Which Retailers Are Winning at Customer Service?
Customer service may mean many things to different retailers, but one thing is certain — a positive customer service experience is crucial to a retailer’s success.
Customer service has always been a cornerstone of strong retailer-customer relationships, and this has never been more true than in today’s omnichannel retail climate. With a vast array of retailers to choose from and more channels than ever before, 21st Century consumers have heightened expectations for their shopping experiences from start to finish. A better price or offer can trump long-term loyalty for consumers as well, however, thoughtful customer service programs can help retailers boost their retention rates and bottom lines.
In fact, individuals who have the best past experiences spend 140 percent more than those who have the poorest past experiences, according to Harvard Business Review. This highlights the financial motivations behind retailers’ investments in customer service. Strong service equals smart business.
How Do Retailers Stack Up?
As with all areas of business, some retailers provide better customer service than others. The 20th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, which benchmarks 100 merchants that currently excel at customer service, identified the following top performers (listed in alphabetical order):
- The Home Depot
The diversity of companies included in this mostly specialty retailer list suggests that type of industry isn't the top factor in a positive customer experience. Rather, leading retailers scored highest in critical areas of the Mystery Shopping Study, which looks at must-have features for providing a premier customer service experience. Retailers had to excel in a series of critical areas to make the final cut, including visibility of help, comprehensiveness of customer service sections, speed of delivery and a streamlining of the checkout process.
Customer Service Retail Readiness
- Visibility of help and customer service capabilities: A consumer in need of help doesn’t want to jump through unnecessary hoops to find assistance. The best customer service experiences happen when shoppers can quickly find the information they need on a retailer’s site in a timely fashion. To increase visibility, top retailers include a link to customer service on their homepage and offer a branded visual layout that makes it easy to find key support components like contact information. Shoppers also prefer in-depth FAQs (ideally searchable) to save time and to foster increasingly desirable self-service.
- Speed of delivery: In a world of drones and Amazon Prime, delivery speed is a top priority for consumers. Sixty-two percent of retailers take three days or fewer to deliver a package using standard ground services, and 57 percent of retailers now offer international shipping. With expectations for same-day delivery on the rise, retailers can improve their customer service experience by prioritizing delivery speed and communicating with customers every step of the way.
- Speed of checkout: Speed also has a major impact on a retailer’s customer service experience. Considering the popularity of mobile shopping, retailers must provide a checkout process that's streamlined. Many retailers are investing in shopping cart efficiencies like collapsible carts, one-click checkout and pre-populated customer information. Alternative payment methods are also a consideration, as consumers prefer flexibility in payment options. PayPal is the dominant player, offered on 83 percent of retailers’ sites, while Visa Checkout (17 percent) and Masterpass (12 percent) are gaining ground.
With retailers struggling to separate from the pack, organizations can differentiate themselves with superior customer service capabilities. However, it’s important to remember that a customer service experience is only as strong as its weakest link. Customer service is a process from on-site access to customer engagement.
For instance, retailers cannot forget about responsiveness to customer queries or the importance of returns. These elements may not be foundational to a retailer’s customer service strategy, but a negative interaction in these areas can be detrimental to a shopper’s perception. Retailers should pay particular attention to live chat, which has the ability to service and sell simultaneously. Consumers expect a full suite of customer service capabilities, and are disappointed when options are missing.
For many retailers, improved customer service will require working with an e-commerce partner capable of supporting an omnichannel (and global) customer service network that's always available, informative and efficient while still being flexible. Building these networks now is critical, as customer service will only become a more important touchpoint as sales channels and consumer paths to purchase diversify further and the pressure among retailers ramps up.
Lauren Freedman is the senior vice president of digital strategy at Astound Commerce, a global e-commerce agency.