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The Top 6 Customer Service Tips in E-Retail

Originally published April 20, 2010

This article discusses how to improve customer service by providing an additional channel beyond voice communications to enhance customer service communications in a retail environment. Specifically, this article highlights the importance of providing overflow access to a two-way dialogue between the customer service agents and their customers and the barriers to effective communications that both parties face. It also explains how SMS (short message service) software creates an additional channel for instant, interactive and effective dialogue between the customer service staff and their customers. An SMS software solution breaks down communication barriers in the customer-agent relationship. It also saves customer service rep time while reducing costs and more effectively managing customer issues – all important aspects in enhancing the overall customer experience.

TIP #1: Remember the Importance of Customer Relationships

The most important thing to remember is that everybody in a customer service position has the same common goal: to provide an outstanding customer experience. This starts at the moment of any customer contact. Strong links between customer service agents and their customers will help facilitate this goal. The customer service agent/customer relationship can be complex. It crosses many different areas, including the customer’s relationships with the front office, the customer’s relationships with the store, the customer’s relationships with other service units, and the customer’s relationship with the e-retail community in general.

TIP #2: Establish Two-Way Communications Early

Interactions between the customer service agents and their customers should be continuous and ongoing. The most valuable interactions are those that travel in both directions. This two-way dialogue makes sense; both the customer service agents and their customers are concerned about facilitating a positive experience. Therefore, both parties will be working together to achieve this common goal.

When incorporating a two-way dialogue in your customer service retail environment, it is important to remember that not all customers will want to be communicated to in the same manner. All methods of communication play a role, whether that communication is face-to-face, over the phone, or by email – each has its place. The customer might just need the customer service agent to generally be a little bit more accommodating when it comes to communication.

TIP #3: Understand the Barriers to Effective Communications

A number of issues need to be addressed so a customer service rep partnership can be formed. Some common obstacles to a better partnership include:
  • Demographic differences: The customer and service agent may come from different culture or socio-economic backgrounds, or perhaps speak different languages.
  • Role differences: Customers might have differing expectations of the customer service agent role.
  • Types of experiences: Prior retail buying experiences may have set up differing expectations.
  • Miscommunication: Customers and/or service agents may lack the ability to identify and communicate key experiences, ideas, or issues. 
  • Communication discomfort: Customers or service agents may be uncomfortable about communicating their needs.
  • Need to feel valued: Customer service agents and customers may perceive that their perspectives and opinions are not valued. 

TIP #4: Make Technology Work for You not Against You

A system that will revolutionize an ongoing two-way dialogue between customers and customer service agents is required. With the tremendous penetration of cell phones in most countries and the prolific use and future growth of SMS/TEXT messaging, an opportunity exists to provide communication efficiencies to the retail population.

  1. The solution must be simple and user friendly.
  2. The solution must not add to the administrative requirements of the call center. Rather, it should make their lives easier by reducing communication time yet increasing communication interactions between the agents and their prospective customers.
  3. The technology must also apply to the vast majority of the buyers. It may not make sense to ONLY adopt one channel in an environment where potential customers do not have access to the Internet or cannot easily check their email.
  4. The solution must provide interactive and immediate communication.
  5. The solution must manage the communication and keep an audit trail to ensure adequate controls are in place.
  6. Most of all, in today’s mobile world, it MUST be mobile.
A solution that opens a communication link between the customer service staff and their customers is needed. This channel will effectively reduce customer service agent stress while enabling a daily interaction between the customer service agents and their customers. This direct, two-way dialogue beyond voice communications can, hopefully, recognize potential problems and solve them before they spiral out of control.

TIP #5: Manage Communications Effectively

By providing the customer service staff with the ability to manage overflow communications using text messaging, the following results can be achieved:
  1. Communication time will be drastically reduced.
  2. The interaction with customers will be simple and to the point, enabling the customer service staff to convey to the customers any specific information immediately. 
  3. The customer service staff will have immediate and direct access into the company’s computer system. The key here is that when customer service members deal with an issue, they can solve it within seconds because they will have instant access to any particular potential customer’s historical contact information.

TIP #6: Understand the Text Revolution

Text messaging activity has grown exponentially since the first text message was sent in 1992. In the first quarter of 2010, 620 billion text messages had been sent, generating US$11.3 billion in revenue.

The reasons for this “text revolution” include:
  • Text is an immediate person-to-person communication, which more often than not receives an instant reply.
  • SMS saves time because it goes directly to the intended recipient. 
  • SMS is a discreet method of communication.
  • SMS is a popular, cost-effective method of communication. Text is steps ahead of all other forms of communication. If a person receives an SMS, they invariably read the message immediately and generally reply almost immediately. For example, if a person is in a meeting and receives a text message, he or she will read the message immediately and probably reply to it instantly. 
  • Of a worldwide population of 6.5 billion, 2.3 billion have mobile phones that have the capability to send and receive SMS.
  • Text is not limited to 160 characters because a number of messages can be linked together.
  • The infrastructure to support text is readily available and is easily adopted by most people. This is a unique aspect of the technology because the infrastructure or ability to communicate with any other medium is usually limited. 
  • Text goes straight to the point because of the brevity of message platform. 
  • Good, timely, sound information is key in business, and SMS is an appropriate channel to send this kind of information. 

  • Al CordobaAl Cordoba
    Al Cordoba is the Vice President of global sales for Qualex Consulting Services, a 15-year SAS Integrator. Previous to Qualex, Al worked for 13 years in different management positions for SAS Institute. Al began as a regional sales support manager in Washington, DC. He moved to Brazil to start the SAS subsidiary as General Manager. Promoted to SAS Vice President, he started six additional SAS subsidiaries in Latin America. Al won several awards for sales excellence and grew the business by over 300%.
    Previous to SAS, he acquired over 7 years of health insurance consulting experience with Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in Washington, DC.  He also worked for Chevy Chase Bank in their IT Department, Lockheed International in the Engineering & Science division, and Steptoe and Johnson, the third largest law firm in the Nation's capital. Al has Master's degrees in computer systems management from the University of Maryland and quantitative analysis from SUNY/Syracuse University.


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