5 Top Ecommerce Customer Service Best Practices for 2023

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From the recession to ChatGPT, 2023 presents a whole new set of challenges for ecommerce businesses and their customers. Here’s how to tackle them head-on while keeping customers buying and business costs down.

You thought pandemic times were crazy? Well, here come inflation and supply chain woes to keep ecommerce businesses – and their customer service teams – on their toes. Though the context is different, what remains the same is the pressure on ecommerce businesses to do two things: save money and handle growing support volumes. We’ve collected the 5 customer service best practices that check both boxes at the same time.

1. Refocus on retention

According to the market research used to inform our 2023 trends report, customer retention is the #1 priority for many businesses this year, and it’s clear why: It's cheaper and less risky than acquiring new customers. 

So what does a robust retention strategy entail? We asked Brittany Hodak, a leading CX expert and author who has worked with big ecommerce brands and retailers, like Walmart, for her top tips. Here's what Brittany suggested:

  • Focus on customer relationships at every stage, not just when there’s a risk of churn. Customers will sense the difference.

  • Create "superfans" to promote your brand in their informal networks. Word of mouth is more effective – and cheaper – than your most cunning marketing strategy

"I define a 'superfan' as a customer whose experience with you is so good that they come back and tell their friends. Put simply, superfans are customers who create more customers." 

- Brittany Hodak, Author and CX Expert

What else can you do to optimize your customer relationships?

  • Check in with customers regularly and systematically: This means creating enough reliable data to identify trends (like preferred communication channels, reactions to your latest products, and anything else affecting the customer experience). Dedicate resources to map out customer behavior and maximize ROI. Pro tip: AI tools like Ultimate’s Automation Explorer can help you collect and evaluate that data.

  • Use AI to save customer preferences, proactively suggest products based on those preferences, and empower customers to self-serve when they encounter any issues. It’s what helped Finnish online retailer Verkkokauppa drive down costs and relieve their support agents while keeping customer spirits high:  

“Faster full resolution is really helping us with our CSAT, thanks to upfront data collection by the bot.”

- Elina Ruuska, AI & Operations Manager, Verkkokauppa

Check out more insights and tangible tips on customer retention in our Support Academy Module on 2023’s customer support trends.

2. Meet customers where they are

Asynchronous customer service, meaning support on channels other than real-time channels like phone or chat,  is hotter than ever in 2023: 68% of business leaders that we surveyed recently say channels like email and WhatsApp most rapidly grew in popularity for their customers in 2022. The most important aspects to consider when going asynchronous are:

  • Don’t overwhelm your support team by opening too many new channels at the same time: Instead, take the time to figure out which asynchronous channel offers the best ROI (read: which is most popular with customers and can cover the highest support volumes), then open it up slowly, and get used to the different feel of async support.

  • Adjust your success metrics: Because asynchronous support happens over days, not minutes, some success metrics you may apply to chat or phone conversations (like average handle times) might not be the right fit. Measure resolution rates instead.

  • Add 24/7 support: Precisely because asynchronous support doesn’t rely on real-time, session-based messaging, chances are customers will expect availability beyond office hours. One way to avoid too much of a backlog is by automating simple requests with a virtual agent, or implementing process automation to create, summarize, and forward tickets for your agents to handle when they get back to the office.

  • Use newfound customer touch points to get proactive with your messaging: We spoke to Zendesk’s Director of Tech Alliances, Tim Sheard about what ecommerce businesses need to do to get up to speed with asynchronous messaging. His #1 tip? Shifting gears from a reactive to a proactive mindset:

    “Retail needs to massively diversify at the moment to start reducing costs,” notes Tim. “To start not just handling support tickets through these channels, but actually interacting.”  

"Once you've built trust through a channel, you earn the right to sales through that channel. And that's a really exciting thing that we're looking at at the moment, which is how you can start to transact and connect sales agents to these channels."

- Tim Sheard, Director, Tech Alliances, Zendesk

3. Trust in AI to do the heavy lifting for you

In 2023, trust in AI is skyrocketing: According to our market research, 92% of business leaders say that their trust in AI has increased over the past year, and 88% say that their customers’ attitudes towards AI and automation have improved. One of the main ways in which AI is helping ecommerce businesses weather the recession is by improving efficiency:

  • Chat automation is helping businesses deflect easy, FAQ-style issues, helping support teams stay cool even when volumes suddenly or permanently rise. You can expect it to fully handle half of your most common requests, like damaged items claims. It’s also a great way to reduce cart abandonment rates, payment issues or problems with subscriptions thanks to 24/7 availability and instant answers that virtual agents can provide.

  • Process automation, like automated email triage or ticket routing, helps keep backlogs at bay. For expondo, the leading marketplace for professional equipment in Europe, ticket automation reduced average handling time by 3 minutes per ticket.

  • Finally, the success of conversational AI tools like ChatGPT is reducing the transactional, robotic reputation that chatbots have had for too long – making it easier than ever to warm ecommerce customers up to customer support automation. 

Read on for more hands-on examples of customer support automation for ecommerce.

4. Break down silos between your teams

Ecommerce businesses need to work as efficiently as possible right now, and silos are a blocker to that. This is particularly true when looking at the relationship between your support department, which is typically viewed as a cost center, and your sales department, typically viewed as a revenue generator. Breaking down silos and leveraging your contact center’s natural touchpoints with customers will ensure more profitability.

  • Get your support agents in on the sales journey: Not only is your support team sitting on a treasure trove of customer preferences, chances are they also know your products very well. Use that to your advantage and get them selling and suggesting products. For example, when customers want to return an item, support agents could suggest similar products or upgrades instead of just processing a refund.

  • Reduce operational silos with a headless automation platform that can manage and optimize all of your customer interactions in one place.

5. Retain your talent

Top talent is costly, but agent churn is costlier: Agent turnover can cost companies almost $15K per rep. In the current climate, retaining staff is just as important as retaining customers. The best way to do this?

  • Take CX strategy seriously: In a Gartner study, 90% of organizations reported that they had a Chief Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer. With a CX strategist and/or Digital Customer Experience Manager, you can make sure that your support team is hired appropriately and doesn’t become so burnt out by unexpected support volume spikes that your agents begin to churn. 

  • Upskill in-house instead of hiring externally: Upskilling your existing support staff toward more strategic roles means that you are bringing their knowledge of your product and customer base into your automation strategy. It's a great way to boost employee morale while reducing churn risk. 

Customer service best practices in 2023: Cutting out the nonsense and focusing on what works

Sometimes, scarcity forces us to be more creative, innovative, and, yes, profitable, than we ever thought possible. 2023 is going to be a tough year for ecommerce, but businesses that are willing to make the most out of what they already have – including their existing customer base and support teams – are going to thrive, even in uncertain times.

And with ChatGPT ringing in a new era of efficient, accessible AI, automation will provide the missing ingredient you need to save money and handle growing support volumes without alienating customers or burning out your support team.

Discover more customer service best practices