Welcome to step #7 to building a profitable eCommerce business. In this column, we’ll be discussing the key customer service policies that can help to raise your store above others, when properly handled.

If you’re just joining us on this journey, refer back to steps 1 through 6 below. They’ll walk you through the process of getting your online store up to a functional level.

Step 1: Choose a Product Niche
Step 2: Choose a Fulfillment Strategy
Step 3: Build Supplier Relationships
Step 4: Choose a Store Building Platform or Online Marketplace
Step 5: Build an Online Store with WooCommerce
Step 6: Create Pricing Formulas and List Products

The Importance of the Customer Experience

For decades, pleasing the customer has been at the forefront of the most successful retailers, both online and in stoe. While it may have a different reputation today, when Walmart was first founded by Sam Walton, he was the face of his retail store and he knew everyone in town. People chose to shop from Sam’s Walmart because of his charisma and the deals that he offered on a consistent basis.

Fast forward to the 1990’s as Jeff Bezos became the Walmart of the Internet by building Amazon.com. As it has grown into an international retailer, it has always put the customer first. With the popularity of eCommerce growing, companies have innovated to create even more unique customer service policies.

Why? To leave a lasting impression upon their customers and to create a factor of differentiation from the behemoths like Walmart and Amazon.

As more and more people begin to shop online, their expectations of delivery speed, ease of returns, email response time, tracking information, and the ability to cancel become higher and higher. Why are customer service policies so important? So that they meet the expectations of those customers that I’m talking about.

The Key Customer Service Policies Defined

To really make your online store stand out from the thousands of others popping up everyday, you are going to need to consider these top customer service policies. The more innovative that you can be to create a positive shopping experience for your customers, the greater change you will have of reaching profitability.

When customers have a flawless online shopping experience, they tell their friends and you obtain new customers. Make those new customers happy and the word of mouth continues. You see where I’m going with this.

Let’s dive right into the aspects of customer service that you can use to differentiate your eCommerce business.

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1. Returns

How do you handle returns? There are many aspects to consider when dealing with returns.

  • What is your return window? 14 days? 30 days? 7 days? Customers have become accustomed to the 30 day return window because of companies like Amazon.
  • Who pays for return shipping? Some companies are now offering free returns which means that they are paying the additional shipping costs to get the product back to their warehouse. That cost can add up.
  • How do you return a product? The simpler and more clear your return procedure is, the happier your customer are going to be.

2.  Exchanges

Similar to returns, customers need to know how your deal with exchanges as a company.

  • Do you accept exchanges?
  • Again, who is paying for the return shipping?
  • How does one request to set up an exchange?

3. Shipping

What type of shipping options are you going to offer your customers and how do you charge them for each one? Shipping options has become a touchy subject for customers because of the emergence of free shipping.

Here are some options that you can utilize:

  1. Choose a shipping carrier (i.e. UPS, Fedex, USPS) and charge their rates to your customers. You can integrate live shipping estimates on your shopping cart so customers can see how much it will cost them. This way you are passing the entire cost of shipping directly to the customer.
  2. Offer Free Shipping on all orders and bake the shipping cost into the listing price. This has become a more popular practice because studies have shown that consumers are more likely to check out if there is free shipping available on the order.
  3. Choose a set, flat shipping rate. You may charge $5.00 flat rate to the contiguous US states and then $15.00 to Alaska and Hawaii. This method allows you to keep your listing price lower while also offering a reasonable shipping fee that consumers can get used to on your site.

The second aspect of your shipping policy is “how fast will the product arrive?”

Again, consumers have become used to speedy delivery with services like Amazon Prime and other fulfillment options. It’s important to state your processing and shipping time so that customers understand when they’ll get their package.

Here is an example.

All orders are shipped the same day if received before 3:00 pm EST. If not same day, all orders are shipped within 24 hours. Most orders arrive between 3 and 5 business days.

The lower you can make those numbers, the better.

To meet the needs of customers who need their product faster, it is smart to offer expedited shipping where the product can arrive within 1-2 business days. For this offer, charge the customer what it costs you to upgrade to expedited shipping. Most customers will be used to this type of upcharge.

4. Tracking

This should be a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many new online stores do not send tracking information once the product has shipped.

