Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quality Customer Service: The Next Frontier in Ecommerce

I was up late last night and caught an old classic.. “Miracle on 34th Street”.  The Macy’s vs Gimbles fierce competition and accidental PR coup spurred by Khris Kringle’s commitment to customer service made me realize that ecommerce needs to take a lesson from the past.

For years, the question in customer’s minds was “should I buy online”.  Security was the very real concern.  McAfee and Norton tackled the problem with secure connections and hacker protection.  It is difficult to find an online store that does not display a security badge.  At ConversionIQ we regularly test the influence of  trust marks and there is no doubt that messaging security improves people’s confidence and willingness to buy.

One of our clients recently displayed a new trust mark from StellaService.  Knowing how important customer confidence is in ecommerce we decided to measure the influence of messaging quality customer service.  We were shocked to discover a 78% increase in conversion rate and 58% increase in revenue per visitor for an online fishing tackle supplier.  In retrospect it makes sense.  Online shoppers have become much more sophisticated and their online shopping options have exploded.  The question is no longer “should I shop online” but rather “who should I buy from”.  Like in the classic retail battles of the past… quality customer service makes a difference.

We reached out to this little known company called StellaService to share the news the influence of their service mark.  It turns out they saw this trend coming and have been quietly rating the customer service of thousands of online stores.  They share their data with the online businesses to help them measure and maintain top quality customer service.  They award a service mark that allows companies to communicate their commitment to service to their customers on-site.

Over the past few months Stella has asked us to test the service mark for several of the businesses they have rated.  Many of the businesses are proud of their customer service and jump at the opportunity to optimize their onsite service messaging.  I was surprised to come across a few companies who were resistant.  A common refrain was “we have enough trust marks” or “we are a well known brand we do not need to display trust marks”. 

Trust mark overload is a real problem and most sites should consider to reduce clutter and focus on a few strong confidence elements.  For those that feel there brand is all they need to compete… I caution them to realize that the gains being made by smaller online businesses is coming at their expense.  Businesses that are focused on providing great selection and service online will continue to take market share.  Those smaller online businesses are growing by overcoming shoppers concerns and messaging their commitment to security and service.  Test after test proves it.

Well known brands should be focused on raising the service bar and messaging their superior online service to maintain their market position.  Multi-channel brick and mortar business have a distinct customer service advantage.  Their customers have the option to browse online and buy and return locally, if necessary.  Reminding their online visitors that they have superior service will help to drive both online and in-store sales.  It is surprising that they are the most resistant to get onboard with the growing trend to measure, maintain and “message” quality customer service online.

Customer service is going to influence online buying behavior for the foreseeable future and Stella seems to be in the right place at the right time.  Smart money seems to agree based the announcement I saw today:  This little company on 20th street in New York will likely play an important role in this growing trend among online retailers to focus on providing quality customer service.