Managing Customer Expectations in Times of Uncertainty

Customer experience has never been more important to online retailers. More consumers than ever before have become reliant on eCommerce to purchase their essential and non-essential items. We have said many times in recent months that this is most definitely not business as usual. Increased demand on online retailers cannot necessarily be fulfilled in the same way as before.

But this isn’t just a challenge related to COVID-19. Issues experiences with supply chains and delivery services at peak times of the year, such as Christmas, can also force retailers to review their business strategy to ensure they can continue servicing their customers. In this blog, we’ll cover tips on how you can manage customer expectations during busy periods and times of uncertainty.

Honesty is the best policy

Being open and transparent is essential to manage customer expectations, maintain trust and brand loyalty. Customers understand that these are unprecedented times but need reassurance and clarity as to what service levels they can expect. It’s important to set realistic expectations from the start, ensuring you are clearly communicating any issues impacting your services or availability with customers.

Communicating product availability

Higher demand through your website may lead to popular products selling out. Where possible, state when stocks will be replenished. A two-three-week lead time might not be ideal, but customers are often prepared to wait for what they need.

Why not set up a pre-order functionality on your product pages? This will ensure customers that their order will be fulfilled as soon as the products come into stock again. Or, alternatively, set up an email notification to inform users when a product is back in stock.

Redefining delivery slots

Many eCommerce businesses, including the likes of Amazon, have been unable to maintain standard or next day delivery times. Communicating this at different stages of the purchase journey ensures honesty and prevents a disappointed customer giving negative feedback.

A few months ago, there was a major demand for businesses to offer one-hour delivery windows. But now, with many of us confined to our homes, customers are happier to wait a few days for a delivery and will even go back to uncertain delivery windows such as “3-5 days, between 8am and 6pm”.

Updating your messaging

To ease the burden on customer services, and to answer customer concerns, companies have been regularly updating their websites with necessary information. For example, a homepage banner and dedicated COVID landing page can clearly state company policy changes and any impact to their services. This also helps foster a sense of solidarity by reinforcing to consumers that we’re all in this together.

Providing great customer service

The current lockdown has forced us to stay indoors unless it’s for exercise, essential work or to buy food. These limitations on ‘normal life’ mean that standard online returns policy of 14 days no longer work as effectively. This can make many consumers nervous about purchasing products they’ve never seen or tried before. As such, many businesses have extended their returns policies, such as New Look who have changed their policy to 90 days.

Make alternative communication methods available

Consumers have queries and concerns, and they expect them to be answered. Ensuring your business is set up to handle enquiries is essential to delivering great customer service. Whether you use phone, email or live chat to communicate, you must set expectations on response times. It’s likely that phone enquires will be high, so updating your on-hold message to inform consumers of longer wait times is worthwhile. If you have onsite FAQs or a contact email address, these can also be shared on your hold message as alternative contact methods.

Maintaining human connection

In times of uncertainty, consumers prefer human interaction where possible, as opposed to the automated answers of a chatbot. A pop-up live chat feature is an instantaneous way to create open communication with your customers. Live chat features can be set up and managed from a laptop and still deliver a personable touch – ideal for when your workforce is working from home. These features help to humanise your brand and create a connection that you may have struggled to form in the past.

Be empathetic

eCommerce has seen huge growth in recent months, but that doesn’t mean retailers should be more aggressive in their sales tactics. With a global recession possible alongside an increase in unemployment and economic instability, businesses need to show empathy, support and appreciation for their customers.

Avoid a hard sell

At the best of times, a hard sell can be seen as insensitive and will likely put visitors off from returning to your website. A quick look at current TV advertising demonstrates the direction marketing has taken since early March. Almost all ad campaigns are soft-selling and reassuring, as opposed to the harder, urgent sales messaging usually seen.

Sharing a promotional code with customers after a purchase is also great way of thanking them for their support. This is a gentle method to encourage a return sale in the future.

Don’t go silent

Now is a good time to let your customers know you’re listening and addressing their concerns. Review what the most common enquires are and provide answers through regular emails or content on your website.

Mobile phone usage has risen dramatically, with some users reporting increases of up to 200 percent alongside a jump in social media usage too. Producing relevant and useful content to share through your social media channels shows your customers how your business is adjusting in these times of change, making them feel informed and supported.

These are unprecedented times and we’re all doing our best to keep going. But pandemic or not, honesty is always the best policy when it comes to your customers. Everyone is in this situation together. As such, consumers are more likely to be understanding, to accept that deliveries will take longer to arrive and that your response times may be slower. Letting your customers know how you’re adapting and, more importantly, that you’re still there, is the starting point for setting and managing their expectations.

Like the rest of the country, Team Pinpoint are working from home, but we’re remain on hand to help your keep your eCommerce business going throughout