Help me improve my customer service.
September 30, 2009 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Looking for tips and advice to improve my customer service for my online store. When you buy something online - a tangible item that is posted - what makes you think "hey, great customer service!"?

I won't detail what I already do as I want a clean slate for suggestions. But I am sure I can improve on my current practices both for giving the personal touch and presenting a professional attitude. My items are all of the same kind but each is unique. They do not have or need warranties, except for breakages during delivery or non-receipt of items.

I am looking for tips to improve my customers' experience with dealing with my business from the time an order is received to the period after they have received their items in the post. And related, is their such a thing as too much customer service?
posted by Kerasia to Shopping (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The people I order from on Etsy tend to include a personal handwritten note with my name on it, with is awesome. Some of them even send little "bonus" items, which is super-awesome.

I don't think there can be too much, unless you called me at home to ask how the item was or something.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:41 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quick turnaround is important to me. As a customer I get pretty aggravated when it takes more than a day or 2 to be notified that an item I've ordered has been shipped (Holidays/weekends excepted, of course). Basically I want: immediate order acknowledgment from the shop (got your order for ABC for $XXX), out the door quickly (24 to 48 hrs).

Little free samples, cute wrapping, vendor cards to pass around -- those are all nice and cute and great too. But none of that will put a smile on my face if I had to wonder for several days what the deal was with my order.
posted by contessa at 5:46 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Prompt shipping and processing. This is probably my biggest issue when ordering stuff online.

2. If something does go wrong, I appreciate real human correspondence instead of form emails with a number to call. For example, when an item I recently ordered from Swisher Pens was out of stock, a real nice woman emailed me the next day asking if I wanted to change the order or get a refund. I responded and she responded again by the end of that same day. It's nice to feel like someone is actually paying attention to your transaction.

3. Echoing drjimmy, personalized (not even necessarily hand-written) notes with each order are a nice touch. Again, just makes you feel like there's a human element in the whole process.

4. A courtesy email after the fact is always nice. You'll probably get some crazy complaints as responses, but you'll get some sound advice/opinions too.

My best customer experiences are always the ones where you can connect to the vendor on a human level.
posted by Roman Graves at 5:58 PM on September 30, 2009

1. Acknowledgment that I paid and the order is being processed.

2. This is a little thing for me, but a photo of the thing I ordered in the "thanks for ordering" message. Usually it's just the words (Canon XL2 41Z HandyCam), and that somehow seems impersonal. There's something cool about buying something in a store...the experience of touching it and holding it and walking out with it, and although that obviously can't be replicated online, I think a photo of what you just bought would be a neat touch.

3. A phone number that will get me to a person if something goes wrong. Emailing back and forth is no fun at all.

4. A follow-up with a survey that promises some sort of reward. You get feedback, which as a business owner is awesome.
posted by st starseed at 6:05 PM on September 30, 2009

Read almost any article about
posted by dacoit at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2009

This is probably obvious, but I like an email when something is shipped giving the shipped date, the carrier and tracking number when available.

I like the small handwritten note, and depending on what it is......having it wrapped in some cute tissue paper with a little bow is such a nice touch. Ninja equipment - not so much. Baby girl hairbows - definitely. And again, if it was something small like jewelry, having a professional backing for earrings or box, etc is good if it's intended as a gift.

I am not too keen on follow-up customer service unless it's an email with a discount code on my next purchase.
posted by texas_blissful at 6:25 PM on September 30, 2009


I used to order cds from a company that would include some double bubble bubblegum in every package. It was a nice bonus. Throwing something cheap and fun like that in might be nice (maybe some collectible cards [baseball, or whatever is appropriate for what you're selling] or the like)
posted by backwards guitar at 6:30 PM on September 30, 2009

I'll be a lone voice of dissension. I actually do not like bows, wrapping paper, cute cards, bonus stuff, or handwritten notes. All of these cost something, and even if it's 5 cents, I'd rather have the 5 cents than have someone else purchase a bow for me.

To me, a good price for a quality item, questions answered promptly and informatively, shipped quickly and without problems, and satisfactory resolution of any issues is what I look for in good customer service. These things make me a repeat customer who will also tell others about a good buying experience.
posted by Houstonian at 6:31 PM on September 30, 2009

Two words: tracking number.

Most vendors do provide tracking numbers nowadays, but I will almost never pick a vendor that doesn't provide them. Total dealbreaker.
posted by telegraph at 6:34 PM on September 30, 2009

Even though the order confirmation email (which should arrive promptly after ordering, lest I think something has gone awry) is an automated email, it's nice when they come cleanly formatted with something like
"Thank you for your order with ABC Company -Name of Customer-! This email is to acknowledge your order. If you see a problem, please contact with your order number. You will receive another email once your item has shipped!"
Yea it's still an automated email but so much friendlier than the "THIS IS YOUR ORDER. -ORDER DETAILS HERE- THIS IS AN AUTOMATED EMAIL. DO NOT REPLY" that I still get from some online retailers.