Always, always, always provide tracking information to your customers. It is one of the easiest ways to create trust with your customers that doesn’t cost anything in addition to what you are already paying for shipping.

5. Packaging

A unique way that eCommerce startups are beginning to differentiate themselves is through their product packaging. This includes the box used and the branding included inside. In the past and still to this day, many online retailers will just send you the product in a generic box, sometimes directly from the manufacturer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they may be missing an opportunity.

Here’s an example.

I recently subscribed to the monthly clothing subscription company called FiveFour. Each package that I received of course had my clothes for the month, but it also had a “style guide” for each piece of clothing that showed me how it could be worn in different situations. FiveFour intentionally focused on their customer’s experience upon opening their order and it clearly impressed me. That small change to the normal online shopping experience made me more loyal to them as a customer because it allowed me to better enjoy and use the products I had received.

Here are some more ideas for how you can make your packaging stand out.

  1. Brand your boxes and put your store saying on each one.
  2. Include a personal note to the customer in each box.
  3. Include an exclusive offer for the customer to shop at your store again.
  4. Make it a game. Have certain packages be winners of an ongoing contest that you run with your packaging. For example: Every 100th customer receives a $25 coupon to the store.
  5. If you’re offering returns, include clear instructions on how to set one up so the customer can do it very easily and without frustrations.

6. Follow Up

As a company, what are your policies on following up with customers to make sure they had a great shopping experience? Do you even care?

Similar to the packaging, you can show that you really care about your customers by creating a unique follow up policy within your company.

Here’s an example.

At the time that the tracking is marked as delivered, you send an email out to the customer saying that you saw they got their package and you’d love to hear how they like it. Offer them the ability to rate their purchase by including a simple link in the email. The rating will be posted directly to your online store so that you can build up reviews on your products. Customers love reviews. In the case that it is negative, you can quickly follow up with the customer and make the situation right.

Making this extra effort builds further trust with your customer, allows you to address any issues quickly, and has the potential to lead to customer reviews on your products. Isn’t an extra canned email at the time of arrival worth all of those results? I’ll let you be the judge.

7. Access to Communication

How are your customers able to get in touch with you? This is important to consider for all stages of the shopping process, i.e. browsing, making a decision, post order placed, etc.

Here are your options.

  1. Voice
  2. Email
  3. Live chat
  4. Text

If you can offer all options, awesome! If you can’t make sure that it is easy for your customers to reach you at any given point via at least one of these above methods. The quickest way to lose a customer is by being unresponsive or by not having your contact information clearly posted on your online store. Customers are not patient…you have to be there for them at all times.

8. Response Time

How quickly do you respond to emails, voicemails, live chat, and texts? When selling on Amazon, you are required to respond within 24 hours or it can lead to your store being temporarily suspended. Consumers want quick responses so that they can continue with their shopping experience.

Internally, you need to create an organized schedule so that your response time is as low as possible. If you don’t have someone on to answer emails after 6pm, that could hurt your eCommerce business. The beauty is that you can hire a customer service freelancer from a country like the Philippines to handle the emails and live chat during these times.

Be accessible and responsive to your customers. It will go along way in the long run.

In Conclusion

From my experience, customer service policies is one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of starting an eCommerce business. Many new sellers are too focused on finding the right products and getting the store launched leaving them in a situation where they don’t think about how they are going to treat and impress their customers. I just finished reading a new book, The Amazon Way, that outlines the top leadership practices that Amazon and Jeff Bezos believes in. One of their top values is “obsess over the customer.” Don’t start your eCommerce business without having a clear understanding of how you are going to obsess over the customer. If you fail to do this, you will fail to make your customers as happy as they can be. If you fail to do that, another store owner is going to and they are not going to shop from you. The truth is sometimes harsh, but I’m telling you so that you don’t make the mistake thousands of others already have made.

Best of luck in your eCommerce efforts. If you have any specific questions regarding customer service policies, leave them in the comments or contact me at Connor@ConnorGillivan.com. If you are interested in hiring remote workers for your eCommerce business, check out my company, FreeeUp. We are a leading online hiring platform for the eCommerce industry allowing business owners to hire faster and smarter.