Fast Customer Service: An Easy Way to Improve Your Retail Business

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Fast customer service is often the difference between maintaining loyal customers and losing shoppers to competing brands. Businesses that prioritize resolving customer questions and complaints quickly are more likely to meet consumer expectations and promote long-lasting relationships.

Consumer expectations around service continue to grow too––66% of customers say they expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. But there’s clearly work to be done––only 26% of retail businesses feel the overall quality of their customer service is strong.

In this complete guide to fast customer service, learn why your retail brand needs to prioritize it, and some actionable tips for improving your business’s customer service department.

5 parts of customer service

Customer service is the support and advice a company provides to customers who buy its products and services.

Customers expect ecommerce brands to provide efficient and personalized support. Shoppers want to receive help on their own terms via their preferred communication channels. Effective and fast customer service is characterized by support agents identifying solutions for customers without too much back and forth.

Retail businesses that get customer service right can expect to retain loyal and happy customers.

Here are the five core parts of exceptional customer service:

  1. Customers come first
  2. Focus on the quality of service
  3. Genuinely engage with the customer
  4. Always ask for feedback
  5. Create omnichannel options

Customers come first

Top-quality customer service experiences come from developing solid relationships with customers. And these relationships come from a deep understanding of customer needs.

Brands need to be prepared to empathize with customers and put them first, meeting them where they are. Instead of businesses providing customer support that suits them, brands need to offer assistance that suits their customers.

For starters, this means communicating in the customer’s channel of choice. According to Zendesk, 91% of customers will spend more with companies that offer their preferred option to reach customer service.

This could mean communicating with customers via live chat, phone calls, email, or SMS messaging. The key to successfully providing support is to prioritize customer needs and preferences.

Focus on the quality of service

When customers contact support teams they expect personalized attention and a quick solution. They want agents to join the dots and solve problems efficiently––customers don’t want to jump through multiple hoops or answer endless questions.

Businesses that don’t keep up with customer expectations around quality of service may run the risk of losing customers to competing businesses. There’s also the chance of customers speaking negatively about their experience with others. For instance, when customers experience high-effort issue resolutions, they are 96% more likely to be disloyal to brands and 81% more likely to share negative word-of-mouth.

A study led by Zendesk found that customers are ready to switch to the competition after just one bad customer service experience––one-third of customers will switch following one bad service interaction, and 80% will switch after multiple poor experiences.

Focus on the quality of customer service to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty. Failing to prioritize great customer service quality may result in shoppers looking elsewhere.

Genuinely engage with the customer

Customers need to feel understood by support teams. When teams have hundreds of support tickets piling up, it's easy to forget how to engage with customers authentically.

While you can’t guarantee that every customer has the best experience of your website or product, you can ensure that the team member on the other end of the live chat or phone cares and wants to understand more about what they’re going through.

Genuine, empathetic customer support is a worthwhile investment for your retail business too. Fifty-six percent of customers say they would be willing to pay a premium price for a product to get outstanding customer support.

Properly engaging with customers makes it more likely your team can find the right solution to their issue too. And since, unsurprisingly, 90% of consumers regard resolution as their most important customer service issue, digging into the details is what will help your team get to the bottom of it.

Speedy support shouldn’t sacrifice genuine engagement with the customer and their issue.

Always ask for feedback

Following any interaction with your support team, it’s best practice to ask for customer feedback. Moving forward, your team needs to be able to identify where things went well and what requires improvement.

Customer feedback surveys are an excellent way of helping your customers feel heard and valued.

To get a better understanding of how customers feel about their service, brands could ask questions including:

  • Were you satisfied with the response time today?
  • Did our customer service rep answer all your questions?
  • Did you receive the solution you were looking for?
  • Could you rate your overall experience on a scale of 1 to 10?

Survey insights can help you better understand customers and find opportunities for improving service delivery. To thank customers for sharing their time and thoughts with your business, you could offer respondents an incentive like a discount code.

Shopify merchants can use apps like Candidly to ask customers for feedback following purchases or interactions with their support teams. The app makes it easy to customize simple customer feedback surveys:

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Beyond tracking customer satisfaction and sending feedback surveys, brands should also use review sites and social media to listen to customers.

Asking customers to leave reviews can provide a big boost for your business’s bottom line too––customers are willing to spend 31% more on a business with excellent reviews.

HubSpot recently asked how companies actively listen to customers. The results show that businesses are increasingly widening how they listen to customers. Receiving customer feedback shouldn’t just be through surveys, but also via other channels, like social media and review sites:

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To get a broad and balanced perspective on how customers perceive your customer support, it’s important to track it through a variety of channels.

