How Smaller Ecommerce Brands Handle Customer Service & What You Can Learn

How Smaller Ecommerce Brands Handle Customer Service & What You Can Learn

Today I am excited to share with you a guest post from Patrick Foster.

Smaller ecommerce brands can’t compete on price, so they often compete on experience instead. Niche stores rely on visual social media, irreverent product copy, intriguing packaging, and exceptional customer experiences to improve brand engagement and client retention rates.  People-powered ecommerce businesses are changing the game — and for all the right reasons. Here are some top customer service tips that smaller retailers are exploiting to their benefit. Learn from them to improve your client retention rates.

Talking to a ‘real’ person & conversational commerce

You know that feeling when you can’t get hold of anyone who seems to make sense (or know anything useful)? It’s imperative that brands maintain a humanized attitude to customer service. Outsourcing can erode a brand’s ability to deal with customers in a supportive and professional manner — anyone thinking of scaling needs to manage this carefully.

Even when it comes to sales — customers are looking for conversations, and the rise of intelligent chatbots for conversational commerce means that businesses can deliver better automated interactions during the sales pipeline (if managed carefully). However, don’t let advancements in automation lead to your whole business running on autopilot.

  1. Technology is great, but brands need to avoid being too ‘gimmicky’ — replacing real customer interactions with bland tech usually doesn’t add to the customer or client experience. Automated messages, never-ending support updates, recorded phone messages — they just make customers feel like they are trapped in a bad parody play! Don’t scale up with technology too fast (or too far).
  2. Social media is a great way to provide customer service immediacy — and smaller brands are often managing all support and customer service enquiries through their main social channels. This makes it important to have real, human interactions with customers — a real name, a jokey aside, a personalized message — all go a long way.
  3. Can’t afford to offer 24/7 support? Make use of live chat services to help maximize online customer service interactions. Need something that works while you sleep? You should start building out your online resource libraries and FAQ pages — these are great for both customers, SEO, and content marketing! Videos are a really simple way of bringing a human connection to digital interactions.
  4. Live chat can also be a great way for digital businesses to gather customer insights, and it’s something that even small ecommerce businesses can implement. The rising tide of conversational commerce has changed customer expectations; people are now looking for much more immediate informational and commercial exchanges.

Addressing what customers DON’T say

Smaller brands run smaller operations, and often have more time to spend per customer (though there are exceptions to this rule). Bigger retailers are more likely to outsource and automate customer communications — which can be costly for customer experience.

The problem with outsourcing customer services and client communication is that things are easily lost in translation. And we all know that you need to be paying attention to subtle customer communication nuances. The most important thing about a customer communication, whether that’s an email, or a phone call, is what is NOT being said.

  1. Don’t merely address the technicalities of a customer issue and expect that to be it — you need to also address the emotions that the issue has brought up. Even if the customer is technically ‘in the wrong’ and they have misinterpreted a product feature or a delivery timeline, you can’t just point out their error. You need to address how the customer is feeling, and try to pre-empt what they may want next. (And change any wording that’s misleading or not clear to eradicate future issues).
  2. Go beyond just a bland ‘sorry you feel that way’ and try to show empathy (check out these empathy statements). This shows customers you are actually listening, and that you care.
  3. Turning a difficult customer relationship around can even turn into endorsements, testimonials, and reviews. Going on a journey can make people feel more committed to their relationship with you — so don’t be afraid to approach customers who may have once found fault with you (if you’ve now resolved the issue). Evidence of a brand going above and beyond to please customers, even when things get tricky, builds trust.

Implementing feedback immediately

Smaller brands have a more flexible and agile attitude to customer feedback, being able to implement improvements immediately. This is a great way to be — close to the ground and reactive. Try to keep create the same culture when it comes to managing your clients and customers — feedback is a dynamic loop that creates change.

What enables fast implementation? A lot of it comes down to a willingness to listen, and a flexible web environment. Many small ecommerce brands start off by creating an online store with a SaaS provider, allowing for easy control and content management on the go (WordPress is a start-up favourite). But even if you can quickly tweak your store value proposition and framework, you shouldn’t just make superficial changes. Delve deep into the root cause of any dissatisfaction.

Perfecting packaging

Packaging is often neglected by bigger brands thanks to logistical demands, but creating a unique and incredible unboxing experience with packaging can have a big impact on repeat custom. Great packaging shows customers that you care about the experience they have with you, and makes products feel special and unique.

  1. In the era of social media sharing and advertising, creating an unpackaging experience can help create word-of-mouth recommendations.
  2. Great packaging can help take your brand to premium status — quality boxes and packaging can be recycled and treasured. Lifestyle brands especially benefit from premium packaging — try to tell a story with your packaging and make a point about your company values and ethos.
  3. Personalization is a big customer touchpoint: always give people the option to personalize packaging if you can. Even selecting the color of a ribbon can make a big difference!
  4. Gift packaging will improve conversion rates — try to offer different options and designs for people buying for someone else.

Generous terms & conditions build trust

Generous terms & conditions can be hard on a young brand who have limited cash flow, but if you really believe in the product — they can be a huge driver for sales. The Simba mattress recently burst onto the scene with its 100-day return policy — a great value proposition that shows a great confidence in the product. This leads onto….

Creating customer champions and brand advocates

Smaller brands often play the underdog card and galvanize customers around their business. Selling a cause or lifestyle can help make customers into loyal champions and advocates, rather than passive consumers.

Extended customer and audience research allows brands to build a service and a product that is targeted at a very specific demographic and user group. This data can be then used to create a compelling story that helps illustrate brand values and offering in a narrative.

  1. User generated content is a great way to unite people around your products and services — get customers to submit photos and videos of themselves through social media — theme it around competitions, giveaways, and community.
  2. Customer service can help your branding and marketing strategy — make service part of your customer value proposition so that customers expect a certain level or service from you. Keep delivering on your promises and people will take note!

Smaller brands who are closer to the ground are able to get closer to their customers and deliver experiences that go beyond the functional and the everyday. Remember that online customers have a whole retail experience condensed down into one transaction — so try to make that one experience as special as possible. What’s your strategy for retaining clients and customers?


Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 7.33.03 AMPatrick Foster, ecommerce writer & marketer

Working as a consultant and a freelance writer, I love to share ecommerce stories and empower people to run businesses that they love running! Passionate advocate of the customer-first approach.

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