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How Past Years Pushed E-Commerce To Meet Their Customer Expectations Changes

Joao Martins

Certified Customer Support Platforms Freelancer

More than 20 years of professional experience. Over 4 years in designing​,​ improving and selling customer support platforms.

8 min read

written by

Joao Martins

Certified Customer Support Platforms Freelancer

Joao Martins | Customer Care

In all the bad, we were lucky enough to be in the first pandemic in human history where we have this new dimension of life to take refuge, not so much to feel safe, but to BE (at least physically) safe - and that’s online. 

The last 20 years saw a fast growth of online presence in general, but still a gradual, organic and volunteer process. The 2020 online presence was in no way the result of a gradual process but of necessity. A reality that drove consumers to find solutions online during a period of great uncertainty, and asked them to place their trust on online businesses to keep life going. 

The current abnormality was bound to cause changes in customer expectations, especially in online business. And in turn, this natural consequence should prompt businesses to reexamine how they build trust with their customers in this new reality to stay relevant (or even to survive) in the long run. They need to meet the current general feeling of abnormality by reassuring consumers regarding their economical concerns, acknowledging their levels of anxiety and inspiring trust. They need to adapt to their customer’s new demands. 

What an opportunity to be seized 

One year ago the world was shifting. Lockdown measures were being implemented around the world and people were proactively protecting themselves. This sparked an unprecedented growth spurt to online shopping in Q2 of 2020.

The year closed with a growth of 34% on online sales against the previous plateau of 15%, and ecommerce accounting for 21.6% of the total retail sales in the U.S.

The punchline is simple, consumers shifted abruptly and are purchasing more online instead of offline. 

If those figures don’t put a smile on the face of everyone that works directly or indirectly with eCommerce, I don’t know what will. But to every online business owner, these smiles should come with an extra sense of responsibility. In this “current abnormal”, each additional dollar of a consumer’s budget allocated to online shopping comes with an adjustment of customer expectations attached.

The “current abnormal” - meet your customer needs!

“The new normal” or “the next normal”, keywords repeated to exhaustion in every corner of the online world these days. But instead of the “new” and the “next”, let’s focus on the “current abnormal” before it turns into any of those above. And let’s do so with these numbers in mind:

$791.70 billion in eCommerce sales in 2020, a 32.4% growth from 2019, where $105.47 billion are estimated to have been a direct cause of CoVid19.

The opportunity is there. And the real opportunity is not on the transitory “current abnormality” but rather on how online businesses deal and build from it to make it permanent. 

Ecommerce professionals learn fast to see numbers in terms of conversion. So look at it this way: 2020 offered THE big conversion opportunity. 

We have been looking (and still are) to a reshuffle of customer loyalties. If they cannot follow their old purchase habits, they will create new ones. At least until their old habits can go back to what they were. This is that once in a lifetime opportunity, where customers walk into your front door because the usual options are out of order. Don’t just take their cash, show them that you can be their usual option too.

As always, to convert, businesses need to know and understand their customers. In this case, that means to understand how their expectations shifted.

How the pandemic is changing customer expectations

We could say that customer expectations are higher than ever, but that wouldn’t be entirely true:

Let’s break down each of those points, starting with what defines a better customer service in this report with 3 key findings.

  • A more responsive and empathetic communication.
  • A timely and well explained resolution on the first response.
  • Not having to repeat themselves and not receiving robotic replies.

On the other hand, customers are willing to give back the empathy they demand from online business, by understanding the challenges that logistics faced in 2020. But keep in mind that this is not at all a free pass, customers patience has limits:

  • 60% lowered their expectations regarding shipping times only for the short-term. 
  • 97% considered shipping costs to be important
  • 92% see shipping speed as an important factor when purchasing online.

These 6 stats clearly show that customers expect to be heard, prioritized, treated as human beings by other human beings and for the whole process to be as predictable as possible

This should go without saying, but an online business should also keep in mind that consumers in this current abnormality are particularly sensitive to trust (even more than before), so online businesses should more than ever be upfront with transparency and responsible with the commitments they make.  

