support team for advice.

This is another area where automation can help. Once a customer has ordered and received a product, use an automated marketing mail system like MailChimp to send them an invitation to write a product review.

You might even consider offering customers a small incentive for writing a review. That way, you can turn the review writing process into an opportunity for boosting repeat business.

For example, offer them a discount on a future order in exchange for their review. And be sure to use automation tools in your shop system to send out the discount. That way, the entire process is streamlined and takes place effortlessly, from start to finish.

Automation is the customer-centric solution

You might think that automation sounds a bit cold or impersonal. But nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually about giving your customers exactly the kind of full-service attention they deserve.

Nobody really ‘wants’ to have to call customer support, so if you can save your customers from feeling the need to do so, you’re already offering them a better customer experience. And anything you can do to make your customers’ lives easier or exceed their expectations is already a big plus for your business.

Smart automation turns your e-commerce shop into a well-oiled customer-centric machine. And it grows your business by lowering your customer support costs and encouraging repeat business.

This is a guest post by Stephanie Butcher.

About author:
Stephanie is a Content Marketing Specialist at Sendcloud, an all-in-one shipping platform for e-commerce businesses that want to scale. Sendcloud’s mission is to empower online retailers to compete by optimizing the full shipping journey from checkout to returns. Their solution turns e-commerce logistics from a bottleneck into an accelerator, making shipping a competitive advantage.

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