Nthing the personalized note in the package. It doesn't have to be a card or anything; even a small thanks written on the order form is a nice treat to receive. It's also wonderful when the order/packing form comes with information clearly stated on where to contact the company in case of damage or return.

As for freebies, unless they're something really great (something related to the item/s I've ordered) or I get to pick them myself (hello Sephora!), I'd rather not see them in my package. Most of the time it's something useless that I simply throw away.

There's this independent internet-based makeup company that carefully wraps the order in a sheet of tissue paper sealed with their own personalized sealing sticker(!). It's obvious that human hands arranged the little bottles and pots to fit snuggly in the package which makes it feel all the more special. They include free samples of other cosmetics that are custom matched to go with your order items (if this is true or not, who knows. But it's nice to think so much thought went into picking out samples for me). I *love* ordering from this company for this reason (they write "thanks for your order wiretap!" on the packing slip too. Swoon!)
posted by wiretap at 6:35 PM on September 30, 2009

I'm always a sucker for a note on the checkout page along the lines of "we normally ship within x amount of days, but if it's a real rush, give us a call and ask for x, and we'll try to put in the mail today."

So long as you keep to it, it's a nice touch above the processing times. Most people won't use it, but as an option it's cool.
posted by mhz at 6:39 PM on September 30, 2009

I like doing business with commercial websites that:

1. DON'T make me log in/register/create a password in order to buy something.
2. Has reasonable shipping fees. I don't expect free shipping...but I hate high fees.
3. Doesn't have a website polluted with flash ads, or that damned "enter here" button in the middle of a bandwidth-sucking graphic.
4. Doesn't shove Jeezuz down my gagging throat as I'm about to click to confirm the order. (I'm talking about you, Sierra Trading Post.)
5. And finally, I'll echo the importance mentioned above about providing a tracking number in the order acknowledgment email.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:41 PM on September 30, 2009

I just want promptness with a human touch. I prefer email, but weather by email, IM, fax, phone/whathave you, I want an acknowledgement of my order within 24h.

I then want to know when my order shipped, and preferably a tracking number.

If I have a question or problem, I should be able to contact your store and receive a response within 24h. Even if it is just an acknowledgement that you are aware I've contacted you and you are looking into the matter.

It is nice to get a little something extra (1-800-petmeds sends me a doggy bone with every order, its cute) but it isn't necessary.

When you correspond with me it should be in a professional manner. You can be super-friendly like Zappos, which is nice, but the overly familiar manner and/or misspellings/typos etc I've received from some online places are just unwelcome. I know typos happen and people have less than great days, but please just make me think you're at least trying; make it look like you took a stab at spelling, grammar and punctuation.

I'm fine with some sort of follow up once. Please don't take it personally if I don't respond to your survey or email, I'm busy, that is why I ordered online, and if there was a problem you'd have heard from me. More than once is a strike against you, and I have really strong google-fu to find your competitors.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2009

whether, sheesh.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:50 PM on September 30, 2009

As an international customer I want to know quickly and painlessly if you accept orders from me and will ship to me. If not, no problem, just let me know so I can move on. A shipping section in a clearly linked faq is fine.

Then I want to find out approximate shipping costs to my country without giving you any personal details beyond what that country is. It's OK if I have to put stuff in the cart to see how much it'll cost, it's also OK if you have flat rates for certain sizes/prices and list that on the shipping page. It's not OK to require a full address before I know shipping costs. And it's really not OK to make me give you my credit card details to get to that stage (sadly this happens, and more than you'd think).

The reason I want this info so easily is that international shipping is often prohibitive. I looked at buying a couple of pairs of socks from one place in the USA and it was going to cost NZ$75 to get them sent. For two pairs of socks. So yeah, low international shipping also makes me happy but I know this isn't always under the sellers control so I won't hold it against you.

Besides that, quick despatch, good communication, good quality products. Personal emails if things go wrong is nice, I've had an experience similar to Roman Graves and it probably left me more happy than if the order had been flawless. I'm not too hung up on what kind of contact details you list (although phone numbers are useless for international customers) as long as you actually use whatever you list - i.e. don't list an email address that isn't monitored regularly.

Foofoo crap in with the order doesn't do it for me either, and I hate having to throw away the things I've gotten from etsy sellers who obviously put in some effort to make the extra whatever but it's still something I don't want (I don't chew bubblegum either heh). But I think this is probably audience specific so do it if it makes sense for your product and your customer base.

