How to provide support

Table of contents

While the quality of your products is certainly crucial, your ability to attract and retain customers also depends greatly on your customer service. Good customer service supports your brand, improves customer loyalty, and helps you earn crucial word of mouth.

As an E-commerce store owner, it’s important to approach customer support strategically. It’s entirely possible to overinvest or underinvest in customer support, leaving you with overwhelmed employees or underwhelmed customers.

In this guide, we’ll do a deep dive into customer support and how to use it strategically. You’ll learn:

  • The key tenets of effective customer service
  • How to match customer needs and expectations
  • How to save money with self-serve customer support
  • How to use different tools for multichannel customer support

Three Key Tenets of E-commerce Customer Service

A small store can get away with an email address and a phone number for customer support. However, as your store grows, you’ll have to adopt a support strategy that matches your customer expectations, capabilities, and budget.

By and large, there are three key tenets that impact E-commerce customer service:

1. Match Customer Expectations

How much (or how little) customer support you offer will depend greatly on your customers’ expectations. This, in turn, depends on factors such as:

  • Product category: Customers expect stronger support for certain product categories, especially technically challenging products such as electronics.
  • Industry standards: At the very least, you have to match the customer support standards set by other competitors in your industry. If your competitors consistently offer deep support, you’ll have to match it as well.
  • Customer behavior: Certain industries and product categories have a strong DIY culture when it comes to seeking support. Examples include furniture (such as IKEA) and software such as Windows. If you sell something similar, you can get away with mostly self-serve customer support.
  • Price: Customers generally expect better support for high-priced items. On the other hand, if you mostly sell cheap, generic products, you can limit yourself to slower support channels (such as emails) or self-serve support.

In an ideal world, you’d want to exceed customer expectations. If they’re used to 24-hour turnaround over email, fix their problem within minutes over the phone and you’ll delight them endlessly.

But if you can’t be exceptional - because of time or money constraints - at least match industry standards.

2. Help Customers Help Themselves

It’s a mistaken belief that customers always want to talk to service reps on the phone. In truth, a large share of customers - 67% according to one study - prefer self-service over talking to another human.

The lesson: instead of prioritizing live chat or phone call support, give customers the option to resolve queries themselves. This can be in various forms such as:

  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Searchable knowledge base and guides
  • User forums and Q&A sites
  • Detailed product descriptions

3. Offer Multiple Communication Options

Customer communication preferences aren’t monolithic. Much depends on the device customers are currently using, where they are, and their personal preferences. A customer on the phone might prefer live chat, while one on a desktop might choose to shoot a quick email.

The same customer might also have different preferences based on his current location. If he is stuck in an office meeting, he might choose live chat. Else, he might prefer to call service reps directly.

The point is: you shouldn’t force customers to choose any specific support channel. Offer multiple communication channels, and make sure that they’re available across all devices.

Keeping these three tenets in mind, you can start building our customer support strategy.

How to Offer Better Customer Support

Customer support, when done right, can be a massive force multiplier. It can win over reluctant customers, help retain existing ones, and earn you new business through word of mouth. You can build a powerful brand simply by relentlessly focusing on customer service.

To get such results, you have to approach customer support deliberately. Before you deploy any live chat or support desk, think long and hard about the kind of support you can offer and what customers expect.

In the sections below, we’ll help you build a customer support strategy from scratch.

Understand Your Support Requirements

Should a t-shirt store have the same support as a high-end electronics brand?

Probably not.

Support requirements vary from industry to industry and product to product.

A shoe store would mostly deal with returns and exchanges. An electronics brand, on the other hand, will have to answer pre-sales questions, track orders, and offer after-sales technical support.

As a general rule, support requirements increase with the price and complexity of the product. Underinvest in support for a complicated, expensive product and you’ll end up with frustrated customers.

To understand your requirements better, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the product self-explanatory or do you have to educate customers about it? T-shirts are self-explanatory, but new tech products (like a smart speaker) would invite a lot of pre-sales questions.
  • How expensive is the product? Customers usually expect more hands-on customer support if the purchase price is high, especially when cheaper alternatives are available.
  • Is there a culture of DIY support in your industry? Are there dedicated websites or forums where customers seek community support? For example, Windows customers often turn to online forums to find answers to their queries.
  • What is your target demographic? Younger customers often prefer self-serve support instead of calling.
  • Does the product require technical or after-sales support? This is a common requirement for tech products.
  • What is the nature of most service queries? Can they be automated? For example, you can easily build a self-serve platform for returns and exchanges. But you might need a dedicated support desk to deal with complex tech support issues.

How much you invest in customer support will depend on your answers to these questions. If you’re selling clothes, you can skip most support options and only focus on pre-sales questions and dealing with exchanges/returns/refunds.

For more complex and expensive products, you’ll need substantial investment to serve customers effectively.

Create Detailed Product Descriptions

As an E-commerce store owner, you want your support staff to deal with complex queries, not waste time answering trivial questions.

One way to achieve this goal is by making all key product information easily accessible to customers.

For example, if you’re running an apparel brand, customers will need to know product sizing. If you don’t have an easily accessible size chart on the product page, customers will have no option but to contact support.

