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This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout.

In the perpetual struggle of battling the bear that is Amazon.com, small online shops find success with a) a unique product, and b) a memorable customer experience.

If you've already set up your online store, you've likely checked off #1. Now, how do you improve the customer experience for an online store?

It's easy to imagine changes for a brick-and-mortar operation: I think many of us have had that fantasy of running a super hip coffee nook (or whatever else) that takes care of customers like nobodies business.

While the in-person element may be absent, there are ways to improve your customer experience online by adding that little something extra to the right channels.

Stop Thinking "Brand," Start Thinking Personality

A brand is like a reputation – it's built on what other people think of you, not what you think of you.

You influence your brand by taking care of customers and building a superior product, but you don't control your brand. You do control your personality.

This becomes important when you realize that brand loyalty is built on personality, and not on superficial metrics like engagement. Take a look at this research from the Harvard Business Review that debunks a few classic myths:

The myths:


  • Customers want to have relationships with brands. The truth: 77 percent don’t.
  • An increase in interactions is always the answer. The truth: Your customers can suffer from information overload.
  • Loyalty comes from regularly engaging with a brand. The truth: Brand loyalty is built on shared values.


All of this should start with your ideal customer. Man Crates, a company that sells crates packed with stuff guys like (surprise!), showcases a hilarious use of personality.

If you go to their "Help" section, which is supposed to have instructions on how to open your crate, you are instead greeted with this:

Better yet, they incorporate their macho personality into the actual product, by allowing you the option of shipping your "man crate" as a gift wrapped in duct tape. This makes it incredibly hard to open, which would be absurd for nearly any gift other than one made for guys that is meant to be sent to other guys!

Instead it's a friendly jab and perfectly fits with the Man Crates "brand." While their reputation will still be built on whether or not they can deliver a quality product, their personality goes a long way in winning over prospective customers.

Utilize the Customer Service Tone

There's a concept I've named the Customer Service Tone that emphasizes on casual, personable copy on pages that only your customers will see. For example your checkout success page and your transaction emails.

These are easy opportunities to apply the customer service tone. Someone just spent money with you, so this page is for customers only – you might as well add some personality to it. All you need to ensure is that customers know what just happened or what will happen, after that, feel free to add a little humor with a casual writing style.

Here's a great, personable checkout page:

I get the information I need, but I also get a candid thanks from the founder. It may be automated, but it's nice to see a real "Thanks!" instead of the robotic YOUR ORDER #4328 IS COMPLETE.

Where can you apply this friendly writing style to your store's shopping experience?

Analyze and Improve Your Emails

Automatic or transactional emails are some of the most important pieces of copy that you'll ever write – perhaps just as important as the copy on your website itself.

The reason being is that these emails scale to see many eyes. Whatever you write in them will be seen by anyone who starts the process (ie, a new sale), so they can potentially be seen by thousands and thousands of customers.

Check out how Nuts.com writes their follow-up emails after you've complete a purchase:

Brilliant, aren't they? You just want to give the team a high five, they feel so upbeat and friendly.

Tweaking your "behavioral" emails like this can have a huge impact on retention, churn, and overall goodwill to your company.

Here's how Planscope, a project management software company, uses behavioral emails to their advantage as explained by their founder Brennan Dunn:

Another behavior email you could add to the mix: reach out the first time someone “kicks ass” with your product. In Planscope’s case, when you close your first estimate or pass a certain billing amount, an automated congratulatory email (from me) goes out. My goal here is to… gently remind them that Planscope had a role in making them more money, and these emails have been *crazy* effective.

If this seems like a strategy for SaaS only, that's only because you aren't thinking creatively! :)

Instead, imagine a follow-up email for an ecommerce scenario – you schedule an email to auto-send 30 days after a customer completes a purchase of one of your products. This would be especially powerful if the product was a "beginner's kit."

A great example of a follow up email from an ecommerce company I remember getting an email just like this from a shaving company I purchased from. I forgot to save the email, but it went something like: "Hey Greg, have we totally won you over yet? I just wanted to check in to make sure you didn't make the mistake of going back to Gillette, and to see how you're enjoying the product!"

I laughed out, but most importantly it reminded me to repurchase some of their shaving cream. If you're interesting in long term customer loyalty, getting your emails right will go a long way, because this is how you'll be doing most of your communicating with customers.

Give Better Support by Stepping Back

Great customer support should always be available, even when you are not.

Surprisingly, the cost-effective approach of offering "DIY support" doesn’t seem to bother customers too much, as long as the online help content is accurate and useful. In fact, according to this 2010 study:

72% of customers prefer self-service to resolve their support issues over picking up the phone or sending an email.

For ecommerce shops, this means having a knowledge base, or a collection of "FAQ" style articles that address common issues people may have. It helps decrease the amount of tickets you receive, and increases the amount of happy customers, as they now have the option to solve small difficulties on their own.

Imagine running a menswear store that sells leather goods, and being able to avoid the dozens of "How do I take care of my leather?" questions that likely arise every week.

Whatever software you use, next you should do some quick reading on creating help content that people will actually want to ‘engage’ with.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Last but not least (since many articles won’t mention this), I highly recommend that you keep tabs on your knowledge base content, either through built in analytics like with Wistia’s service, or through an installation like KISSmetrics.

You’ll quickly find out which articles and videos people are instantly bouncing from–which will paint a very clear picture that something is wrong on your end.

"Big" Content that Educates + Motivates

Many businesses avoid content marketing because running a blog is a ton of work.

That's why for ecommerce businesses who don't have a regular content/marketing person, I instead recommend you go big.

One piece of highly visual content that solves a major problem, and motivates the customer to shop with you.

This is admittedly tough to do if you're selling something like boat motors, but if you are in a space with high social currency like men's fashion, a comprehensive and highly visual piece of "big" content can do you a whole lot of good.

We're a B2B company that sells help desk software and we only have one writer, so we pursue this strategy ourselves.

Instead of trying to crank out a bunch of shoddy customer service articles every single day, we wait, and put out massive pieces of content that attract a ton of people at once.

Our latest example is The Art of Customer Loyalty, a huge (free) guide that shows businesses how to create and increase their number of loyal customers. It shows why customer loyalty is important, and motivates people to use our support software.

Another example of big content is Shopify's Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping

I've been in the content marketing space for a long time, so trust me when I say that if you don't have a regular blogger on your team, it's far better to take your time and put out a big piece of content that will have your ideal shoppers flocking to you all at once.

Care to share your thoughts?

I love hearing from founders of ecommerce stores on any and all advice they have on improving the customer experience. What sort of little extras does your company employ to keep customer coming back?


About The Author

Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the email support software that's perfect for your ecommerce business. Find out why Help Scout is better than regular email for customer service by clicking here.