Imagine the consumer that found himself with no other option but to buy online what he used to buy offline. It’s not a simple swap of brand or supplier, there is an extra layer of trust that he transfers to a business when he makes a purchase decision - a part of the evaluation and item selection process that lead to that decision.

He cannot touch, feel, try or have a momentaneous conversion with the store assistant about the product. Or be sure of where exactly to go to return/complain if something is wrong. So this consumer expects you, the online business, to assume that layer of trust. 

Keeping up with customer expectations in 2020

Having a general picture of customer expectations during the current abnormality was (is) key to step up and grab this unique opportunity. 

You heard this one thousand times before, but it cannot be stressed enough - it is all about the customer and your relationship with him - care and connection, these are the fundamentals, and your number one priority. 

Let’s focus on what is most relevant across the board and true for any online business. If you want to make sure that your business is ready to keep up with your customer expectations during the current abnormality you need to look into 2 different levels:

  • The human level - your stance towards your customers.
  • The technological level - the tools you resort to. 

The first will define your priorities and align your guidebook when communicating with your customers ensuring coherence across all steps and all channels. The second will allow you to reach your customer and provide the efficiency you need without overwhelming you. 

Relate to your customer on the human level, the cornerstone of your bond

Your team is your number one resource, train your support team whole team to be customer-focused and your customer will always naturally come first no matter what. 

Make sure that your team:

  • Listens first and always has a positive and empathic stance when addressing your customer concerns. That will make your customers feel related on a human level.
  • Doesn’t overpush and is not too marketish. When you reach out, reach out to help. Do you know that feeling when the shop assistant is constantly trying to sell you everything? Avoid that. 
  • (again) Listens. I am sure that you track your metrics and measure your KPI’s, but this is listening from the front row, not only behind the counter but on the aisle together with your customers. When your customers talk to you, they provide feedback that is key to allow you to react fast and adapt to changes in customer demands and expectations. 

Up-to-date technology will go a long way for your customers, without overwhelming your team

In the last years, I have seen the evolution and proliferation of tools designed to make every eCommerce professional life easier, more connected, and more efficient in the use of their resources. Every new tool and every new feature opens new possibilities. Some of them with a direct positive impact on your bond with your customer, and his perception of your brand. 

Multichannel ticketing systems

You need to be “everywhere”, which means, where your customer is, so you need to be in the relevant channels. Be it Facebook messenger, Livechat on your website, phone, Instagram, wherever. But attending to each channel individually would be a drain of resources and a headache. Multichannel ticketing platforms prevent you from being overwhelmed and allow you to answer everyone from one spot, keep a history log for each customer, automations, etc.

Chatbots and automations

Human interactions will always take time. But most of the time, your customers need a quick answer on an easy or common topic. So offer him the possibility to self-serve or to get an instant answer. But make sure that you always offer clear access to human interaction. This will also reduce the stress on your team and allow them to focus on less trivial inquiries.

Tracking and improved logistics

Customers expect you to be straightforward regarding the delivery of their order, so gain customer’s trust by providing a clear picture of the delivery process. Having a tracking service directly on your website will make it easier to be found and reinforce your connection with your customer. To make sure you follow through their expectations and make the process more predictable, notify him about the delivery status on every major step.

Now, what about the “new” “next”?

We all know (or wish) that this current abnormality is a transitory reality. To what extent it is transitory and how much it will impact what comes next we still don’t know. 

But as to the few good bits, it’s up to us to make the best out of them and make them persist.

We are seeing long-term brick-and-mortar customers switching to ecommerce as well as new customers taking chances on digital-first businesses. (...) Do we know if these changes will stick? Not yet. - This is surely not the time to disappoint your customers. 

Last note

While writing this text, I kept using “us” instead of “consumers” and then replacing one with the latter for the sake of context. But in reality, you and me - “us” - are all consumers, and “us” buy online too. So when you do, take the time to acknowledge the expectations you have bound to that purchase. Think about how that online transaction could be improved and provide you a better experience as a customer. 

Those are genuine consumer experiences that put you in the skin of your customers, and the best lessons. 

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written by

Joao Martins

Certified Customer Support Platforms Freelancer

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