In this guest blog from the team at Parcelhub, we look at how to offer the best possible customer service as an online seller

We’ve all experienced it: trying to talk to someone in customer services about a pressing problem and instead being passed from pillar to post, all the while being driven batty by muzak renderings of 1960s classics.

Recent research commissioned by Genesys found that on average UK consumers spent 17 minutes on hold to call centres every week. That works out at five and a half weeks over the course of a lifetime.

In the internet age this doesn’t cut it. Today. Customers expect fast, personal and helpful customer service from the brands and retailers they deal with, whenever they need it – any time of the day or night. In fact, for many companies, customer service is now becoming one of the key points of contact between them and their customers and is becoming the battleground where loyalty is won and lost.

And the weapons of choice these days fall into two distinct – though increasingly interwoven – modes: technology and people skills.



The digital age has driven customer expectations to often unassailable heights; it has also pushed expectations of customer service to similar new levels. However, technology can also hold the key to making customer services meet these demands.

There are many technologies that can be used for customer services – as we shall see in a moment – each offering its own individual benefits and challenges. The key thing with all of them is working out when best to deploy each and how to manage it.

But first, what is available?

  • People – The obvious first port of call is to have a real live person answering the telephone and handling the issues at hand as they come in. This has long been the standard method of handling customer services and has given rise to the call centre and all the bad vibes therein.

However, having real people handling real calls is a great – if costly – way to handle customer service. In fact, so great is it that everyone still uses it and it is this that leads to all those life-sapping delays in getting connected.

While it is easy to dismiss real agents in this day and age, they are vital – just maybe use them for those really difficult questions (and high value customers) when all else has failed?

  • Live chat – Increasingly any web users will see Live Chat appearing on brand and retailer websites. Usually featuring a picture of a happy and welcoming looking employee, these Live Chat windows connect you to a person, but one that can then handle many questions all at once. They are like call centres on steroids fuelled by instant messaging.

And Live Chat is becoming super popular because it has so many advantages in customer service.

Not only does Live Chat offer customer service, but it also deters time wasters from bothering to contact you. This, along with the fact that one person can simultaneously handle multiple queries, makes it very efficient. It also is quicker to resolve issues.

Live Chat also has the hidden advantage of also being a free way to garner user data, according to Matt Eldridge, owner and head web design and marketing master at Melt Design.

All in all Live Chat should be your basic customer service tool 101standard before you even think about adding anything else.

  • Text – SMS – which to be fair is also largely these days an Instant Messaging app if you lump WhatsApp and iMessage into term – is also becoming a key customer service arena. In fact text is the most popular form of communications currently and 78% of consumers want to text businesses if they have a question or a problem. Satellite broadcaster Sky offers the ability to deal with some customer requests via SMS and, while it does cost standard message rates to send the messages, it means that a query such as cancelling a service can be done on the fly without having to spend ages on the phone (I know, I did it!).

Where text and Instant Messaging blur, you have the interesting possibility of creating a sort of Live Chat experience powered by the customer – something that not many businesses are yet exploiting. The advantage here is that it can take the non-time specific nature of text, meld it with the live feel of Live Chat and puts the consumer in control of the contact: and empowered customers are happy customers.

Text can also be useful to follow up on customer contact that has come in through other channels.

  • Email – Not all customer service queries are urgent and so some can be handled in a more considered and leisurely way, via email. Also, many consumers may well, while trawling the ‘Contact Us’ page of your site simply feel more at home clicking ‘email us’ and putting their issue in writing.

Email can be a great way to handle these things but you have to be ready to do it properly. Having a dedicated email address that clearly identifies it as customer service is key. Having an autoreply to any mail received that acknowledges receipt and gives a time frame for a reply is also essential. Having someone monitor it and acting on it – perhaps even as their only job – is also key to good email customer service.

Then all the things such as a prompt reply (within the specified time frame) that address – ideally solving – the issue are also vital.

Again, though, there is a kicker: you can send a follow up which you can also use to garner reviews, survey data or a way to try and up or cross sell. As you can see, customer service isn’t just a necessary and costly business evil, it is also a channel to market and should be seen, like any contact with consumers, as an opportunity.

  • Social Media – Social media is also becoming a central part of customer services, not least because that is where your customers are. While having a social presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more is seen at board level now as essential (or it should be!), using it to engage with the customer base is also now vital.

While social sites allow direct messaging to you and your brand, their role in customer service is very different to those of other channels: not least because it can be very public. So part of having a social media presence is to listen to what is being said about you – and from a customer experience standpoint, react to it quickly and politely, taking it ‘private’ via direct messaging as soon as you can. You can always go ‘public’ again once you’ve done a good job.

Hopefully you get this right and your customers will coo on social about how great you are – turning social media to your advantage.

Get it wrong, however, and it can haunt you forever.