Lastly, please don’t sign me up for a mailing list or send me messages after I'm done. It undoes all the good work you did earlier.
posted by shelleycat at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Today while out running errands I was able to pull up my shipment notification email from Newegg (received a couple of days ago) on my iPhone, click the tracking link, and see that UPS had delivered my packages to my side door as I requested in the note on my front door.

Conclusion: ship items with UPS, and make the tracking info available on your website.
posted by entropic at 7:19 PM on September 30, 2009

Describe the relevant specs of your widgets on the page. (materials, dimensions, ...)
Give dimensions, or have photos that have some object alongside the widget for scale (major complaint about online toy sellers - sometimes the toys turn out to be much smaller than they look).
Make it clear at each stage of your ordering process where I am in the process (what's the previous and next steps) and allowing me to make changes to previous info if I need to. Let me know very clearly which is the Final Confirmation, and at earlier stages have a note saying "you will have a chance to review everything before your order is finalized" or whatever.
Mark out gift options clearly - eg, if I include a gift note, will the prices show up on the note?
Make it easy for me to print my "receipt" page.
Have a FAQ that tells me how to pursue questions or problems - who to email or call; if there's anything I can do on my end; how returns work.
Be clear about when I need to buy by for Christmas delivery.
Be clear that you will not use the address/phone info of my friends (if shipping address is different from billing address) for spam or anything
Get it to me on time and clean/undamaged (I recently had a shipment where the box wasn't taped and all the books had smudgy tar on them - grr).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:37 PM on September 30, 2009

I had a really weird experience just today that might be a "what not to do" sort of thing but it wound up pretty good. I bought some shoes from Crocs a few weeks ago. The website was pretty clear that fedex ground shipping takes maybe 10 days max and it was now into day 12 so I went looking.

- the website said, once I logged in, that I had no orders listed
- the two emails that I had gotten [both very clear] had said both my order number and my fedex tracking number. clicking the fedex number got me to a "no such order" page. Huh.
- called Crocs and got a weird "enter the extension of the party you wish to speak to" message and no "hey we're not open yet" message
- tried to chat with their people via livechat on the web [LOVE IM or livechat, use it as often as possible] and got a "not available" message [again not a "we're not open yet" message]
- emailed my question
- noticed I had screwed up and thought they were in Central time and they were in Mountain time, realized I was calling/IMing too early
- called later, talked to a wonderful person who, while she couldn't explain why the website didn't show my order, did explain that they had a "glitch" with their fedex numbers, read me my new fedex number which I checked while she was on the phone with me, all cool
- she apologized in a polite but not sychophantic way and said she hoped I'd have a good day and enjoyed my shoes.

So the big deal was me finding a broken thing on the website, then missing the cue that they are in Mountain time, then them not having any cues that they weren't open yet. I just figured "well they're going bankrupt, maybe they have no staff anymore...."

A few more thing with me -- I have a PO box where I get all my mail and it's also my billing address. I'm fine if fedex and UPS can't deliver to a PO box, but I'd like that fact to not derail my order (i.e. I'd like to be able to ship to not my billing address with a minimum of fuss). In fact, if anything is weird about my order, after Iv'e been typing in a lot of boxes, it would be nice if everything I've typed doesn't vanish [so, if I forget the sekrit code on the back of my CC, I don't have to type the whole 16 digit number again]. I'd like a very clear privacy policy. I'd like it if you take PayPal. I'd like it if I never get an email from you that isn't necessary, but I like if you give me clean friendy emails explaining the things I do need to know.

Oh and later in the day I did finally get an email back from Crocs. They sent me a JPG of my fedex number (the correct one) in an email message. Not clickable, a little not good.
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2009

Don't clutter my inbox with emails. I can't stand receiving an order confirmation, followed by notification that everything I want is in stock and ready to be shipped, followed by a shipping confirmation, etc. etc. And make sure that you list the company name in the "from" portion of the emails; different emails from different departments just seems so impersonal.

Don't include a bunch of flyers and stuff in my package. A little free sample or a gift, as mentioned above, is greatly appreciated (unless it really seems like a throwaway you're trying to get rid of). I could never understand why online companies include a paper catalog -- that I obviously prefer not to use -- in with my order.

Please, please, please use recyclable packing materials. Styrofoam peanuts are not biodegradable and I cringe every time I open a box stuffed with them. Plus they're a PITA to deal with.

On preview, I sound really crotchety. I buy most things online, and I never realized how much some of these customer service practices really bug me. Either that or I just need to go to bed.
posted by DrGail at 8:17 PM on September 30, 2009

Quick shipping, with notification that the item has shipped, and a tracking number. Careful packing. Before I order, I very much like to know what carrier is used for shipping, because I loathe UPS (due to numerous past experiences) and try to avoid doing business through them.

