Last updated - July 19, 2021
With eCommerce being a dream avenue for many entrepreneurs eager to secure passive income streams (viable through dropshipping and outsourcing in general), you can understand why plenty of merchants seek to minimize their day-to-day involvement. Some have numerous ventures to focus on, while others simply want to work as little as they can. This may well resonate with you. Do you really enjoy running your online business?
In truth, how you’d prefer to run your store must yield to what the circumstances demand. There’s no use sticking with an approach that no longer bears fruit, after all. So what do the unexpected circumstances of a post-COVID world require? Well, there are various things, but the one thing we’re going to focus on in this piece is exceptional custom communication.
If you really want to excel as the world slowly recovers from the nightmare of the pandemic, you need to pull out all the stops — and the greatest spoils will surely go to the merchants who put maximum effort into communicating with their customers. Allow me to explain why this is.
With local retail in trouble, online expectations have risen
Despite the immense growth of ecommerce since the turn of the millennium, more people than you might think opted to steer clear of online retail before lockdown restrictions forced their hands. Some simply wanted to help local businesses and stay active, while others — largely older people — didn’t know where to start and weren’t interested in finding out.
Now, of course, enough time has passed with brick-and-mortar retail in poor shape that even the most ardent holdouts have yielded and started buying things online. More significantly, they’ve been buying staples online — and not literal metal staples (though you can get those online), but figurative staples like foodstuffs (and medical supplies).
Online buying has become a necessity for many. Image credit: Max Pixel
How does this pertain to customer communications? It’s a simple matter of importance. If an online retailer fails to communicate effectively concerning something trivial you’ve ordered, it isn’t likely to bother you much. If there’s a mishap involving an order of much-needed food supplies, though, you’ll understandably form a negative impression of the brand.
But what of those who don’t order staples online? Are they more likely to be understanding? Not necessarily. The issue is the lack of options. If you can’t find a good buying experience online but you can get what you’re looking for at a physical store, there’s no issue — but if your only option is to buy online, you need that one avenue to hit your desired level of convenience.
Customers increasingly seek multi-channel support
How do people reach out for help? It used to be that they’d go along with the options presented to them: if given a support email address and nothing else, they’d use it. But the prevalence of social media has changed so much. It’s now assumed that every business of any size will maintain a broad social media presence, and that means that customers (or prospective customers) will talk about your brand even if you’re not watching.
Suppose that one of your buyers has an issue with their order. They’re not happy with the quality of the item they received, and they want you to know about it, so they tag your Twitter account in a critical tweet. The only problem is that you set up your Twitter account years ago and never started using it. As a result, you don’t learn about the issue, nothing gets done, and the customer’s criticism goes unaddressed.
You need to prioritize customer communications because every comment about you that you fail to notice presents a wasted opportunity. If you spot negative remarks, you can resolve the underlying problems and turn critics into supporters — and if you find glowing endorsements, you can highlight them to your target audience and earn some easy goodwill.
Is it a practical challenge to monitor every viable channel? Absolutely — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Through some combination of tools like Crisp (providing a shared inbox through which all your support threads can be routed: see above) and Mention (allowing you to track brand references across the internet), you can provide true multi-channel support without overly taxing your support staff. It’s absolutely worth figuring out.
It’s difficult to stand out in other areas
Retail has always been competitive, regardless of the context, with each merchant seeking a way to stand out. With that said, a recurring issue with ecommerce is the narrowing of options here: it’s tough to stand out through low prices when the supply chain has already been optimized and the best you can do is match the prices of your chief rivals.
It’s also tough to present unique products unless you’re handling the production side (something that most sellers lack the expertise and resources to attempt). Could you provide a website with a superior level of polish? Maybe, but web experience standards have risen dramatically across the board through the broad use of convenient website builders, plugins, and accessible guides. It no longer takes that much money or expertise to design a competitive store.
So when you can’t stand out through your prices, your products, or your website aesthetic, you need to find something else — and the good thing about customer communication is that it has no obvious ceiling. In other words, it’s all but impossible to conceive of a customer interaction that couldn’t be better. It could be smoother, or more relaxed, or more entertaining. It could even do more to seamlessly promote products.
If you really want to outperform your rivals, then, offering a superior level of customer support is one of the best avenues available to you. There are huge companies out there that lack the flexibility or creativity to provide great support. By making it the cornerstone of your operation, you can carve out a meaningful niche in your target market.
Furthermore, general engagement with your customers (even when they’re not seeking to deal with issues) will allow you to show meaningful personality. It’s more important than ever before for brands to establish characteristics, partially because it gets them noticed but also because it allows them to show that they’re not just profit machines.
Brands like Innocent are great at seeming likeable. Image credit: Twitter
Consumers increasingly prefer to support brands they consider laudable: brands that support charitable efforts, treat their employees well, and generally seem to be run by decent people. And while you can talk about your company at length through your About Us page, it’ll all seem rather cold and sterile. It’s only in dynamic exchanges with your customers that your traits can truly come through and seem compelling.
Wrapping up, today’s online sellers need to focus on mastering customer communications for these core reasons: the stakes are higher than ever before, customers expect support wherever they go, and engagement with customers provides rare opportunities to stand out from the crowd. If you’re determined to bolster your business, this is the path you need to take — and with some urgency.