ecommerce customer service measuring performance

Ecommerce Customer Service: 4 New Best Practices from Top-Performing Brands


[Updated January 25, 2022]

If you thought ecommerce customer service and customer experience were important before, you’d better buckle up.

The onset of COVID-19 has completely altered the way we live, shop, entertain, work, teach, and learn. And part of that lifestyle alteration has meant a massive transition of companies and consumers to ecommerce that cannot go unnoticed.

Whether or not customers will continue to default to ecommerce in 2021 will primarily be determined by one thing: the caliber of the customer service they receive, and how it makes them feel.

What is ecommerce customer service?

Ecommerce customer service is the ability for brands to support and engage with customers by using the speed and convenience of the Internet and customer support platforms to meet customers’ needs while shopping online—including solving pre-sale and post-sale issues.

In the old days, the fastest way for customers to reach out to businesses if they have questions, requests, or complaints is through a telephone call. Today, customers use a desktop computer, laptop, or smartphone to contact a business. 

Online retailers are launching omnichannels to establish an interpersonal relationship with their customers and provide a timely response to various inquiries. Customer support is offered not just on the business’s web page, but also on social media platforms like Facebook. 

What differentiates ecommerce customer service from traditional commerce and retail? For the customer (we’re always thinking from the customer’s point of view here), it’s clearly the Internet and the amazing speed and convenience that comes with it. In the age of Amazon, Netflix, and UberEats, timeliness, ease-of-use and zero troubleshooting is the new normal for customers. This type of service delivery is not only convenient but also ensures wider customer reach. Plus, in the age of COVID-19, ecommerce provides a safe, socially distant way for customers to browse and buy.

Doing business online has become a top preference for many people who are too busy to drop by a brick-and-mortar store or mainly exercise caution as a result of the ongoing pandemic. 

It’d be a wise move for your online customer service strategy to aim for these things as well to gain a competitive advantage and increase brand loyalty.

The crux of our latest research: How to measure ecommerce customer service performance

In order to provide a holistic picture of ecommerce customer service, we hired a third-party firm to “mystery shop” over 800 large and small brands this summer to see what constitutes the “best of the best” in ecommerce customer service.

We found that the top-performing companies all demonstrated excellence in the following categories:

  • Responsiveness: Speedy response times on email and live chat
  • Reliability: Ability to answer a customer on the first attempt
  • Relatability: Having the human connection in customer support

In addition to surfacing what sets the “best of the best” in ecommerce customer service apart from the pack, our research also found that online shoppers often feel neglected, and that negative feeling can stem from something as simple as an unhelpful chatbot to more complex issues such as a lack of inventory insights resulting in frequent out-of-stocks and other red flags that erode the confidence of even the most loyal customer.

Below, we’ll share not only what we discovered from our mystery shop research, but how you can use our findings to level-up your company’s ecommerce customer service and conquer whatever 2021 throws your way.

Based on our findings of how consumers perceive customer service, we’ve identified 4 common areas and best practices that set top performers apart from the pack:

1. Improve your response times: in ecommerce customer service, timing is everything

Regarding responsiveness in ecommerce customer service, your customers may not be timing you to see how many seconds it takes to get a response on your website, but our research did find that there are some patterns in just how long consumers are willing to wait once they reach out. Across chat, email, and contact form channels, there is a strong positive correlation between shorter wait times and higher customer satisfaction.

This isn’t exactly surprising. Time is crucial for everyone. Your customers are not going to wait forever. Failure to respond timely means a loss in potential sales. Moreover, failure to address a customer’s complaint during the conversation with your customer service agent leaves a bad reputation for your business.

Let’s take a look.

Email response times

With email, we found that 48 hours is the average response time across all brands included in our research during the mystery shop period in June 2020.

However, the average email response time among companies that had an overall customer experience score of 4.5 or higher (out of 5) was 25 hours… almost half the total shopped companies average.

But the absolute top scorers in this category were companies that responded to emails in under 15 minutes.

Click here to see ecommerce customer service examples of brands that answered emails in under 15 minutes — and learn best practices associated with achieving those service levels.

Here’s the thing: a one-day response time on an email may fetch a company a solid CSAT score, but is that enough to remain competitive? Put another way: How many potential superfans might be feeling underwhelmed by a “suitable” response time from an ecommerce brand?

Bottom line? Don’t settle for a 24-hour email response time, because your customers won’t.

Our own data shows that while a one-day email turnaround might coincide with a high-ish rating, a <1-hour response has the potential to surprise, delight, and cement customer loyalty for ecommerce brands. And isn’t this what great customer service should be all about?

Live chat response times

As compared with email, live chat is way less forgiving when it comes to response times. After all, seeing a live chat bubble on an ecommerce website or social media channel implies that help is just a quick chat away. When it isn’t (or if an AI chatbot attempts to answer a difficult question, fails, and has no human backup), frustration for the customer mounts and feelings of neglect begin to take over.

Our data found a strong correlation between short chat wait times and an overall good customer experience. In our study, 61% of chat interactions that were rated as “Very Good” had a response rate of under 30 seconds.

