The Covid-19 pandemic has made it all the more evident that consumers are transferring their buying power to online. A large part of the development in the industry seems to be focused on e-commerce operations and delivery, while customer service (CS) doesn’t seem to get its fair share of attention. With this in mind, here are five key elements that I believe need to be in place in order to provide excellent customer service in an e-commerce business.
Supply chains need to be transparent so it is easy to monitor products, information and money at all times. Smart and connected IT systems, preferably an integrated CRM system or ERP module, and a good support team that is not understaffed are essential. Visibility should also include regular scanning of products and major assets such as vans, from entry or birth throughout its whole route up to customer delivery.
The creation of a data-integrity culture and standardization processes are essential. It’s about quality of information and making sure all data, numbers, sizes and locations are reliable. This leads to a single truth and transparency to make the right decisions and drive actions. Lean methods such as FTR (first time right) can help enormously. Every company should carry out half-yearly reviews of their product and logistic data. With millions of transactions per week, even a 1-2% gap or omission in information can be disastrous and dissolve profit-margin.
Companies who put the customer at the heart of what they do are 60% more profitable, and this type of thinking should be part of the company’s culture with a minimum CS level as part of corporate strategy. On a tactical level, CS policy has to be aligned with inventory, and also costs where trade-offs are made. All staff need to be trained in CS thinking, in a culture where management leads by example. I do believe in ‘happy employees make happy customers’, where staff put their company’s best face forward.
Online retailers today offer a greater variety of choice beyond the traditional books, CDs and electronics. This, combined with the increased volumes, brings in the need for automation of sortation and processes. Automation has become a pre-condition, not a nice-to-have, in a world where sorting systems, robots and smarter material handling equipment use barcodes, QR codes, RFID and scanners of all kinds to trace packages. Automation creates visibility for customer-service employees and managers alike.
Aren’t these policies amazing where you can order five shirts from an online retailer and return four for free? In a recent survey by ShipBob.com, 48% of people said they returned an online purchase in the last year, which is significantly higher than in-store purchases. Clothing, shoes and electronics are the big-ticket categories. Returns are complicated and most of them are money-losing orders. Customers have been spoiled with generous return conditions and the challenge is to review and carefully reframe these policies and the cost base as current ones are unsustainable in the long term. Big players such as Zalando are already adapting their policies.
A lot of e-commerce businesses have several of these points covered, but few have all of them. To realize them all requires focus and persistency, and setup takes several years and great investment. Supply chain visibility, data integrity and integrated automation systems in a customer-centric culture with happy employees and a sustainable returns policy are key enablers for a positive customer experience. The magical handshake between operations excellence, culture and customer service will allow your business to grow.