Why should you be considering self-service as part of your 2017 e-commerce plans? Like most things, there is a long and a short answer to that question. However, simply put, it’s what your customers are looking for.
It might be one of those irritating buzz terms that you hear about on a far too regular basis, but just like the Baby Boomers and Generation X, Millennials are a very real demographic. They have their traits and habits which all businesses need to be aware of.
One key trait of Millennials is their preferred methods of communication. They were born with the internet in their hand. They carry mobile devices with them all the time, but they don’t use them for voice calls. In fact, the majority of Millennials hate making phone calls. They prefer to communicate via SMS, messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber, or live chat systems.
They expect information to be available to them 24/7. The propensity for anxiety leads them to need information to be available instantly. They demand convenience and don’t like asking for help. They have been brought up with services like Amazon, Uber, Hailo and Airbnb, so they are used to managing their own commerce interactions.
Efficiency & Cost Saving
Efficiency is often touted as the number one reason why a business should consider self-service in e-commerce. The reason for this is simple. If your customers are helping themselves, you can focus on providing ways to service the customers who really need your help.
Providing your customers with easy access to common query types such as shipping information, invoices and returns, can make your business run a lot more efficiently. The data is likely already in place. You just need an effective method of exposing it to your customers.
Having comprehensive self-service tools on your e-commerce platform can help you to work around some of the limitations faced by first-generation stores. Self-service removes any issues associated with the restricted opening hours of your help desk. In 2017, your customers expect support around the clock. If they can’t get it, they will go to your competitors.
How to offer self-service to your customers
So, you know why you should be offering self-service. Now, how should you do it?
"My Account" or Personal Dashboards
This is the most common approach. Most will be familiar with this already; it’s the area you see when you click on the “Your Account” link on Amazon. The idea is to provide an area on your website where customers can manage commonly updated information, get information on their orders, manage their contact details and passwords, plus a host of things that we will go into further detail about shortly.
Marketing / Email Automation
In addition to the “My Account” approach, a number of companies are offering self-serve features which resemble marketing automation tools typically found in email marketing campaigns.
Hosted services like Zendesk offer good solutions in this area. Think of it as a more advanced version of telephone menu systems that you encounter when you call a contact centre. Email automation is also an interesting area. Introducing synergy between your customer service and marketing channels is a remarkably effective method of boosting your marketing activity, as well as providing value to your customers.
Chat Bots / AI
Whilst not being mainstream, by any stretch of the imagination, this is where we see the future of self-service, and perhaps e-commerce in general. By utilising AI through chat bots, you enable conversational forms of self-service to continue to exist, whilst still keeping the benefits of scalability, efficiency and consistency.
You can also provide these services through platforms which your users are already on. Why not consider engaging with your customers or clients on platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger or SMS?
The concept is that you use platforms that your customers are already familiar with. Integrating your self-service tools in a conversational manner allows you to remove friction for your users. It also removes the barrier of installing more applications.
What components should your self-serve tools include?
The short answer is... everything. Amazon does a pretty decent job of self-service through their My Account page.
Most e-commerce retailers already cover these features quite well since the components are well-established in the majority of e-commerce platforms. But for the sake of completeness, let’s cover them off.
Profile / Personal Information
• Delivery Address
• Billing Details
• Marketing Options (Newsletter, SMS subscriptions).
• Personal information such as Name, Sex, Age, Location.
Information about placed orders is also commonplace already. Almost all retailers will provide customers with information about order status. A list of previous orders is also common. In most cases, invoices are also available for download.
Taking it one step further
So, you have covered the basics of account management and order lookup. You probably have not added a lot of benefit to your customers or efficiency to your business just yet, though. So, what else should you include?
Allowing your customers to update information on un-shipped orders can be of great benefit to your customers, and more importantly, your customer service team. Speaking from a position of experience, I can tell you that your customer service team likely receives a significant volume of requests to change shipping information on orders which have been placed, but not yet shipped. This is especially true where items are pre-ordered for shipping at a later date.
