Customer Contact and Support Tools – Best Practices for Online Retailers

If you’ve ever experienced frustration at the hands of a website not providing an easy line of communication or even visible contact details, then consider the fact that visitors or consumers using your site may be feeling the same pain. Here are some tips for improving your customer experience.

If you’ve ever experienced frustration at the hands of a website not providing an easy line of communication or even visible contact details, then consider the fact that visitors or consumers using your site may be feeling the same pain.

Peruse your site and ask the following questions.

  1. Does the site provide correct and easily found contact information?
  2. Am I aware of all types of customer service tools available, including offline, online and mobile support?
  3. Are there enough company resources in place to correctly and efficiently deal with site visitors and customers using the customer support tools?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then there’s a high chance potential customers are turning away from your site. So what’s the way forward?


Having a visible contact number is a must.  Even though a large amount of correspondence nowadays takes place via email, the majority of consumers still like to make a phone call and talk to someone.

“The cornerstone issue is one of trust and availability,” explains John Debrincat, CEO of eCorner, a company providing ecommerce and message security solutions for secure ebusiness.  “People tend to have a greater degree of trust in someone they know they can contact. Without any contact details on site or information about who owns or created it, your trust level is decreased, especially in an online ecommerce environment [involving] financial details.”

Debrincat suggests all online retailers should, at the very least, have the following contact information prominent:

  • A visible and easily found phone number.  If you only have a mobile number, look into setting up a 1300 or 1800 number that can be diverted to your phone.  This can be set up for a relatively low cost.
  • A physical address.  Even a PO Box is ok, as it tells customers and site visitors that you are actually contactable at a location.
  • An email address or web form, whereby you can utilise a call back system.


Once you have your basic contact information in place, build upon your customer support mechanisms.  Look at what’s available.  As well as the basics, channels such as live chat, forums, blogs, video tutorials, text messaging and social media such as Twitter and Facebook are all being maximised by some online retailers to satisfy their customer enquiries and support needs.

The US-based Zappos, an apparel, accessories and homewares pureplay retailer, handles 5,000 to 7,000 calls a day, 9,000 live chats a month and 50,000 emails a month. The team at Zappos are well aware that keeping on top of customer service is one way to gain the edge over competitors.

“Twitter is still catching on,” say Abby Nicklin and Jim Green, Zappos Customer Loyalty Team Leaders, “we responded to about 2,025 tweets in this past May.  Twitter has been a great new realm of customer support we can offer.”

“More online retailers and online service providers are offering social media as a way of giving support requests and getting their message out there,” says Debrincat,  “including special offers or when there are issues with their website.”

These methods of contact are also useful for overseas customers who don’t want to pay for international phone calls or wait for an email response, as it the case with many Zappos customers.  “Live chat has only been growing and we can’t wait to see its full potential,” say Nicklin and Green.

Debrincat also describes Youtube as a fantastic capability for people to get their message out there by being able to offer short videos on how to use product, what happens if something goes wrong, or what can be done to make this process good for the consumer.  “They are all real live opportunities today that aren’t hard to get into, and provide the next level of customer service.”

And in a world more mobile than ever, mobile communication, such as iPhone applications, is also worth investigating, so people can browse, search and buy product on the move (see Does Your Business Need an App?). The personal practice of having an app on a handheld device adds a whole new element to the shopping experience and the potential impulse buy. It allows retailers to push communications direct to the hand, with purchasing functionality built in for instant satisfaction. From pizzas to plasma screens, the race for apps is fast gaining ground as a key means of competitive advantage. Built-in games, video and other rich media to engage customers are being developed daily. “We are going to see even more retail apps emerging as the iPad [and similar tablet computers] gain momentum,” adds Debrincat.


Selecting the best methods for your online business really depends on the size of your company.  It makes sense for large retailers with call centres to use an avenue like live chat.  Yet if a small retailer uses this option and the live chat is neglected due to lack of resources, it has a negative impact.  As Debrincat puts it, “Customers or visitors will end up saying ‘Well what kind of service am I going to get if I can’t even use the live chat that is displayed on the website?’”

In order to avoid such negativity, be realistic about which customer support tool you can service best from your end.  If your site is selling a product that requires instructions on use, perhaps some time spent in putting together video tutorials or providing user forums with user generated content and links to these on your site will help ease the flow of calls to your phone lines.

Michaels Camera-Video-Digital has been utilising online video tutorials since April, educating customers on how to take a good photo. Peter Michael, Managing Director, says this is their opportunity to show customers that they are more than box movers and has no doubt increased their site visitor to customer conversion rate. “The videos are short and snappy and useful to such a diverse audience including school kids, uni students and industry.  We are more than happy with the results.”

Other ways in which to round out your customer support include supplying obvious and easily found Frequently Asked Questions, with clear and concise answers.

Debrincat also says online retailers should not be afraid of providing customer feedback opportunities, such as product ratings.  “You won’t always get a positive rating, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he explains. “You need [active] customer feedback as it gives visitors and consumers the feeling that you are actually listening them.”

Software such as Kampyle is able to provide feedback options and services, including the most important aspect –– management of the feedback given.  City Beach Australia is one such retailer who has utilised Kampyle, and as a direct result of taking action on the data gathered and analysed, has seen sales increase by 30% and conversion rates increase by 25%.

As Nicklin and Green explain, “Zappos feels that one of our greatest strengths, that sets us apart from anyone else, is the connection we make with each of our customers.”

Which, of course, is what great customer service is all about.  This in turn leads to confidence in your product.  There is no point installing the latest customer service support tool if you do not have the resources to respond to them correctly and efficiently.

So what’s the state of your customer service?  What are your competitors doing?  Perhaps the secret to gaining the competitor advantage lies in your customer support.


6 thoughts on “Customer Contact and Support Tools – Best Practices for Online Retailers”

  1. RT @powerretail: Does your site rate in customer service? Read about #onlineretail customer service best practices

  2. missriz says:

    RT @powerretail: Does your site rate in customer service? Read about #onlineretail customer service best practices

  3. Elisabeth Lambert says:

    RT @powerretail: Does your site rate in customer service? Read about #onlineretail customer service best practices

  4. The impression you make on your customers is very important in business.You need to value your clients and provide them with the information they need.Thanks for sharing your ideas.It means a lot!

  5. Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog.
    Is it hard to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about creating
    my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? Many thanks

  6. Tom says:

    Try paying a professional.

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