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6 Reasons Why Human Contact Matters In Online Commerce

Online shopping is often great for businesses and customers alike. However, it’s still crucial for shoppers to have the option of speaking with a real person.

Image of an online shopper who needs to talk to a real person

Editor’s Note: This post was submitted by guest blogger, Patrick Foster. Enjoy!

We all enjoy the wonders of automation and digital technology, and no one wants a full return to the old methods of arduously handling everything manually, but it’s undeniable that there are issues inherent to hands-off ecommerce.

If you want to make the most of the online retail world, earning more sales and winning more loyal customers, you need to provide human contact. Here are 6 reasons why it’s so important:

It’s more convenient for the customer

Let’s say you’re browsing an online store and you need to find something out: you want to know when an item will be back in stock, or whether a particular product is available in other colors, or even what couriers are available in your area. Some of this information might be available on the website, but even if it is, there’s no guarantee that you’ll know where to find it.

Factor in that not all shoppers will be confident using technology, and there’s a solid chance that any given visitor will reach a point of wanting to know something but not understanding how they’re supposed to acquire that information. And what if someone needs to check something when they’re not in an area with a strong data signal and they can’t get online?

Having the option to just call and speak to someone directly is far more convenient for customers. They can then use online stores knowing that they have some way to escalate things if they get completely stuck.

It lets customers vent their frustrations

However hard you try, it isn’t possible to keep all customers happy at all times with every part of a retail service. Mistakes will be made, unfortunate events will occur, and people will have bad days for unrelated reasons and direct their anger at the stores they use. This isn’t a huge problem in itself as long as the frustrations can be dealt with.

But look at how a larger portion of online stores handle customer complaints. They use complex and unwieldy automated forms that barely appear to do anything. They open support tickets that slowly filter through their systems and are prone to disappearing for no clear reason. Even if the issues get resolved, the customers don’t get any satisfaction, and they end up holding grudges.

In a phone call, though, a customer can raise their voice and let that frustration out. They can make snide remarks and issue unreasonable demands until they’ve fully vented and can calm down. It isn’t much fun for the person on the receiving end, but patience and empathy are valuable for the business: quite often, a frustrated customer who gets to express their frustration will feel grateful for the gentle treatment and end up very happy with the service.

It makes problems easier to resolve

With so many different types of devices being used to view websites (desktops, laptops, and smartphones of countless manufacturers and varieties), browser versions, and types of internet connection, there’s a lot that can go wrong with online shopping. And what makes things so much trickier is that it can be challenging for a customer to explain exactly what their issue is.

Anyone who has ever used a tech support service (or worked for one) will understand that it can take a few minutes to figure out the nature of a complaint. If someone says “the store isn’t working,” what does that mean? Perhaps it isn’t loading, or it loads but doesn’t respond, or the computer itself isn’t working. But over the course of a conversation, it can be figured out through sensible questioning.

Ticketing systems often use generic problem categories that are intended to get this information, but if the customer doesn’t understand the problem, they won’t be able to usefully choose. And if it takes twenty support ticket updates to reach the heart of the problem, you might be looking at weeks before any progress is made. Human contact is the key to avoiding that lag.

It establishes personal connections

Have you ever walked into a brick-and-mortar store and struck up a friendly conversation with the store assistant who can intuit your needs? It’s an unexpected but positive event that fundamentally shifts your perception of the store in general and your likelihood of becoming a customer. After that, when you think of that store, you’ll think of that pleasant experience.

When someone shops online without talking to anyone, they don’t get that kind of connection, so they decide whether to buy based purely on the details: the price of the product, the quality of the images, how much they want that item. That’s fine if your store can provide industry-leading offers, but if it can’t, you’ll need an edge to stand out. Having a friendly and welcoming customer service team is one way to establish that edge.

It addresses a trust gap

The main advantage of using a physical store is that you get to see, touch, and test the products you’re considering. In visiting a store, you also get contextual clues to help you form an opinion about the quality of the company. How is everything maintained? Do the employees seem professional? What else can you glean from your surroundings?

Online, you don’t have access to that kind of useful context. Instead of being able to look closely at the products, you can only view a gallery of images, the accuracy of which can’t be verified. And while you can judge the quality of the website (how quickly it loads, how well it’s designed), it’s not as significant — a mediocre company can buy a decent business website very cheaply, so you can’t even be sure that the retailer was involved in the design to a major extent.

But speaking to someone over the phone gives you much-needed tonal context. You can decide if you trust them, gauge their professionalism, ask them wide-ranging questions to find out more about the business. Armed with that information, you can feel more confident about buying.

It’s great for upselling and cross-selling

There’s a lot of money in the ecommerce world, and if you want to maximize your profits, you need to pursue as much of it as you can. That means doing more than just settling for the occasional one-item order. When you’ve done the hard part of convincing someone that your store is the right choice for their purchase, you should at least try to persuade them to expand their order by choosing a higher-quality version or throwing in some accessories.

Can you do this effectively online? Absolutely. There are plenty of systems for automating product suggestions and putting them in prominent positions around the checkout stage to attract some last-minute attention. But it’s more effective to sell to people in conversation, because you can read the room (so to speak). You can address reservations, cater your sales patter to the customer’s personality, and smartly pick out items you’re sure they’ll want.

Maybe one day an automated system will be able to handle that kind of sophisticated sales process, but we’re not there yet. Today, it’s still a matter for human intervention.

In many ways, ecommerce makes life easier for retailers and customers alike, but it’s a long way away from being able to compensate for a lack of human contact. The best solution for today’s ambitious digital retailer is to combine innovative support technologies with excellent personal customer support — that’s how you’ll stand out.

About the Author:  Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He really hates dealing with automated support systems. Visit the blog, and check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.

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About Andrew Tillery

Born and raised in Oregon, Andrew has now put down roots in Seattle, because he refuses to call anywhere but the Pacific Northwest home. After graduating from Portland State University with a double major in Marketing and Advertising, he spent some time learning Spanish and experiencing all that South America has to offer. It was while he was south of the equator that he uncovered an interest in writing that he strives to develop whenever the opportunity is presented. When Andrew isn't taking care of business at the office, he is throwing fuel on his fiery passions for sports and the outdoors.