Your customer service team is probably quite familiar with customers contacting them for updates on the status of their order. A fully featured order status feature should show every stage of the order process.
Where appropriate, this is also a good place to display tracking numbers and links to third party tracking information.
As a retailer, you might not like the idea of allowing your customers to conveniently cancel their orders. I mean, you have probably worked really hard to get them to place it in the first place! There are two things to keep in mind where order cancellations are concerned.
If your customer wants to cancel their order, they are most likely going to do it anyway. They are just going to have to contact you and take up the time of your customer service team to do it.
Allowing self-service order cancellations will give your customers more confidence when ordering from your website in the future. They will remember how easy it was to amend or cancel their order with you in the past and are far more likely to return in the future.
Returns are a real resource killer for customer service teams. The process typically involves many steps which need to be followed each time a return is processed. Most of the information can be submitted by the customer if they are well-guided using self-service.
Moving your returns process to a self-service model could be a little more complicated than other components, however, it will also provide the largest efficiency gain.
Frequently Asked Questions / Knowledge Base
The modern e-commerce customer is accustomed to having all the information at their fingertips. In fact, they demand it.
“70% of customers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions rather than using phone or email – Forrester.”
This is a growing trend, and is backed up further by a Gartner report, which says; “By 2020, the customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.”
It’s even more important for B2B
So, you are in a B2B organisation and you are probably wondering how all of this applies to you. The answer is, it applies 10-fold. When your customers are interacting with you via your website, they have a level of expectation which is being set by their personal shopping experiences. That means, companies like Amazon are setting the bar for where your B2B ordering platform should be.
The good news is, you can offer a vast array of services to your B2B clients or customers via self-service. Here are some services you should be looking at providing:
Your B2B client may very well be accustomed to placing an order by part number or SKU. Providing them with the ability to quickly place orders based on this information can greatly improve their experience on your platform, and gives them back some of their precious time.
As with Quick Order, the ability to re-order items quickly and efficiently is hugely important for B2B E-commerce platforms. Depending on your industry, this may be your most common order type.
A perfect example of this would be a company selling printing supplies. The chances are, their clients order the very same items on every order. Taking the stress out of this will make your customer's life that little bit easier, and might just convince them to use your website before checking a competitor.
In certain sectors (Pharma, IT Supplies, Electrical, etc.), rebates are very common. Allowing your customers a simple method of receiving their payout or applying a credit to their account could seriously reduce the stress on your customer service and AP team.
Scheduled Orders and Replenishment
This goes back to giving your customers more control, allowing them to fully manage their accounts. In a B2B environment, scheduling orders and deliveries can be crucial for budgetary planning and ensuring critical products are available when they are needed. It also prevents the need to stockpile products for their business.
In B2C, the typical scenario is that the customer wants their order as fast as possible. That is not always the case in B2B.
Order Approval Workflow
Within an organisation, there may be a hierarchy around order placing. To provide your customers with services that match their organisational structure, it could be very useful to provide account access levels where users can input an order which will only be fulfilled once the designated person within the organisation approves the order.
Many B2B organisations tailor their pricing specifically to the client. For that reason, quotations are often used as part of the ordering process.
Quite often, this process takes place over the phone, via email or by fax (yes, fax!). The process can be easily brought into the self-service area and streamlined greatly. Combined with re-ordering, this can be a very powerful tool.
Credit Limits & Account Balance
Important components like Account Balances and Credit Limits are typical features of B2B vendor/client relationships.
Displaying this information to your customers can significantly reduce calls and emails to your helpdesk. It also provides your customers with valuable information which makes your offering more transparent, and helps to build trust in your company.
The rise of the millennials has not made everything better, but their reliance on information being a couple of clicks or taps away has driven excellent improvements in how e-commerce solutions are developed.
Self-service is now a key component of successful commerce platforms and is driving advancements in efficiency for merchants and their customers. The attitude to self-service on the client side is positive and quickly becoming the expectation.