Create omnichannel options

Customers have high expectations when it comes to brands providing assistance through their preferred customer service channels. Nine out of 10 consumers want an omnichannel experience with seamless service between communication methods.

As people spend more time online, 88% of customers expect companies to offer an online self-service portal. When companies are prepared to provide consumers with online solutions, customers are usually happy to use them.

While customers want access to self-service options, they don’t always want to use them to solve the full extent of their problems. According to Gartner, only 13% of customers are fully able to resolve their issues through self-service as the only channel.

In spite of the increasing popularity of self-service portals and forums, customers still want choice when it comes to solving issues. Sixty-two percent of customers still prefer more traditional methods like email and phone for resolving issues.

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Providing customers with a range of channels lets them choose the one that suits them best.

Why should you provide fast customer service?

Customers expect fast, and effective customer service from retail brands. Providing fast customer service can be a key competitive differentiator––customers hate waiting and wasting their precious time. Businesses that get it right can expect happy, loyal, and satisfied customers.

But, companies that don’t keep up with customer expectations may pay a high price. If the quality of service is low or too slow, customer loyalty may slip and consumers may churn to another business.

Here are the top three benefits of providing fast customer service.

Improves customer satisfaction

Fast customer service is one of the top ways to boost customer satisfaction. By gathering customer feedback and solving their problems quickly, you give them a memorable customer experience.

Ensuring customers are satisfied with your business’s overall offering is key for your business’s long-term success in a competitive marketplace. Ultimately if consumers are satisfied with your offering and customer service, then they’ll continue to choose your business and buy from you.

Elevates your competitive advantage

Forty-seven percent of US online adults say they will abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question. Customers rely on fast customer service and, if it’s not available, they’re prepared to leave the business and look elsewhere.

Customers return to the businesses where they had the best experience. Offering top-quality fast customer service helps your business stand out. For example, if two brands were to offer a similar product line at the same price point, their only competitive advantage would be to offer an exceptional customer experience. Part of this includes efficient customer support.

Build customer trust

Fast customer service proves your business is reliable and that customers can trust it to deliver on its promises. Consumers may need assistance with everything including website glitches, faulty products, and delayed delivery dates.

When things go wrong, customers want to know the business will be able to resolve issues quickly and efficiently.

8 tips for offering fast customer service

Providing fast customer service is crucial to satisfying consumer needs and remaining competitive.

Here are eight tips for offering fast customer service at your retail business.

1. Be authentic

When dealing with customer complaints, it’s always best to show your brand’s humane and authentic side. Whether you handle tens or thousands of customer issues daily, customers want to be treated like individuals.

That means brands need to own up to mistakes and be honest about limitations. In fact, 80% of customers want brands to be more honest.

Handling customer complaints around delivery delays, incorrect items, and damaged products are all part of managing a growing retail business. Sometimes in spite of everything your business does, shipping, delivery, and warehouse management are out of your control.

For instance, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 97% of its members have been impacted by port congestion and shipping delays. These delays can inconvenience customers and damage brands’ reputations.

Even though these delays are often unavoidable, your customer care team needs to know how to handle them and best support customers. It’s always best to set realistic expectations––if it will take another two weeks for the product to be back in stock, then be honest about it.

When brands are honest about what they can and can’t realistically do, customers are more likely to trust them even when things go wrong.

2. Provide mobile support

Currently, 55.4% of internet users use mobile phones to buy products online. Retailers that want to tap into mobile commerce should make it straightforward for people to reach customer service team members.

When brands provide accessible customer service, they have a better chance of making a sale. According to Facebook research, 53% of users say they are more likely to buy from a company that provides customer service via chat on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger than one that doesn’t.

Plus, 68% of WhatsApp users believe the app is the most convenient way to engage with a brand. Retail brands can use WhatsApp and other messaging apps to provide quick and personal customer service to shoppers.

For example, outdoor and sportswear retailer Decathlon uses WhatsApp to help customers quickly identify solutions.

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Fast customer service needs to happen where your customers are shopping. So if your customers are using their mobile devices to buy your products, make it easy for them to get support there.

3. Lean into AI chatbots

According to Forrester, 42% of US online buyers say it’s important for retailers to offer live online chat on their websites. People want efficient customer service instantly. AI chatbots let businesses provide instant replies without relying on a full-time human support team.

Use AI chatbots to provide instant responses to customer inquiries. Your chatbot can provide a list of suggested questions or a menu of options for customers to choose from.

