Taking a customer-first mentality to service interactions adds value, and well-trained customer service agents are critical to success.

I’ve always been struck by the use of “guest” at retail. There are many words the retail industry uses to describe the individuals who visit their sites/stores with the intention to buy. Shopper, Customer, Buyer, Visitor, Guest are just a few that come to mind. It is this continuum of customers that forms the many personalities retailers must pay attention to as they hope to secure a sale and, ultimately, forge a long-term relationship.


Lauren Freedman, president, the e-tailing group

Shoppers have varying levels of service expectations at any given time, across channels, making it essential that associates have their radar up to detect where a shopper is on his journey in order to respond accordingly. No matter the titles, it’s more about the mindset. Remember, just because a retailer calls me a guest doesn’t mean I am treated like a guest or feel like one.

From task-driven individuals to thrill seekers that view shopping as a sport, it’s critical to acknowledge that every shopper is a human being rather than a number. And despite the fact that automation, artificial intelligence and personalization are top of mind among retailers, there are important opportunities to get to know your customers that are often overlooked.

A Take on Digital Service

A 2017 study by New Voice Media, reported that $62 billion of business was lost due to poor customer service. That was an increase of almost 50% from a similar report it released two years prior. A quick look at best practices and the optimal functionality to exceed expectations will suggest the right investment levels and considerations that I hope retailers will embrace.


We need to make superior service the rule rather than the exception, and this has always been a passion of the e-tailing group. Think about the many times you’ve heard someone say, “I want Nordstrom service.” While much of the industry’s discussion centers on the front-end site experience, service is a differentiator whose impact should not be underestimated.

Based on an Internet Retailer survey conducted by BizRate Insights of 1,825 online shoppers, the good news is overall satisfaction with customer service is strong as shoppers dole out mostly good or excellent marks.

  • 1 in 4 shoppers say they did not engage with customer service over the past six months
  • 6 in 10 shoppers who engaged with customer service graded their experiences as at least good

Complacency is not an option despite the fact that 8 in 10 surveyed shoppers contact customer service less than 10% of the time regarding their orders. It is the 1 in 5 shoppers who contact customer service on more than 10% of their orders who warrant our attention.

Given online growth projections, retailers must be vigilant in continuing to deliver strong service. Retailers can even reduce cost savings with timely deliveries, quality communication and comprehensive customer service destinations. Building out self-service models will serve retailers well as they look to contain costs, while still delivering a personal touch.

One-Stop Customer Service Hub

Samsung warmly embraces their customers with a “How Can We Help You” opening line. Like many technology companies, they divide their help into product, solution and support so shoppers can self-select based on their needs. Customer-centric options essential to technology company customers include reaching out to the community and warranty information, along with updates and repairs for specific phones.


Tory Burch teases up an attractive form of customer care in keeping with its brand, highlighting “if there is anything you need, we are always here to help.” This speaks volumes to taking care of the customer. Contact information and quick links embrace the role of efficiency and acknowledge the time-starved nature of the online shopper.

Customer Engagement

Turning our attention to engagement also addresses how customers want and need to be treated. Engaging with customer service pre- or post-purchase is relatively limited given the volume of transactions. Yet expectations are high for the customer service shoppers hope to receive, according to the Internet Retailer/BizRate survey.

  • The majority of online shoppers cite long hold times as problematic in customer service experiences with online retailers
  • 38% of online shoppers report incompetent customer service reps as a pet peeve
  • 1 in 4 online shoppers are disappointed when there is no live chat option

The research reveals consumers dislike both waiting and incompetency on the part of customer service agents when they seek assistance. A competent and swift resolution is mandatory where minimal hold time and CSR competence in support of the customer is forthcoming. Choice and flexibility are deemed optimal for customer service, including the availability of live chat.

To conclude, retailers must prioritize positive customer engagement interactions. Here are some best practices:

  • Be proactive and ready for shoppers when they are ready to engage
  • Offer responsive, consistent and comprehensive answers across all devices and channels
  • Have thorough response with resolution via initial communication
  • Have customer service agents with real knowledge able to go the extra mile
  • Offer integrated self-help options to solve customer issues before needing an agent.

Lauren Freedman is president of the e-tailing group, a 25-year old boutique consultancy with expertise in thought leadership for retail technology companies and a goal of evolving the customer experience across digital and physical channels.