Oh, and one online pet supply place uses cornstarch packing peanuts, which is very thoughtful of them because the styrofoam ones can be dangerous to some pets and it's a pain trying to make sure you got all the styrofoam safely thrown out, because the peanuts get everywhere as soon as you open the box..
posted by dilettante at 8:35 PM on September 30, 2009

Good, solid packaging for shipment is important to me. Also, packaging that is the right size for the item(s) ordered.

I really appreciate clean, easy to navigate website design, with clear links to shipping, returns, and related customer service info. Merchants that make me dig for this info rarely get my business.

Count me in for appreciating a small, handwritten "thank you" tucked into the package, particularly so when the items are handmade. It's such a nice little thread of human connection, creator/seller to buyer, in a transaction that happens over the internet.
posted by vespertine at 8:40 PM on September 30, 2009

Another vote for promptness, professionalism, and a little something extra related to what I've bought. A company that sells alternative products for women's periods included a cute piece of chocolate, which was absolutely amazing. I felt like they loved me, understood me, wanted me to be happy; granted, chocolate could probably do that at any time. Instructions or suggestions on how to use the product are good, too, as is an explicit description of how easy it will be to handle it if I don't like what I've received.
posted by ramenopres at 8:59 PM on September 30, 2009

When you quote shipping times, make them the actual shipping times, as in "when will this thing arrive at my door?" I can't tell you how many times I've sat, like a sad puppy dog, waiting for the UPS guy, only to get an email later that evening saying "thank you for your order! We are processing it and will send it out in the next few days" email. If anything under promise and over deliver.

Don't put crap in the box I don't want. A pack of double bubble I guess is great and all, but that's just 50 cents less they could have charged me.

The best "thank you" I can get with an order is to see that it was packed carefully. A nice handwritten note does nothing if the item is loosely wrapped in old newspaper in a used box with some other vendor's name scratched out.

Also, pack it in the smallest possible box. I don't want to be shipping air.

Don't send me any extra emails, or give me the option to opt into your newsletter. Two, maybe three emails are the limit. We received your order, we shipped your order, and MAYBE a "your shipment has been delivered, here is how to contact us further" message.

Don't use packing peanuts!!!
posted by gjc at 10:20 PM on September 30, 2009

This is a good time to revisit the Kano Model or other satisfaction model.

There are some things that can only drive dissatisfaction. These are things that I expect you to get correct. I'm not more satisfied if you get them correct but I'm peeved if you don't. For me, these are: order acknowledgment, payment acknowledgment, correct packaging, prompt shipment, item as described, and a tracking number. These are my baselines.

Here are things which can satisfy or delight me: quick resolution of questions or issues, fast returns, especially attractive or fun packaging, freebie samples.
posted by 26.2 at 11:23 PM on September 30, 2009

I guess it's hard to come across as a demanding customer when the poster asks about what makes "great" customer service, but here are some suggestions:

* Same day dispatch for orders received before, say, 3pm. With my country's postal service this means most items arrive early the next day.
* I had one order with a problem (ebay and paypal had different addresses for me, which one to ship to?) and I got an e-mail query, I responded to it, and the item was shipped out all the same day.
* Have an easy to locate shipping costs page including international shipping costs. Ideally include a cheap slow surface mail option.
* It would also be neat if you could follow up on international orders and find out how much they ended up costing customers in terms of import tax and shipping company tax payment fees etc and setting up a page on your website saying what customers in different countries have experienced (obviously with the proviso that you are not a tax expert).
* Don't ship paperback textbooks in padded envelopes as the corners always seen to get folded in transit.
* Personally I'm not much for freebies in the box as I usually throw them away.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:59 AM on October 1, 2009

Response by poster: This has been an invaluable response and I thank you for how much I have learned about great online customer service. As a small business, customer service is part of the whole selling package and these answers have given me a lot to work with.

Some of these tips I already do, some I didn't realise were so popular such as the 'surprise extra' in the package.

I am very grateful for the comments about packaging. That has been my biggest query. A handwriten thanks to the buyer is simple and affordable and I like making that connection with the buyer. Thanks for letting me know it is a positive for both sides of the sales equation.

And I appreciate knowing when to draw the line with just enough but not too much communication. Enough to let the buyer know that their order has been received, the items have been shipped and the expected arrival date, but not too much that my email address becomes a burden in in-boxes. Again, invaluable feedback.

Thank you all very much. Every comment is a best answer. But if I was to 'best answer' you all then the page would be unreadable. How about a 5% discount on my store instead? Coupon 'go wild'. Shop in my profile.

Metafilter:$5 Mefites:priceless.
posted by Kerasia at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2009

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