By Aimee Chanthadavong

Long before the dot com boom retailers relied on good on old customer service to help drive business into their stores.

This is still much the case. But now that retailing has evolved beyond the bricks and mortar store, customers are expecting to be serviced whenever and wherever they want.

Retailers have been forced to adapt to this and are now looking at effective ways to engage with their customers. In fact, retailers need to work harder when it comes to providing customer service in the online realm where there is no opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

Lauren Freedman, president of the e-Tailing group, told RetailBiz an effective tool that many of the top online retailers are using is web chat service. 

“If you take care of your customers they’re likely to come back,” she said.

“There are certain standards that customers of the ‘Google culture’ expect and this includes being there to answer any of their questions. Any confidence you can create for customers when they’re looking to buy is a bonus. That’s what web chat does it gives retailers the opportunity to better explain their products and helps solidify a customer’s decision.

“That’s the unrealised opportunity about live chat in terms of its ability to covert a browser into a buyer.”

But like any business strategy execution, it needs to be done so with best practice in mind.

“When you do try it you need to understand what the best practices are so you can execute against that because creating a bad experience in any situation is a recipe for disaster,” Freedman said.

“So you really need to understand what the best practices are so that you people will remember you for providing excellent service. Also, when a customer uses web chat it’s a sign that they want to communicate with you.”

Here are Freedman’s top best practice tips for live chat:

  1. Be available when you say you’re going to be available
  2. Global navigation placement of your live chat system is ideal. It is important to let your customers know you’re offering this service to them.
  3. Provide a chat unavailable form. So if you’re not there you can let your customers know that and give them the opportunity to email you so you can still answer their queries in a timely fashion.
  4. Open up and ask questions in advance before you speak to them. This way you’re able to direct your customers to the people with the right knowledge.
  5. Everything has a price. Balance how many customers your customer service staff can handle at the same time because there are some people who can handle four customers at once while others can’t.
  6. Be complete in your answer and go beyond just providing an answer to their question. Give them alternative product suggestions and more information than what they ask for.
  7. Close the sale and ask if they'd like to make a purchase
  8. Conduct a post-sale satisfaction survey. This way you can improve your service going forward.