By Matt Wollersheim

It can be difficult to establish a competitive advantage in the crowded world of e-commerce. However, customer service can be a way to set yourself apart from competitors and cultivate lasting virtual relationships with customers that are just as powerful as those you’d have with a physical business and in-person interaction.

Here are a few simple ways to improve your e-commerce customer service.

Be available at the customer’s convenience.

You have official business hours of operation, but e-commerce means customers have the ability to shop at their convenience. As a result, your customer service should accommodate the customer’s schedule, not yours. You may not have the resources to staff a 24/7-call center, but there are many affordable companies that can provide live chat support for your e-commerce customers after hours. Given that studies indicate more than 90 percent of customers are satisfied once they use live chat, it’s likely that you’ll experience a positive return from such an investment.

You can also take real-time communication a step further by leveraging social media profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter as another type of customer service channel. Not only will customers receive the help they need, you’ll build credibility as other prospects and customers who visit your social media profiles see your commitment to customer service.

Proactively answer their questions.

An FAQ page can reduce the costs of manning a customer service call center, and help you capture what might otherwise become a lost sale when a customer cannot find an answer to a question in the midst of placing an online order. Create an FAQ page to address common questions you receive via email, phone and live chat; design it with features that empower customers to search for and identify the information they need quickly. Depending on the complexity of your products and nature of what you sell, your FAQ page might include a search box feature, an alphabetized list of questions/answers, categories, and visual icons that keep the page easy to navigate.

Provide accurate inventory and shipping information.

E-commerce customers shop online for convenience; they want to know when and how their items will arrive once they’ve trusted you with their business. You can instantly improve your e-commerce customer experience by keeping your customers informed about their order, every step of the way:

  • Send customers an email or text message notification as soon as their order has been formally placed and received by your company.
  • Notify them of the estimated timeline for when it will be picked/packed and shipped.
  • When the order has shipped, send customers another email notifying them that it is in transit, along with carrier information and tracking numbers.
  • Follow up with an email asking about their experience

Be transparent. 

Not all customers will be satisfied with the product or service they receive, but your return policies can ensure that they at least have a positive experience with your brand when they do have an issue. Publish your return, exchange and refund policies clearly on your site so there are no surprises. Transparent and well-defined policies minimize the likelihood that you’ll receive requests for chargebacks, and increase the chances that customers will consider your business for their needs in the future — even if they have to return an item on occasion.

There are many ways to improve your e-commerce customer service, and most do not require that you make significant investments in your operations. In fact, the key to e-commerce customer service is a willingness to put yourself in the customer’s proverbial shoes, so you can offer the service features that are most likely to make his or her experience with your business positive.

As Vice President of Sales at Performance Card Service, Matt Wollersheim’s focus is on client relations, general marketing and development of new processing channels. Performance Card Service is an offshore merchant account provider