E-tailers Must Answer Tough Questions

Despite the horror stories of canceled orders and late deliveries, most online merchants have every right to feel proud about how they performed this holiday season.

However, if there is one lesson to be gleaned from the online shopping frenzy of the last couple of months, it is that customer service is much more than making sure that the right credit card gets billed and that the product ships on time.

According to a new report by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), experienced online shoppers found that e-commerce purchases went smoothly more than 90 percent of the time this holiday season, but also found that in-depth information about products and services was in short supply.

Additionally, of the 17 percent of shoppers that had questions about products or services they were purchasing online, only three-quarters of them were able to find the answer on the Web site’s frequently answered question (FAQ) section.

More Is Expected

As sites continue to expand their ability to respond to questions, the report contends, users will expect a higher level of performance and will only be impressed by newer and superior customer service.

Given the digital tools that are available to improve and enhance customers’ e-commerce experience, some of the problems that users encountered this holiday season were preventable.

According to the report, common problems encountered by online shoppers included untimely deliveries of perishable items and the inability to deliver gifts to multiple addresses.

Brick-And-Click Logistical Problems

It is important, however, to note that pure-play e-commerce sites were not the only ones having difficulty with customer service this holiday season.

The report points out that even though a major brick-and-click department store was willing to accept a return of an electronic purchase made on its Web site, its sales people had no idea how to actually complete the transaction when the customer showed up at their location.

Latest Tools Must Be Put In Place

Ken Wasch, the president of the Software & Information Industry Association, makes no bones about what he thinks it will take to provide better online customer service.

“The software industry provides a myriad of tools that can ease consumers’ path in e-commerce,” said Wasch. “For example, natural language search engines, customer service knowledge bases, and order fulfillment software all have the potential to allow sites to exceed customers’ expectations if used to their fullest extent.”

While there is little doubt that the members of Wasch’s association stand to gain if e-tailers suddenly heed his advice by upgrading their customer service software, it is my opinion that some online merchants would also be doing themselves a favor if they did.


In my own personal e-commerce survey, about 50 percent of the sites that I visited were able to earn my business this holiday season. The half that did not lost out because they were either too confusing, slow, or simply had inadequate information about the products or services that they were offering.

Now that the holiday rush has subsided, it is an opportune time for these online merchants to plow some of their profits into answering customer questions and improving their site’s overall customer service infrastructure.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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