Consumer’s satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of any retail business and it is critical for online retail in India as the industry is in a nascent stage and consumers lack trust in this medium. In e-tailing, companies need to shift from great customer service to a great customer experience that encompasses the entire transaction, starting from the customer browsing the website till the time he/she receives the final product.Customer service in this case, is not just one department’s responsibility,rather, it involves the entire organisation.
In an attempt to understand the major aspects and approaches towards better customer experience, iamwire interacted with Nagarjun Shrivastava, Co Founder, Ladyblush. During the course of the interaction, Shrivastava threw light on the state of consumer experience in the Indian etail ecosystem along with critical constituents of superior customer experience. Below are the major highlights of the interaction.
What are the components of great customer service in the e-commerce space?
In eCommerce, we need to move from great customer service to great customer experience – which encompasses the entire transaction, right from when the customer first reaches the website to when she/he receives the product ordered. Customer service is not just one department’s responsibility, it involves the entire organisation.
Organisations need to address basic hygiene issues so that customer service staff can focus on providing expert guidance to customers on which products to buy, and how to use them – rather than where a shipment is, or how to replace a product that does not match its online description.
It is the engaged customer that adds value to a business and provides critical insights into how to run it. Also, it is essential to be proactive about letting customers know of a problem and how you plan to resolve it, and to build trust by answering their questions before they ask them. This is one area where firms frequently fail.
In India, is there enough focus on customer experience and how to enhance it?
In the mad rush for more transactions (usually loss making), this important aspect has been greatly neglected. Few companies appear to be investing in website usability studies or developing custom solutions in order to offer an enhanced user experience. Even the basics are getting ignored – where companies should be proactive in advising customers of any issues that could impact them, they are being reactive and wait for customers to call or write in; and, even then they are not making a serious effort to resolve them. I speak from personal experience with multiple websites over the past ten years.
Everyone is counting on the industry expanding by 10x by 2015 but they do not realise they have a role to play in achieving this growth. Merely putting up a store front and issuing discount codes and freebies is not going to make it happen. What is needed is for customers to have a safe, enjoyable buying experience and for this everything from the technology, to the supply chain, to payment facilitators must come together – competitive pricing is important but it is not a substitute for a delayed shipment or products of inferior quality that cause customers to lose faith in online retail.
Is a great customer experience affordable in the current scenario where companies are losing money?
The question really is, can they afford not to? It is an investment that pays for itself very quickly – through greater customer loyalty, lower bounce and abandons rates, fewer product returns and customer contacts, and greater word of mouth publicity. There are some outstanding examples of this, such as Amazon.com and Zappos.com – unfortunately none in India, which is a great disappointment given that the industry should have matured over the past decade particularly with the significant amount of funding it has attracted over the past few years.
Companies should focus on improving their margins so they can pay for these enhancements and improve customer experience. It is companies that do this that will be around two to three years from now.
According to you what are the 5 critical points in customer service? What are the key aspects of good consumer experience?
The following points come to mind immediately and constitute key aspects of a great customer experience:
- Be proactive – it is vital to keep the customer informed of any potential issues, to resolve any issues before they impact your customers, and to figure out what your customers want before even they themselves know
- Offer an inclusive, easy to use service which is intuitive and eliminates guesswork for the customer
- Offer multiple options – customers like being offered options, even if they already know what they want
- Be consistent and reliable – it is vital to gain the customer’s trust
- Offer multiple contact channels and engage with customers through social media
How does the customer experience differ in offline and online retail and in which format is it greater?
The tremendous convenience of being able to select from amongst multiple brands from the comfort of your home/office, to get a great deal without the hassle of bargaining, to make a secure payment and to receive your order in time and at your doorstep – these are advantages of online retail that are impossible to match for offline, and they give online retail a massive head start in terms of customer experience. Offline retail has the advantage of immediate gratification; however this can be overcome by offering competitive prices and also through various technology enabled enhancements in the online experience that address various aspects of the buying experience where offline retail typically fails, such as:
- Remembering an individual customer’s preferences
- Displaying products and offers in line with their previous buying behavior
- Enabling one click checkout and automatic recording of loyalty points
- Use of mobile commerce
What is the role of Technology towards enabling good consumer experience?
Technology can enable online retail to compete with offline retail through assisted buying where customer service staff can guide customers through a transaction while providing them with expert advice on product features and use in order to ensure that they purchase the most appropriate product for their needs.
IT can be a deal breaker in online retail – everything must seamlessly come together from the platform, to site usability, to speed of page rendering and transaction processing in order to make online retail a practical proposition for the average consumer.
What is Ladyblush.com doing differently in terms of customer experience?
We have a strong focus on the customer experience and not one day goes by without us making a change to some process / policy or web setting that aims to deliver a better customer experience. We have a very efficient business model that allows us to make these investments while staying competitive in our pricing. Also, we plan to grow at a pace at which we can properly mange the entire customer experience. Over the coming months we will be investing in technology, web site usability research and assisted buying among other things to ensure customers have a seamless buying experience, and one that is informative and enjoyable.
Our focus on customer service is evident from the fact that our phone helpline is frequently answered by a member of the founding team. We believe it is critical for us to be as close to our customers as possible – this also helps us in early detection of any potential issues with any part of the customer experience, which we can then move quickly to resolve before more customers get affected. We also aim to resolve any issues speedily and ensure we make each interaction a moment of truth for our customers.
Does a good customer experience entail doing whatever the customer is demanding?
Customer service starts with the premise that the customer is always right. Some customers are more demanding than others, and this is true as much for online retail as offline. The job of customer service staff is to treat each customer as a unique individual and adapt themselves to the person they are dealing with through behavioural profiling. Once they are able to do this, the vast majority of customers are perfectly reasonable and happy to work with the staff member to resolve the issue at hand. And these vocal customers are the ones that often become the most evangelical. The key is to have a dialogue with your customers, not a monologue.
Can you name some top companies that are providing good customer experience irrespective of any sector (can be offline & online)?
Companies that consistently provide a great customer experience include Amazon.com, Apple, Costco, FedEx, ITC Hotels, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com.