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Ecommerce Customer Service: 8 Misconceptions

Posted by David Conway on May 23, 2017

Comcast has built quite a reputation in the Philadelphia area in recent years—and it’s not a good one.  The media giant’s customer service problems have become notorious, with mounting consumer complaints and increasingly negative press coverage. 

Just last year, for example, 15% of Comcast’s Philadelphia customers got a busy signal when they called the customer service number.  One customer reported that he’d been put on hold for more than 3 hours when he wanted to cancel his service.  Another found himself arguing with a call center representative for 10 minutes—the rep demanded he give “a reasonable explanation” for cancelling. 

Customer Service Varies Widely by Industry

Although most consumers (62%) rated their call center experiences as satisfactory, more than 1 in 3 reported such experiences did not meet their expectations—and poor customer service is more likely in some industries than in others.  That’s the conclusion of a recent study from the American Customer Service Index (ACSI).  Their analysis found that the worst customer service is in 3 industries:  internet service providers, subscription television, and power companies. 

Ecommerce businesses (“online retail” in the ACSI index) scored an overall customer service rating of 83 in 2016, significantly stronger than internet service providers (64), wireless telephone (71) and subscription television (65).  That, of course, is an average, and some ecommerce businesses did substantially better than others (Amazon, for example, was rated at 84, but 1-800-Flowers at 69). 

There’s a lot at stake for those ecommerce businesses which don’t regularly monitor and improve customer service.  A recent poll from Harris Interactive, for example, found that 86% of customers say they’ve abandoned a company based on a poor call center experience.

The Major Causes of Bad Customer Service

There are 3 major factors which play into bad customer service according to the Taylor Research Group:

  1. A lack of adequate funding:  this tends to be more the case for small and medium size businesses, where call center budgets are a subset of larger departments, like IT or Operations;

  2. A lack of attention:  the problem for large companies is not understanding that strong customer service matters—as a result, they don’t provide adequate support; and

  3. An absence of continual improvement:  many companies think of customer service as a “one and done” deal.”  They assume that, having put in the necessary staff and money, their work is completed.  As a result, they don’t monitor complaints or check with call center managers for emerging problems.

It’s Not the Rep's Fault

If you’ve ever gotten into a heated argument with a call center representative, your anger is probably misplaced.  surprised-customer-service-representative.jpgThe problem is almost always with the person who trained that representative, or who currently manages them.  Those trainers and managers in most cases don’t understand call center best practices, instead basing key decisions on popular misconceptions, and those misconceptions can mean big problems for your ecommerce business.

Here are 8 common misconceptions about call centers and customer service:

  1. If a customer doesn’t complain, he’s satisfied:  many call centers measure the strength of the customer service they provide on the number of complaints they receive.  This assumes that the lack of a complaint equals satisfaction.  That’s simply not true—some people just don’t like confrontations, and others who have bad experiences decide to move on to another company rather than complain when things start to go downhill. 

  2. Solving an immediate problem equals adequate service:  if an ecommerce business helps a customer track down his lost shipment on Thursday, he assumes the customer is satisfied—but what if the customer had the same problem on Monday, and 5 times in the previous month?  Call centers need to look at service more holistically, keeping records of all customer interactions.

  3. You should never say “I don’t know: the more complex a business is, the more likely its call center reps won’t have all the answers.  It’s better for a call center rep to acknowledge he doesn’t have an answer (and will find someone who does and get back to the customer) than to make up an answer which will almost certainly lead to problems down the road.

  4. Giving customers something for free is as good as solving their problem:  for some companies, the default position when a customer complains is to give them a discount or a free gift.  Most customers don’t want a $5 discount on their next purchase—they want you to solve their problem.

  5. Savings trump service:  some companies assume that offering their products or services for less than their competitors means they can slack on customer service.  According to recent studies, however, quality service produces a 10-15% increase in revenues vs. savings.  What customers want is value, not savings. 

  6. Automated systems are as good as live agents:  in fact, the inability to speak with a person is one of the biggest complains customers have.  A recent study from Gartner, for example, found that 1 in 3 call center interactions still requires human support.

  7. What customers want is speed:  although it’s true that customers don’t appreciate unnecessary chatter, like a call center rep asking them how the weather is in their area, what they want is an effective solution, even if it means waiting for it.

  8. Small companies are always at a disadvantage:  small businesses don’t have the same money or staff as large ones, but they have something large companies don’t:  a less bureaucratic organization, one which makes it easier for communications to pass up and down the management structure and solve customer problems—this is one of the reasons local credit unions regularly get higher customer service ratings than big banks.


According to a recent Business 3 Community article, Top 6 Reasons Why eCommerce Businesses Fail, 8 of every 10 ecommerce startups fail within the first two years.  One of the reasons is poor service:

“One of the best ways to think ahead in your business planning is not about inventory, cash-flow, driving sales or marketing — all of which are very important, but it is in fact about thinking of your online store as a service provider. That means that you should be investing in long-term strategies aimed at providing the best customer service to your shoppers over an extended period of time.”

Managing your ecommerce business can be complicated, especially in those critical first 2 years.  To learn more about the ways our development, creative, photography, marketing, fulfillment and customer service ecommerce solutions can help you build your business and increase sales, contact us today.


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Topics: Ecommerce, Customer service, Best practices

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