Online Sellers’ Best Tips for Exceeding Customer Expectations
- October 2, 2015 | Lee Polevoi
In the hyper-competitive world of online sales, simply delivering the product or service a customer orders may not be enough to win any repeat business. Because of Amazon and a handful of other big-name online businesses, customers today demand to have their expectations matched -- each and every time -- or, better yet, to see an ecommerce provider exceed those expectations.
So what are the best ways to go beyond what your customers expect? A recent survey of online sellers uncovered ideas you can apply to your own business.
Provide a human touch
“The only way to compete against the big box stores is to provide exceptional customer service,” says Michael Tidwell of OnlyTowelWarmers, a provider of -- you guessed it -- electric towel warmers. “I do not outsource customer service, as it is the face of our business and I want potential customers to know that when they speak to us, they are speaking to someone who is an expert on towel warmers.”
Mark Aselstine is a co-proprietor of Uncorked Ventures, which sells quality wines from California, Washington, and Oregon. “With each shipment of wine, we include a short handwritten note for new wine club members and for gift orders," Aselstine says. "A real human being prints out the gift message that goes into their package.”
Making it easy for customers to reach a human being is another sure-fire way to exceed customer expectations, notes customer service expert Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations.
“Customers will have questions and problems, and they shouldn’t have to work very hard to find a way to connect with someone in customer support, be it via phone, email chat, etc.,” Hyken says.
Offer shipping options
Whenever possible, ship your product the same day the order is received, says Anne Marie Blackman, president of My Ugly Christmas Sweater, a supplier of festive holiday sweaters.
"We provide customers with clear shipping options at checkout which state when they will receive the sweater," Blackman says. "Our checkout software takes into account the customers' location and proximity to our warehouse to provide them with accurate shipping times and options for their item."
That extra "special touch"
You can exceed expectations by providing a special touch customers don't anticipate when making their initial purchase. Alina Adams, author of "Getting into NYC Kindergarten" (sold exclusively online), keeps a mailing list of her customers, "where, for no cost, I update my clients on any changes in the NYC kindergarten admissions process as they happen, remind them of deadlines, and let them know of any new school options."
This approach, Adams says, "shows that I care and want them to succeed ... and that I'm there to offer support for as long as they may need it."
Offering customized solutions can add a "wow" factor to your business. Steve Gibson of JotForm, an online form builder, says, "If customers need a special feature, we give it strong consideration for inclusion in the product. Our theory is that if they want it, most likely others will appreciate it, too."
Gibson adds: "Oftentimes our staff builds the custom code for a particular user. In this way we win customers, one by one."
Going above and beyond
Some products become more attractive to prospective customers when an online seller goes above and beyond "normal" customer service. Esti Chazanow, co-founder of LIV Swiss Watches, offers this anecdote:
"We use a ticketing system to keep items open for follow-up purposes. One customer was having trouble choosing a particular watch. We took the time to advise him on which watch to purchase, posting additional imagery in a personal email that simplified the process for him."
Slisha Kankariya is co-founder of Four Mine, which bills itself as "a better way to shop for engagement rings and jewelry." Understanding that purchasing a diamond engagement ring online is a "daunting task," Kankariya offers this specialized service:
"Customers browse our site and select three of their favorite styles. Then they receive replicas of their favorite styles at home. After trying them for three days, they can return online to customize their favorite style and select a diamond from our inventory of over 140,000. Then they order the real ring." This way, she says, "customers get over the fear of buying an engagement ring online because they have had the opportunity to see and experience it before committing to a purchase."
Use Online Resources and Tools
"Most ecommerce businesses treat Facebook as little more than a billboard platform, but this is missing a huge opportunity," notes Matt Behnke, CEO of Orthotic Shop, specializing in comfortable shoes. "Customers expect to reach you on your page, so interact with them there. Go one step further and answer their questions as a direct reply if you can."
Craig Borowski, Customer Service Researcher at Software Advice, a resource for software buyers, recommends using live chats as a customer service tool. “Live chat is especially well-suited to answering questions customers have while shopping on the Internet,” Borowoski notes. “Customers are already online, and thus can use live chat with little effort; they don’t need to reach for the phone or worry about hold times, and they can expect a quicker answer than if they called or emailed.”
Exceeding customer expectations includes service provided after a purchase is made. Randal Wark, founder of IT Revolution, a firm that assists Value-Added Resellers, asks, "Is the first thing a new customer gets from you an invoice? Make sure the first contact with a new client is a positive experience. Send them an email where you welcome them to your community and maybe do something unexpected. A simple shipping upgrade will beat any marketing message you can pay for."
Achieving the goal of exceeding customer expectations is limited only by your imagination. When you succeed, you grow your customer base and likely benefit from satisfied customer referrals as well.