10 Tips to Improve Ecommerce Customer Service: Insights from Rob van den Boogaard

Rob van den Boogard, Director Client Onboarding Services at GEC Digital, recently sat down for a conversation with Hubtype's Gordon McConnell. During the interview, Gordon picked Rob's brain about how the ecommerce landscape is evolving and the increasing importance of customer service. 

Rob has helped some of the world's leading brands digitize their operations and become more customer-centric. Through a strong partner network (which includes us at Hubtype 👋), he connects brands to the digital solutions that they need to realize their goals. 

Rob's experience makes him a wealth of information for leaders in the ecommerce space. In the interview, Rob outlines key tactics for ecommerce customer service success, as well as common pitfalls to avoid. 

Today, we're rounding up the key takeaways. We've boiled the discussion down to ten actionable tips for ecommerce customer service success. 

1. Ditch legacy systems for an API-first strategy 

It's no surprise that technology was at the center of our conversation with Rob. Technology can make or break an enterprise, and is necessary to stay relevant in the rapidly changing ecommerce landscape. 

"The new companies that are doing a great job often come from digital and move into traditional. They don't have that much legacy in their systems. Similarly, the traditional companies that are doing a great job adopt new technology, and have developed a vision to make it work," says Rob. 

New, disruptive companies have an advantage because they're not beholden to outdated enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Instead, they use a flexible ecosystem of applications -- which makes them more agile, more efficient, and more competitive. 

"You still have some of the old brands who are still trying to run ecommerce from ERP systems, which has never worked and will never work. It's not flexible enough, it's too big of a system," explains Rob. 

"I'm a true believer in small systems like web services and the API first strategy. You can select the best systems needed to help your customers and still maintain the view of the customer," he says. 

2. Where you do marketing, you must also provide customer support

We also talked with Rob about how the lines between marketing and customer service are becoming less and less clear. He explained that collaboration between marketing and customer service becomes critical as brands move closer to their omnichannel goals. 

For instance, companies often have Instagram for marketing and webchat for customer service -- but customers don't make that delineation. Customers only see the brand and want to be able to chat to them about anything. 

"When people see a broadcast from a brand, they have an expectation," says Rob. "Marketing involves broadcasting on social media channels, but if people reply, the customer service team must be able to pick it up and answer them."

"What we do is we build a split; the marketing team uses Instagram for sending out beautiful campaigns. If someone replies, the customer service team will pick it up," he explains. 

Rob also noted that replies on social media often relate to customer service, like order statuses. "The customer sees this as the brand communicating with them, and they don't care about the channels. They are interacting with the brand and they expect them to facilitate this," says Rob. 

3. Don't focus on reducing customer service contacts 

Next, we talked about how businesses have a tendency to get hung up on the wrong metrics. They think that if they provide good customer service they will reduce the number of contacts.

That's usually not the case, and more importantly, it's not an indicator of success. Instead, businesses should focus on improving metrics related to average handle time and customer satisfaction. 

"What we have to do is to see how we can reduce the average handling time and increase the customer satisfaction on these tickets to make it more affordable. It's a blessing to have a lot of contacts, or people take the trouble or take the opportunity to reach out to you," explains Rob. 

"This information fuels your customer service business intelligence, which can then inform the marketing activities. It really helps you to understand what you should change and where to improve."

4. Transform customer interaction into valuable insights

Customer interactions are a valuable source of data. They can help teams discover customer pain points, new opportunities, and important trends. Businesses often have this data at their fingertips but lack the tools to transform it into insights. 

"Customer service agents are among the few people who are still talking directly to customers. If you give them the right tools, then you can gather so much information related to failure rates of products, replacements, and bad carrier performance," explains Rob. 

"You can stop depending on an agency to tell you what your customers are thinking because you have the information available at your fingertips," he says. 

Rob helps brands create and analyze business intelligence (BI) dashboards. These BI dashboards help him make recommendations, and more importantly, demonstrate how those recommendations will affect financial performance. 

5. Give the customer service team ownership of proactive support content

FAQ pages and web forms are an important part of customer service. And, it's equally important to ensure that the right team has ownership of this content. 