Conversely, 92% of the online chat interactions that were rated as “Very Poor,” had customer wait times that exceeded five minutes. To our dismay, we also found that 40% of ecommerce sites redirected live chat inquiries straight to email. Talk about a letdown (and neglecting to meet your customer where they are).

Ecommerce customer service demands a quick FRT

Among the top-performing ecommerce brands in our report, a speedy FRT was the largest marker of customer service success. Here are some ways that ecommerce businesses can improve their own first response times in order to stand out with customers:

  • Set response time requirements in your ecommerce ticketing system (such as Zendesk). Activate alerts and settings to ensure the entire customer support team knows the expectations. If a partner is handling your tickets, make sure their SLA specifies these metrics.
  • Ditch the auto-response email. If it’s going to take two days to respond, let your customers know that upfront (we like to include a one-liner explanation on why it’s happening). Definitely don’t do it via an auto-email. You know when you unsubscribe from an email and then get an email to confirm it? Cue the frustration…
  • Maintain an up-to-date knowledge base for your call centre team. A complete and regularly updated FAQ page can be an invaluable tool to your customer service agents when responding to an inbound inquiry. The time they spend responding to emails, phone calls, or chats can be greatly reduced if there’s a single place they can refer to for all the information they need. 
  • What we’re seeing at Simplr: If you’re experiencing delays from the pandemic or other reasons, explain your situation clearly. Saying “delays due to COVID-19” or something similar won’t cut it, because your customers may be getting a much quicker experience from your competitors or other brands that are setting the standard for transparent, quick responses.

2. Make sure your ecommerce customer service is reliable: streamline your time to resolution

The ability to reliably resolve customers’ challenges and answer customers’ questions is a hallmark of excellent customer service.

On the flip side, is there anything more frustrating than not getting a direct answer to your customer service questions? The unnecessary back-and-forth between customers and support agents is a surefire way to seed discontent, make customers feel neglected, and damage brand loyalty.

As customer volume scales up, it can be difficult for ecommerce companies to ensure that each customer service question is answered correctly right off the bat. Here are some ways to kick reliability up a notch:

  • Empower your ecommerce customer service teams to answer a broader range of questions. This will lead to fewer escalations, which can add friction and frustration to the customer experience.
  • Always lead with the answer to the original question. For example, you probably have a great canned response on how to make a return. However, if a customer just asks about one step of that process (say, how to find or print the return shipping label), is it easy for an agent to locate and share just that one snippet? The customer shouldn’t have to deal with a longer-than-necessary response to find the answer they need. To further enhance process-focused responses, try using line-breaks and bullet points to separate bits of information. Trust us, it makes it so much easier to read and lends itself to a great customer experience.
  • Reward your team. This is often neglected, as businesses try to focus more on being customer-centric. But incentive implementation will make your customer support team work harder and will go the extra mile to provide a pleasant experience to your customer base. 
  • What we’re seeing at Simplr: Getting key customer information upfront makes a difference. Ensure that a customer submits their email address, order number, and/or other “we’re gonna need that” information upfront in their original inquiry. This helps address the issue faster, and avoids aggravating back-and-forths over details that could have been considered from the start.

3. Be human: use empathy and relatability to engage customers

While chatbots and AI can be effective tools in providing real-time information to solve simple customer service concerns, people still crave human interaction—especially when a complex or emotional issue is at hand.

Excellent ecommerce customer service has to involve your teams bringing empathy and humanity to each customer interaction. Neglecting your customers isn’t good, and a surefire way to make customers feel neglected is to pretend that someone is there for them when it isn’t true.

For our ecommerce customer service mystery shop research, we created a Relatability Score, based on responses to 10 questions around the personalization, kindness, and above-and-beyond-ness of customer service responses. Overall, 41% of companies shopped earned a “high” Relatability Score. However, when we isolate Relatability Score results for chat in particular, this number drops to 36%.

This underscores the urgency associated with chat experience: Answer quickly and with an actual human being, or rethink your ecommerce customer support chat strategy altogether.

4. Combine responsiveness, reliability, and relatability for winning ecommerce customer service

While COVID-19 has altered so many aspects of life in 2020, what we’ve discovered through our summertime customer service mystery shop is that even a pandemic can’t stand in the way of consumers expecting responsive, reliable, and relatable ecommerce customer service experiences when they shop online.

The online businesses that earned top marks from our mystery shoppers respond to customer requests as quickly as possible, reliably resolve customer challenges and questions, and relate with customers in a human, empathetic way throughout the entire customer journey.

What we’ve found is that the magic happens when ecommerce brands combine the three Rs to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

The ecommerce industry is expected to flourish even more as people continue to depend on technology. More shoppers will find themselves using a mobile app to purchase something. Avoid shopping cart abandonment, money-back guarantee requests, and damaging criticisms to your business by being receptive to your customer base in a timely fashion.   

Are you equipped to deliver excellent ecommerce customer service?

Use our findings and tips to boost your CX and connect with our team to see if your company was part of our mystery shop (and get some extra secrets to success)!