Chatbots – while SMS and Email, as well as social and Live Chat are all very useful tools, they are time consuming. Many companies are now looking at how to streamline further that process and to look at ways to automate handing off customer service queries to the right person or even automating the handling of FAQs to help keep the system running. This is where we turn to chatbots.

According to Sylvia Jensen, Senior Director EMEA Marketing at Oracle Marketing Cloud, Call centre employees spend a lot of time answering standard recurring questions which can take up valuable time when trying to get to the root of the issue. Chatbots can clear most of it beforehand, giving human contacts more time to deal with more complicated concerns. In turn, their responses flow into the chatbot knowledge pool, so that they can become more complex with their responses in the future.

Chatbots currently exist through simple text-based and menu-driven variants, with the communication following predefined structures and selection lists. If the customer cannot solve their problem in this way, the bot passes the conversation seamlessly to a human service employee. However, the next step is towards Natural Language Processing (NL), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). As bots become more advanced, they will be able to understand language input and formulate responses independently.


Best practice

While technology offers some great and expanding tools to help handle eCommerce customer service, there are some other key best practice issues that you still need to adhere to if the technology is going to help you.

  • Speed – the key thing with all customer services, not matter how you handle them, is to handle them quickly, politely and ideally solve the problem in one hit. While eCommerce has made consumers more impatient than ever, many retailers forget that not only do they have to offer a slick and fast site, rapid ways to pay and great delivery, but they also have to be quick to respond when something goes wrong.
  • Design – part of making customer service speedy and slick is in designing your web properties to make it easy to contact the company. Contact us pages need to be prominently linked, they need to have all the methods of contact outlined on them and ideally each one ready to be engaged at a simple click or tap there and then.

They also have to work across all devices and channels so that I can just as easily do a Live Chat from my phone as I could from my PC or even the TV (it won’t be long before truly interactive TV becomes a sales channel).

  • Manners – ‘The customer is always right’ is still relevant today. Even if you don’t agree with the complaint, listen, find something to agree with so that you show you are paying attention.

Even if you simply agree that late delivery must have been very frustrating or that you should have answered the phone sooner you’ll start the conversation by diffusing the situation and calming the customer. Sometimes all it takes is a good ear and for the customer to know that their opinion is of value.

  • Know your customer – With so much data being gathered everyday there’s no excuse not to know your customer. What’s their lifestyle, age bracket, profession, marital status? It can be offensive if you treat every customer the same.

As many of your customers will have online accounts, you can easily see their buying history and details that should give you the tools you need to speak to them in their language. The more personal your service, the happier the customer.

  • Surprise and delight – With customer service defining many brands and businesses, becoming more important to success every day, it’s important to stay one step ahead. Work out what they see as a good resolution to the problem then offer a little bit more.

For example, if they’ve received a faulty item, allow them to return it for a refund but don’t stop there. Follow up with an offer that apologises for the inconvenience such as free delivery, a discount or a gift voucher. If the customer has plans to return to your site, they’re unlikely to shout about the part of your service they didn’t like.

  • Involve the customer – Dealing with complaints can be a headache yet it’s also a great way to gain essential objective feedback about your services. Many etailers spend extortionate amounts of money trying to encourage customers to fill in forms so they can improve their online experience, yet you can have information direct from the horse’s mouth.

See every complaint as an opportunity to improve, apologise, agree and let the customer know what you intend to do to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again. You’ll not only make the customer feel as though they’re having a positive impact on your business, you’ll be able to make changes that solve problems others may not have encountered, yet.


Bringing it all together

The real nub of the customer service issue, however, is how to make all these things work together. Above you have seen 12 technologies and best practices that you need to make customer service in the eCommerce age work: you need to integrate all of them into your business. But how?

An omnichannel customer engagement platform is the answer. Omnichannel CX consolidates all engagement channels, customer data and backend processes into one whole. With an omnichannel platform, agents have all customer information and journey history to hand. They are also able to respond to any customer query on any channel. All of this means that agents can answer any query and will also immediately know the background of the customer query and understand why they are getting in touch, ensuring that the interactions is as seamless and pain-free as possible.

The benefits of an omnichannel system aren’t just restricted to better customer experience, however. A recent Forrester study found many areas where it reduces costs and improves operational efficiency. This included a 50% reduction in customer abandonment, 5% improvement in agent handling time and ROI of around 158%.

Parcelhub is one example of such a platform. It centralises the customer service aspects of logistics for a retailer but appearing to the shipper and the customer as the retailer.

There are two parts to Parcelhub’s proposition: the SMART platform, which offers proactive notifications that increase effectiveness of queries by targeting problems more quickly; and an eCommerce platform that allows Parcelhub to deal with any queries on delivery with the retailer’s customers – as the retailer.

The service exemplifies the need for the retailer to offer the customer a personalised service while outsourcing how customer service is done. This brings together not only the technology needed to enact excellent customer service, but also ticks the best practice boxes of personal service to its customers. This is the eCommerce customer service win-win.