Rude sales assistants, unhelpful call centre staff, or advisors who are impossible to find… not surprisingly these are major bugbears for customers, and the chances are they’ll take their business elsewhere.
And with a wealth of choice on the world wide web, online customers are doing exactly the same. Increasingly, they’re coming to expect a high standard of customer service, and are refusing to put up with substandard service.
A recent survey by American Express found that two-thirds of customers were willing to spend more with a company that provides excellent service. Furthermore, three in four respondents said they had spent more with a company because of a history of positive experiences.
If you’re running a neighbourhood cafe or shoe shop, the chances are you already know how to keep your customers happy. But if you’re running an online store, with customers in different countries, this can be more of a challenge.
Here are some ways to ensure your online customers are smiling with delight, rather than gritting their teeth in frustration…
Provide a great web experience
For some people, the phrase “at the click of a button” evokes the response “if only it were that easy”. Slow, difficult-to-navigate websites, complicated payment forms, can all turn shopping into a chore.
If you’re operating in foreign markets, then a speaking your customers’ language can smooth the journey. The Common Sense Advisory found that most consumers prefer to buy in their native tongue (even if they speak another language fluently) and spend more time on websites.
Try to anticipate your customers’ needs – whether that’s answering common questions, suggesting similar items or making payment as easy as possible.
Many people are understandably reluctant to part with their money online. This can be especially true of an international website. As well as translating your website, ideally you should localise it, by making sure your content is adapted to the target audience.
Other important details include displaying prices in the local currency, information about shipping and a clear returns policy. These all help inspire trust in a website, especially if they’re not familiar with your brand. Make sure you research local regulations – for example, how long customers have to return goods.
Many online customers worry about the goods not arriving on time, or not meeting their expectations. This is especially true when shopping across borders. Make it as easy as possible to get in touch with your company. If multilingual sales staff are out of your budget, then a simple contact form or email address is the easiest option.
A quick response should be a top priority – especially if a customer has a concern. Be realistic about how long it will take you to respond (for example within 24 hours) and make this clear.
Twitter and Facebook might not be your preferred methods of communication, but they may well be your customers’! And most users expect a response within a few hours. An added plus – it’s a way to show your online followers that you’re attentive and care about your customers. It’s also a good way to show your brand’s “human” side.
Consider cultural differences
While “Hi Dave” might be a friendly opening line when emailing your American customers, it could seem overly familiar to your German or Japanese ones. Levels of formality are just one thing that varies between countries. While you want to inject a little personality into your interaction with customers, do take into account the quirks of each culture, and remember humour can be particularly tricky.
While American and British consumers are happy to use their credit cards online, Swedish ones are more reluctant. In fact, it’s much more common to pay by bank transfer after receiving the goods. With a little research and cultural know-how, you can build trust and keep your customers coming back.
Surprise and delight!
There are few better advocates than a happy customer, so make this a top priority for all your staff. Aim to exceed their expectations, whether that’s delivering faster than promised, or even writing hand-written thank you notes (as Wufoo, the online form company does).
Zappo’s is famous for putting its customers first. If they don’t ship items to a particular country, they’ll even send a list of other suppliers who can supply the same goods locally.
You don’t have to do this, but little details such as follow-up emails, updates on their order, or a reward for recommending a friend, can help you build long term relationships with your global customers.