I bet you can remember the best customer experience you’ve ever had. I bet you can also remember your worst.

Despite dealing with a lot of gray area, customer service has the tendency to be a black or white experience for the customer. The experience is either wonderful, or terrible, and if it doesn’t fall into one of those two boxes, it’s forgettable.

I’m going to show you how to hack your customer service to not only keep customers coming back, but to bring in new customers too. Customer service doesn’t start when the customer contacts you, au contraire.

[Tweet “For E-Commerce, it’s not so much customer service as it’s customer experience.”]

Creating a great customer experience means starting at the pre-sale and ending (or not) when customers have finished all interaction with you and your site (where the cycle will pick up again if you’ve done it right). I’m going to break it down to # phases: the pre-sale phase, the sale phase, the post-sale phase, and the contact phase.

Pre-Purchase Phase: your First Shot at the Customer Experience

How do you provide great customer service before the sale even happens? It starts at your site, and frankly, it’s a 24/7 job.

When you run an E-commerce site, there are no business operating hours. In classic brick-and-mortars, the customer experience usually starts when the customer enters your store. This is very much the same for E-Commerce. The first moment that a customer visits your site is the beginning of their overall customer experience.

I’ve already written about why and how to make a site that’s optimized for a variety of different customers, you want to create a seamless omnichannel customer experience that works no matter what device the customer uses. Regardless, the first step is to make yourself accessible.

Make it really easy to communicate: Showing that you’re open to contact

I’ll never forget the time a budget airline employee stuck his neck out for me. After the trip was over, I wanted to contact someone with the airline to tell them about how much I appreciated this employee’s efforts, however there was absolutely no information on how to contact them on their site.

This really upset me, as I wanted someone in corporate to know how much this employee was valued by a customer. Despite my great experience with the employee, my overall experience with the company was mediocre because all I could think was, “What would have happened if I had a complaint?”

Don’t make the same mistake that could turn potentially great experiences to bad ones. Make sure that there’s a way to contact you in view of your customer at any time during their visit to your site. How do you make it easy?

Set up a live-chat service:

There are two reasons live chat is ideal for customers. They get all the benefits of e-mail, like untitled-infographicnot having to talk to someone or deal with hold music, while having the instantaneous feel of getting answers immediately. According to Kissmetrics, 77% of customers said that online chat positively influenced their attitude about the retailer.

Social communication:

Especially in younger demographics, twitter and other social networks are especially useful at communicating with a company. They’re thought to be quicker and easier for a customer.

Social bar/ contact information in plain sight:

Don’t make it difficult to contact you. Give your customers several options to contact you- offering their preferred method of contact already gives you a step up on the customer service ladder.

Every time a customer contacts a representative of your company is an opportunity to create a loyal customer. Making it easy to do so shows customers that you’re open to communicating with them.

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The Purchase Phase: Your Time to Shine

The best way to provide a great customer experience during the sale it to make sure that it’s easy for your customer to find information on and purchase your products. Study web suggests asking the least tech savvy person you know to make a purchase on your site. This can help you get great insight on where you need to improve.  Here are some great ways to provide excellent customer experience during the sale phase:

Give your customers as much information as possible:

E-commerce shoppers love to make well-informed decisions, so provide as much information on your products as you can. Specifications, special features, measurements, and customer reviews can make your customer feel confident that they won’t have to deal with a messy returns policy. Speaking of which:

Make your returns and delivery policies very clear:

Keep your policies plain and clear on your site and avoid the “fine print” tactic. You shutterstock_397954102want to give your customer confidence in purchasing from you– and having your policies on your site avoids having to justify them later.

Give your customer choices:

Offering several choices to your customer gives them the power to customize their own order. For example, let’s say a customer has a particularly long commute between work and home, and they work long hours. Offering week-day delivery isn’t really well adapted to their needs. Offering, however, a drop off point at a shop near their home or their work allows them to pick it up on their way home without fuss or worry that their package will be stolen from their front stoop.

Providing several payment methods can also help seal the deal when it comes to the purchase phase. Offering a Paypal option is always great, because if a mobile customer is always connected to Paypal, checkout becomes even easier to complete.

Offer security:

Having your server secured with an SSL certificate shows customers that shutterstock_310023008you’re serious about protecting their personal information, and that you’re the company that you say you are. Providing secure payment options gives your customers assurance when purchasing from you.

Seeing a theme here?

You have to show your customer that you’re transparent in the way that you do business and that you’re doing everything you can to protect them and their personal information.

[Tweet “For new customers, you have to earn their trust that buying from you won’t be a colossal headache.”]

But we don’t always get it right, and it’s okay for humans to make mistakes.  This is where the post-sale phase of your customer service has its moment in the spotlight.

The Post-Purchase Phase: Your last Opportunity to Engage

This is usually the phase that most people think of when they think about customer service. But as I’ve written, the customer experience starts much earlier. However, it’s true that this part of the customer experience is your best opportunity to make a happy customer loyal, and to recover an unhappy one.

There are several ways to help customers in the post-purchase phase:

Offer self-help options:

Does your product require a bit of finesse to use? There’s nothing wrong with having a complex product, but try offering a FAQ on your site. Offering a FAQ on your site will not only help customers find their information quicker, but it will cut down on E-mails and phone calls to your customer service team. Youtube and infographic tutorials are also especially useful (and can be used for marketing purposes as well).

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Create customer question/complaint system:

No matter what channel you encourage customers to use to contact you, make sure that you respond quickly to engage your customer. If a mistake has been made on your part, take responsibility and apologize for it. It might sound like a no-brainer, but this is the first thing customers look for.

Don’t script your customer service:

No one wants to deal with someone following a script. Treat your customer like a human being, and sympathize with their concerns. A little empathy can really go a long way to validating a customer who is unhappy.

Track customer interactions:

When a customer contacts your customer service, you should have their information in front of your eyes quickly. You should know exactly how many times they’ve contacted you and for what. You should know their purchase history, and have several ways of authenticating which customer they are (so they don’t have to dig out an account number).

Personalize your customer’s experience:

Use their first (or last) name when they contact you to personalize their experience. This immediately offers a more open communication between your team member and your customer.

Offer several different solutions:

Ask your customer what they want to achieve out of this contact, and try to provide that. Chances are, the customer isn’t going to be asking for the moon. Offering a selection of solutions gives your customer power to choose what’s right for them.

Compensate-but don’t overdo it:

If restitution is required, definitely do what you have to do to make your customer happy. Overdoing it seems desperate, and gives the customer the impression that you’re trying to buy them without genuinely listening to their concerns and correcting the mistakes.

We never want unhappy customers, but this is inevitable.

How you choose to treat that customer when they come to you with a complaint or a question is the difference between losing that customer (and all their friends) for life, or gaining a loyal customer that will choose you over the competition time and time again.

Finally, the best thing you can do for your customers is to go above and beyond in every phase of the buying process.

The last and most important thing you can do is thank your customer. There’s a company that I order from at least once a month. I usually spend about 50-70 euro with each purchase. When I get my package, it’s within two days of my order, and it usually contains a few personalized items. Not only do they write me a hand-written thank you note, but they throw in a sample every once in a while, and a piece of candy that’s usually based on the flavors that I have chosen.

This does a few different things- not only is the service exemplary, but they show me that they know me by offering samples and special goodies based on things they know that I like. This makes me feel valued as a customer, and has kept me coming back to this particular site, though they might not be the cheapest around.

It’s proven that customers will pay more for better service- and the little things can really make a customer feel special. This is what promotes customer loyalty above all else, and makes the customer experience pleasant for everyone involved.

How do you make your customer experience awesome? Let us know below or tweet us!