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The Digital Business Kit for Retailers

Learning Outcomes

Retailers will identify the online Customer Support strategies that can best suit their business. [printfriendly]

mod-arrow What is Online Customer Support?

Customer Support is the process of a retailer assisting its customers. This can take place anytime during the customer engagement cycle starting from the first moments customers encounter your brand online and continuing through product research, shopping, purchase, delivery, and post sale-support. Online Customer Support means that many or all aspects of the customer support experience are enabled or enhanced online.

Consider how Customer Support is traditionally provided as part of an in-store experience:

  1. cs3Welcoming and helpful: Involves greeting customers, asking how you can help, providing insight on products, uses and fit for shopper, and immediate helpful answers.
  2. Conducive shopping experience: Easy to navigate store and services; ensure that the store is clean and bright, and customers can easily find what they need.
  3. Customer relations: Can you call the customer by name, do you know their preferences and history with the store?
  4. The product: Clarity of the product or service is described by retail staff to ensure there is no disconnect from their expectation of what the product is and what the customer wants.
  5. The sale: Supporting decision-making, boosting confidence in purchase and up-selling other items customers should consider buying at the same time; also checking out and packaging products for the customer to take home including how-to, shipping details, etc.
  6. Post sale: Survey for satisfaction, warranty care, up-sell, review sites, customer follow-up, etc.
  7. Client care: Customer assistance with their purchase, managing complaints, post-sale issues, and returns policy.

How do you replicate traditional Customer Support in an online environment? All aspects of Customer Support should be addressed as part of your online business activities. Which elements require greater focus depends on your business model, the products and services you offer, how they are purchased and delivered. Your online customer support choices need to be planned and coordinated with your online sales and marketing plans to ensure that the customer experience reinforces your brand and attracts new and repeat customers.

The online model can increase the opportunity for customer interaction, service, and support. The following outlines the key areas of Customer Support and tools that can be applied to online sales and ongoing customer relations and support.

Customer Interaction
Explanation Tools required
ocs4A common concern for online sales is a loss of customer interaction. While having less of a human touch, the online experience can still offer a rich interaction allowing brands to welcome shoppers. Advanced programs can offer different welcome processes for return clients vs. new shoppers by greeting visitors with a “welcome back,” this may be a basic greeting or value added with coupon, product suggestions, etc. You may also use an avatar or interactive pop up.
  1. Live chat
  2. Social media
  3. Avatars
  4. Community/ forums
  5. Interactive video
Shopping Experience
Explanation Tools required
Your online presence should be easy to navigate with clear direction to products, help, shopping and of course customer service! Include contact information clearly, with obvious access to any customer support tools like online chat, emails, toll free numbers, etc. Remember that the customer experience includes easy access to ordering, order tracking, product and service selections, etc. Providing return clients with access to their account information also makes the experience better.
  1. Website
  2. Web store
  3. Customer portal
  4. Agent/ vendor portals
  5. Admin area
Customer Relations
Explanation Tools required
Most of us are familiar with the positive effect of returning to a place where you are known and warmly welcomed. Various technologies can support businesses in providing excellent customer service by storing customer details – from contact information to personal shopping preferences. This extra effort has been proven to encourage repeat business, up-sells and word-of-mouth referrals.

crmCustomer Relations Management systems (CRMs) are one choice of a technology which can support this level of customer service, whether staff are greeting clients in person, by phone or online. Customer databases can also provide a wealth of information about who is buying what, which can be used for optimising revenues and up-selling products.

  1. Customer relations
  2. Management systems (CRM)
  3. Social media
  4. Customer databases
  5. Login algorithms
  6. Survey/ contests
Product Knowledge
Explanation Tools required
Customers need to understand your product and understand its value. Showing product availability (ex. in stock), purchase choices (size, color, etc.), clear Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), product demos using videos and/or free trials and customer reviews, can support product knowledge while instilling buyer confidence. A strong influence in developing product trust and knowledge, are review sites and/or embedded reviews in your online presence.
  1. Demos and trials
  2. Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  3. Reviews testimonials
  4. Content/ media
  5. Availability tools
The Sale
Explanation Tools required
Make it easy to buy! The customer purchase experience is improved using an easy to understand, secure (see Security module), and quick checkout. Getting more revenue per customer is aided by allowing your shoppers to add multiple items to a shopping cart before the final checkout. Many online stores also recommend other items they may want to buy (up-sell) based on other buyer experiences.

Provide information on shipping as applicable, including shipping methods, costs, as well as available shipping locations. Will you ship anywhere or only to specified locations?

For more information about the sale see the Selling Online module.

  1. Shopping carts
  2. Website check out
  3. Up-sell mechanism
  4. Sales support
Post Sale
Explanation Tools required
Once you have made the sale, it is not the end of the customer experience or your customer service and support. Delivery of the product or service must be executed quickly and effectively. Clients will want to know when they will receive their purchase and the shipping status.

Follow up surveys for review sites, customer loyalty programs, special offers, and ongoing communication with customers all support your marketing efforts and encourage repeat customers and referrals for new customers.

  1. Review program
  2. Communication/ application
  3. Delivery tracking/ CRMs
  4. Inventory management
  5. Customer incentive
Client Care
Explanation Tools required
Whether your shop sells a product or a service, post sale client care will often be required. This can include additional training, technical support as well as dealing with product malfunctions, order errors, returns, etc.

Are your customer service efforts working? Follow-up using customer satisfaction surveys, will give you valuable feedback and is generally appreciated by your customers.

  1. CRMs
  2. Ticketing support system
  3. Training applications
  4. Customer satisfaction
Explanation Tools required
Some products and services require training or how-to information to ensure that the customer has a positive experience. Training can often be effectively provided online through live webinars, prerecorded videos, online guides and FAQs.
  1. Live webinars
  2. Videos
  3. Online guides
Live Support
Explanation Tools required
Throughout the entire process the customer experience can be enhanced through the use of live Customer Support. The need and methods need to be carefully considered based on your products and services, since live support requires resources and may incur additional systems costs.

Live support can be provided through a simple online text chat interface or it may be provided through a more sophisticated call center application with voice communication and integrated with your customer order and account system.

  1. Live chat
  2. Call centers
  3. Account integration
Explanation Tools required
The website is the hub of any online business strategy, including customer service. Websites should be designed essentially to act as another staff person, able to tell customers about products, answer questions, demo products, inform visitors of hours of operation, pricing, warranty, return policies and submissions and much more.

Need a website? Click here to view website resources in the Selling Online module.

  1. Web store
  2. Live chat
  3. Account integration
  4. Videos
  5. Checkout
  6. Reviews or feedback
Self Serve Options
Explanation Tools required
This element of Customer Support and service provides options to clients to self-serve and should be balanced with options for easy access to additional support if required. Self-serve options can be more effective for both the business owner and customer and can include such functions as: view and download eBills, online payments, profile updates, shipping status as well as more complex functions like order updates.

Why self serve? Enhance the customer experience by providing self serve capacity for customers to view and edit their own account information or place orders 24/7 on their own schedule.

  1. Clear guidelines
  2. Ticket support system
  3. Live chat