"When marketing creates FAQ content, they often create it before they launch a website and never look at it again (unless someone asks). But if you give this to your customer service team, they have skin in the game."

"If there is a great FAQ page, good feedback, and a well-structured web form, then customer service has fewer calls because they have better content. They can also advise you on how to update these pages moving forward," Rob says. 

Rob also explained that a good CRM platform will help update proactive support content quickly. With a tool like Zendesk, you're able to update FAQs instantly instead of jumping through hoops to get new content published through an ecommerce platform.

6. Prepare for the rise of messaging

Business messaging is now gaining a measurable edge over more traditional communication methods. According to a recent study, people surveyed across 15 markets are already more likely to rate the effectiveness of messaging a business as “excellent” or “very good” compared to calling on the phone. 

Rob explained that messaging is a communication channel that's growing, and his clients are seeing measurable results. 

"At this moment, chat is growing, especially in Spain and the UK. The bots are also getting better and better. The bot with which we have set up with Hubtype, for example, is already handling 60% of incoming requests."

"A customer can always ask to be served by a (human) agent, but they're fine with the answers that the bot is providing, and are giving them a good CSAT afterward."

7. Develop a solid business case for any new communication channel 

Getting started with messaging is easy, but you need to have a business case to make it a long-term success. As with any investment or opportunity, it's important to model the return on investment. Rob explains that for messaging and automation, you need to have enough volume to justify the investment. 

"Chat support is half of the price of phone or email support, and customers give it a better CSAT rating. The business case, theoretically, is simple -- but it requires volume. If you only have two or four agents, moving into a chat platform with a bot might be too expensive if you don't have the volume."

"Most of the businesses we work with have over 30, 40, 50 agents. In that case, chat support does make sense. You're able to move agents from traditional channels to chat, which they often prefer. It requires a different skill set, they are good at it, and the efficiency that they have is much higher. So, it’s a win-win situation," he says. 

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8. Select the right systems and KPIs for each distribution channel

Brands that have a retail, wholesale, and ecommerce presence need to understand the differences between each distribution channel. Each channel has different key performance indicators and requires different systems to run smoothly. 

"One of the most common mistakes ecommerce businesses make is that they think their wholesale and retail warehouses can also do ecommerce logistics. This has never worked. I have never seen a company successful in this," says Rob. 

"With wholesale channels, you can plan your capacity in your warehouse, and it's easier to plan how you get the products out. But then comes ecommerce, and when the order comes in, it needs to go out as soon as possible," he says. 

Rob goes on to explain that in retail, metrics like cost-per-pick and sales per square foot are important, whereas in ecommerce metrics related to speed are critical. If wholesale and retail channels run on gasoline, ecommerce runs on ethanol. 

9. Build flexible BI Dashboards

"You can have the best systems in place, but if you don't know how to unlock them, then you still have nothing," explains rob. For that reason, business intelligence (BI) dashboards are critical. 

It's also important that these BI dashboards are flexible. The metrics you think are important today might not be important tomorrow, so it's good to revisit them on a regular basis. 

"If you look at the evolution of some of our clients' BI dashboards over one and half years, the difference is enormous. Because in the beginning, you build a dashboard with a lot of data and you think 'wow this is everything.' Then you start using it, and after two months you say 'that useless, that useless, this is more important."

Rob explains that the evolution of BI dashboards is a natural part of growth, and is really an art. The dashboards serve as a real-time KPI measurement and are essential to monitoring an ecommerce business. 

10. Consider the unique needs and opportunities of each market 

Lastly, a common mistake Rob sees is that ecommerce businesses don't always plan for the differences between geographic markets. He advises businesses to carefully weigh the costs and benefits associated with serving a new market in a new language. 

"If you expand into different countries, you must serve customers in their native language. But if you're only selling 10 orders a day then it's a bit cumbersome, and it's going to be expensive to translate everything and have international agents available," says Rob. 

Some countries are used to being served in English, like in the Netherlands, for example. But others are not. Again, consider the order volume first to understand if there is enough opportunity to justify a market presence.