||Ecommerce Store Phone Support: Should You Offer It?
Sunday, June 30, 2013
For most small business owners, offering phone support most likely means taking the calls yourself. Taking phone calls during your working day (and perhaps even outside working hours) can be incredibly disruptive and time consuming, yet at the same time it could get you sales that you otherwise wouldn't have made.
In this article I’m going to list the advantages and disadvantages of offering phone support and discuss possible approaches to offering phone support in your ecommerce store.
Advantages of Offering Phone Support
You will learn a lot: If you are just starting out with your online store, there’s no better way to learn about your customers than by talking to them directly. They’ll ask and talk about things that they wouldn’t usually bother with in an email and it’s a great opportunity to learn the most common questions your customers have about your products and services.
Great customer experience: There is nothing more satisfying as a customer than picking up the telephone and getting answers to your questions ASAP. If a customer has to submit an email they may change their mind about their purchase or even go and purchase from another store.
Opportunity to build rapport: Talking directly with a person allows you to build a rapport which gives you the opportunity to turn a potential lead into a life-long customer, you might discover that you both support the same sports team or you both have a passion for One Direction (ok maybe not, but you get my point) and you can use this common interest to build your relationship and trust with the customer.
Builds trust: With today’s abundance of credit card fraud and identity theft, most online shoppers are extremely cautious about entering their credit card details into an ecommerce site they’ve never visited before. If they can pick up the phone and speak to a human being it goes a long way to building their trust towards your online store. Also, if you sell high priced items ($1,000 +), your customers are more likely going to want to chat someone about their purchase than if they are buying a $10 mobile phone case.
Disadvantages of Offering Phone Support
Customers can be drainers: There is no doubt that if you offer phone support you will receive calls from people who will waste a lot of your time. It would be great if every call was a couple of simple questions followed by an order but you will get calls in which people can take up an hour of your time asking about products then go and buy from the competition.
Very Time Consuming: Taking calls throughout the day makes it hard to focus for long periods of time, breaks your concentration and makes it more difficult to be productive.
Can be worse than not offering phone support – What’s worse than no phone support? Phone support that nobody answers! If you can’t commit to being available for a large chunk of time meaning anyone who calls your support number goes to voicemail then it may be better to not offer phone support at all.
My Recommended Approach to Offering Phone Support
If you are just starting out with your online business and only getting a few orders per day (or less) then I would recommend placing a toll free number quite prominently on your home page to entice your customers to call in.
Think of these calls as valuable training which will teach you about your customers wants and needs. Write down everything your customers ask and if the same questions are being asked over and over again (e.g. do you ship to Canada?) then you need to place this information somewhere visible on your website.
Pretty soon you should have a decent sized FAQ section which you can hide your phone number behind so that it is only revealed if the customer cannot find the answer to their questions on your website.
As your business grows and the number of calls increases you may find that it is too much to handle alongside the running your online store. You now need to make a decision on whether continuing to offer phone support is worth your while financially, try and work out what percentage of your sales come from the phone versus online. If you are making several high value sales per day via the phone and not so many via the web then you obviously need to continue offering phone support.
If you are spending 2–3 hours a day on the phone but only 5% of your sales are being made through this channel then it may be time to remove phone support and put the extra time you will save into improving your online operations even further.
If you are somewhere in between these two extremes then consider offering limited hours phone support, say for example between 1pm and 4pm so you can be sure of having the rest of the day to yourself without interruption.
I would love to hear your experiences of offering phone support to your customers in the comments box below.