Your product pages should have all the information customers need to make a purchase decision. You can divide this into four categories:

  • Specifications: List all product-specific attributes such as size, brand, material, size chart, battery life, etc.
  • Features and benefits: Include detailed descriptions of the product’s key features and benefits.
  • Use cases: Briefly mention how the product works and its common use cases. This helps customers see the product in context.
  • Purchase information: Clearly list the price, quantity, shipping details, returns and exchange policies, warranties, and discounts

The more information you can include on the product page, the fewer questions your support staff will have to deal with.

Further reading:

Create Guides, FAQs, and Support Content

Even with the most detailed product descriptions, customers will eventually run into problems.

Give them the option to find answers themselves by creating guides, articles, FAQs, and help pages.

How detailed this content is will depend on the kind of products you’re selling. With something like clothing or shoes, the product is self-explanatory; no customer is searching for “how to use” articles on t-shirts.

As the product complexity and novelty increase (i.e. customers aren’t familiar with the product or the product category), you’ll have to ramp up support content creation as well.

Here are some guidelines for creating better support content:

  • Survey your existing customers: Ask current customers about the most common issues they faced when buying or using your products. Create articles covering these issues.
  • Address FUDs: FUDs (Fears, Uncertainties, Doubts) are the concerns that keep customers from buying your products. Ask current customers about the questions they grappled with before buying. Address these in your product descriptions as well as on-page FAQs.
  • Keep after-sales support content separate: Don’t mix your pre-sales content (such as pre-purchase FAQs) with your post-sales support content (such as how-to guides). Keep them separate so you can direct new customers directly to the right support section.
  • Make it visible and search-friendly: Customers shouldn’t have to struggle to find answers to their questions. The support section should be prominently displayed on your website, either in the navigation or footer. It should also be search-friendly to help customers find answers easily.

You can create support pages using any number of platforms such as Weebly, Wix, and WordPress. You can also connect your Ecwid store to Zapier which allows you to integrate with hundreds of apps, including dedicated support tools.

Further reading:

Use Automation to Minimize Support Requests

As your store grows, you’ll realize that there are very few support tickets that truly require human intervention. The vast majority of questions can simply be answered through a self-serve system.

For instance, asking customers to call your support staff to know the status of their last order is a waste of everyone’s time. You can easily set up a self-serve system that will retrieve the customer’s order information automatically.

In general, any support query that requires retrieving information from a database is easy to automate. Some examples include:

  • Shipping and order tracking
  • Size information
  • Product availability

You can take things a step further by connecting your support tool to your support content or knowledge base. Your automated system can then direct customers to the right piece of content based on their query.

The Markeaze app on the Ecwid store makes support automation easier. You can share order status and product catalogs automatically from a chat interface. Not only will this reduce the time your service reps have to spend on each query, but it will also increase your store’s conversion rates.

You can also use the Tidio app to create detailed automation rules for new and returning customers. Apart from pre-baked automation “recipes”, you can also roll your own rules with Tido.

Offer Multi-channel Support

As we discussed earlier, one of the core tenets of customer support is to be wherever your customers are. While email and phone are still popular, customers increasingly expect you to be present on their favorite social channels.

These preferences will vary depending on your target market and demographics. A customer in India will expect you to be on Whatsapp, while one in the USA will want answers on Facebook or Instagram.

In addition, some customers will prefer contacting you over website chat.

Altogether, you should have a support presence on the following channels:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • Website live chat
  • Top 1-3 social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc.)

Apart from directly offering support, you should also be ready to field queries about pricing and availability on public social channels such as Instagram or Twitter. In such cases, you can either ask your social media team to resolve the query, or direct them to your support staff.

The Ecwid store has a number of apps for offering multichannel support:

  • Facebook Messenger: Website live chat
  • Tidio: Website live chat and support automation
  • Chatra: Website live chat
  • LiveChat: Website live chat
  • Markeaze: Multichannel chat and support automation
  • Jivo: Support over live chat, phone, email and Facebook Messenger

Crowdsource Customer Support

One of the most powerful customer support tactics is to crowdsource answers and content from your existing customers.

The simplest example of crowdsourced support is customer product images. By asking customers to share pictures of their purchases (a form of UGC - User Generated Content), you give future customers real-world examples of the product in action.

Beyond product images, you can also tap into your customer base to answer questions (as on Amazon product listings) and discuss common issues on support forums (as on Microsoft’s support forums).

The easiest way for an E-commerce store to build a support community is to create a forum. This forum can be used to answer customer queries, discuss new and upcoming features, showcase new launches, and share customer reviews/testimonials.

Although this community-powered support platform can be hard to pull off, it can be an incredibly powerful source of not just support, but also brand marketing.

You can create such stores on WordPress (through the official bbPress and BuddyPress plugins). Check out Ecwid’s integration with WordPress here.

You can also crowdsource reviews with apps like HelpfulCrowd.

Over to You

Customer support is a “must-have” competency for any E-commerce store. Good support will not only help you sell more, but also improve your brand perception and increase customer loyalty.

Use this guide to create a support strategy for your store. Follow the three core tenets of E-commerce customer service and put them into practice by creating a knowledge base, using automation, and offering multi-channel support.