Why Customer Self-Service Is So Important (and How to Do It Right)

How well are you helping customers help themselves?

This is an important question for retail brands. More than 90% of customers want and expect to be able to go to a brand’s website and make informed purchase decisions, perform account-related tasks, and get their questions answered without having to contact a customer service agent.

Customer self-service isn’t just a courtesy: it’s an organizational imperative. Over half of shopping carts are abandoned due to hidden or hard-to-find product, price, and/or policy details—costing retailers $4 trillion in sales revenue each year.

Retailers are also draining revenue by way of unnecessary customer contacts. One study suggests that by 2018, brands could reduce their support costs by as much as 25% by better informing and empowering their customers online.

If you want to drive fewer customers to your contact center and close more online sales, you need to make sure everything your customers need is in plain view—or, at the very least, intuitively organized and easy to find.

Customer Self-Service: 3 Critical Do’s

For Internet retailers, transparency is the name of the game. Customers want solid information and input so they can purchase with confidence.

What customers don’t want is to spend precious time hunting for answers on your website—or contacting you when they can’t find what they’re looking for. And they certainly don’t want any surprises during the checkout process.
These three “do’s” should be top priorities for your site.

1. Do provide as much product information as you can, right up front.

The 30 brands in our StellaService Ecommerce Index provide varying amounts of information on their product pages. More is always better. If you’re aiming for best in class, you should include the following details on every product page.

  • Reviews—Product reviews make or break many online sales. In fact, 85% of consumers consider online reviews before making a purchase. Pro tip: The more reviewers are able to share about themselves, the more trust your customers will place in the reviews.
  • Side-by-side comparisons—Only 23% of our Index brands offer side-by-side product comparisons. Most provide “recommended products” or “similar items,” but these don’t give customers the opportunity to narrow their choices based on specific criteria—thus increasing the likelihood customers will contact you for help.
  • In stock—Customers care about product availability. If you don’t include that information up front, they’ll assume the item is in stock—until they find out otherwise. (Much to their dismay.)
  • Fit/“as expected”— Every apparel retailer we surveyed provided sizing guides. But only 83% provided crucial context (item runs small, true to size, or large). Pro tip: Specifically ask for this information on the product review form, and consider aggregating the responses.
  • Shipping costs—To our surprise, 83% of the brands we surveyed did not provide exact shipping costs on the product page. Leaving customers in suspense until checkout time is our #1 “don’t,” and for good reason (see below).
  • Shipping/return policy—People who buy online want to know what they’re getting into and what they should expect. To avoid causing confusion and frustration—or worse, causing customers to lose faith in your brand—make your policies clear before customers proceed to checkout.
  • Warranty information–Showing confidence in your product is important, and a strong warranty can be a deciding factor for customers who are on the fence. Pro tip: Take the opportunity to upsell by way of tiered protection plans.

When it isn’t possible or practical to include something right on the product page—for example, if your return policy has numerous caveats and exceptions—you should include a button customers can click to expand a window or open a dedicated page.

2. Do make your account pages self-service hubs.

Routine administrative tasks—for example, creating an account, adding/changing a payment method, saving a shipping address, and managing email notifications—shouldn’t require a customer contact. All the Index retailers we surveyed enabled these same capabilities on their customer account pages.

However, we did see some missed opportunities. Only 43% of the Index brands actually provided tracking information on the account page itself. (The rest redirected customers to the UPS or FedEx website—not necessarily a bad thing, but not a best practice.) And only 7% of the brands we surveyed included historical order tracking info. If you truly want to minimize clicks and contacts, we recommend following in these brands’ footsteps.

Pro tip: Make your account pages easy to navigate by organizing topics in groups and using icons or other visual cues wherever possible.

3. Do make returns easy.

For ecommerce brands, returns are a fact of life. You should not only be transparent about your return policy, but also make the returns process as easy as possible.

We found that 83% of the Index brands offer prepaid return labels in the delivery box and/or online. Prepaid labels make returning orders a no-brainer, thus alleviating the burden on both customers and contact center agents. If you don’t offer prepaid labels, your customers will have to go the extra mile to remedy a bad purchase—and they’ll know you’re behind the curve.

Customer Self-Service: 3 Absolute Don’ts

Creating more work for your customers, wasting their time, frustrating them—these can be deadly to online sales and customer relationships. And they’ll only drive more contacts.

If you want to maximize revenue (top and bottom line), build loyalty, and protect your brand image, avoid these mistakes at all costs.

1. Don’t make shoppers wait to find out about shipping costs and/or delays.

Shipping costs and delivery windows are important to online shoppers. They want to know the full price of their order, and how long they’ll have to wait for it, before adding it to their cart. More than half of online shopping carts are abandoned due to a rude surprise at checkout, with high shipping costs being the #1 culprit.
Be sure to include shipping costs on the product page. If an item is out of stock or requires more time to process (because it’s being customized, for example), make sure customers know that before they proceed to checkout.

Pro tip: In addition to shipping costs, provide shipping options on the product page—including a sign-up button for any discount shipping programs you offer (à la Amazon Prime).

2. Don’t make your Help/FAQ page a giant wall of text.

Customers shouldn’t have to scroll all the way down your Help/FAQ page to find the answers they’re looking for. Like customer account pages, your Help/FAQ page should be organized logically and include visual cues to draw the eye toward relevant topics. It should also have search functionality that produces relevant results.

Unfortunately, only 33% of the brands we surveyed had search bars on their help/FAQ pages. We found this very surprising. It’s a critical feature too few retailers are offering—and, for the minority of brands that do offer it, a great point of distinction.

3. Don’t bury your contact information.

If you’re trying to reduce contacts, why should you make your contact information easy for all to see? Because some customers prefer high-touch service and will contact you no matter what. And, no matter how well organized and informative your site is, there will always be customers who can’t find the answers they need.

Conflating customer self-service with customer self-support is an all-too-common mistake. Whatever you do, make your contact details easy to access. And never, ever make customers jump through hoops to locate your contact information—only to find themselves at a dead end.

Need Inspiration?

Our survey of the StellaService Ecommerce Index brands led us to some amazing finds. Check out our recent webinar “Customer Self-Service,” where you’ll learn about the state of the industry, additional do’s and don’ts, and a variety of best-in-class features and tools that empower customers, drive sales, and elevate brands.

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