For example clothing retailer ASOS has an easy-to-use live chat designed to help customers troubleshoot without needing to phone or email the business. ASOS provides a list of suggested FAQs related to its returns policy, shipping methods, and customs charges:

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The online chat saves the customer from waiting for answers from a human representative. Plus, ASOS can save its customer support team time for more complex customer issues.

4. Invest in customer support agent training

Offering good customer service means providing a solid training infrastructure for your agents. Unfortunately, less than 30% of customer service agents feel empowered to do their jobs well. And concerningly, 59% of customers say it feels like most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents.

Your customer service agents are only as good as the training and resources they receive––investing in consistent training programs and resources will level up and improve the support they provide to customers.

Build regular training into your customer support team’s schedule by:

  • Creating a central resource hub with example scenarios
  • Scheduling monthly training sessions
  • Offering roleplay and feedback sessions
  • Sharing videos of example customer issue resolution
  • Providing question-and-answer sessions

Investing in customer service skills training will pay dividends. Your agents will feel empowered to solve customer issues effectively, while shoppers will be impressed by your brand’s efficiency and ability to solve problems.

5. Learn how to prioritize customer support requests

Not every customer support request is an emergency––it’s important to learn the difference between solving an urgent time-sensitive issue and a ticket that can wait a few minutes.

Set up a triage system so your agents can categorize issues. For example, is a question about a delivered broken product more important than a request for a product to come back in stock?

While the first question will require human support, the second question could be answered with a simple auto-responder message asking interested customers to sign up for a back-in-stock email.

This is where your AI-powered autoresponder comes in too. For simple questions around product sizing, delivery dates, and shipping fees, your chatbot can provide answers.

Shopify merchants can use partner apps like Relish AI Chatbot to provide auto-response answers to simple customer questions:

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Remember that automation isn’t always enough. More complicated or urgent issues will require high-quality service from your human support team.

6. Provide self-service options

Self-service customer support can help your business stand out from the competition. Time-strapped customers want solutions quickly and they value businesses that let them help themselves. Not every business needs to run a call center––an intuitive and resourceful self-service hub can sometimes successfully replace the need for human support.

Far from being a nice-to-have bonus, self-service options are quickly becoming essential. Fifty-six percent of customers say they expect a company to have a self-service portal or knowledge base available to them.

And 83% of customers say they will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers online without having to contact anyone. Instead of having to phone or email businesses, self-service portals can guide customers to the right solution more quickly.

For example, home improvement store Lowes, has an easy-to-use help center that lets customers track orders, schedule installations, manage warranties, and secure their account.

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As a best practice, always let new customers know you offer self-service customer assistance if they’re interested.

7. Speed up initial response time

Eighty percent of customers say they want quicker responses from companies. Plus, 66% of US consumers agree that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service. But there’s room for improvement––only 21% of retail businesses feel their speed at resolving engagements is extremely strong.

Whether your customers contact you via phone, email, or live chat, that initial wait time can heavily influence their opinion of your customer service. Reply to that email a few days later or ignore that tweet and your business risks losing customers quickly.

But shorter response times adds pressure to already busy customer support teams. Businesses may find they need to add extra team members during busy shifts or extend working hours. That can increase overheads and overall investment in customer service.

To provide real-time responses without needing to have a support team on call 24 hours a day, businesses can automate initial live chat and email response messages. For phone calls and other in-person support methods, track performance metrics to see how quickly customers receive attention and how long a resolution takes.

8. Personalize customer service

According to recent research conducted by Gartner, personalizing customer service and going above and beyond can help boost customer retention and improve the chance customers speak positively about your business.

When businesses go beyond mediocre customer service and give value-driven customer service interactions, customers are 86% more likely to repurchase, 82% more likely to be retained, and 97% more likely to spread positive word-of-mouth about your business.”

Gartner

How do you personalize customer service? Collecting customer data can help you personalize your interactions with customers. To encourage consumers to part with their valuable personal data, you’ll need to demonstrate value.

The key to successfully collecting customer data showing shoppers how it brings them value.

In fact, 77% of consumers are willing to exchange personal data for a superior experience.

In exchange for customers’ names, email addresses, and phone numbers, consider offering them perks to improve the shopping experience:

  • Discount or promo codes
  • Exclusive back-in stock and new-in notifications
  • Vouchers
  • Early access to new product lines

Unify your customer data in a CRM so your customer service representatives can easily get context on each customer and their issues or questions.

Make fast customer service a priority today

Providing high-quality and fast customer service is often what lays the foundation of a loyal fan base of shoppers. Solving customer problems always needs to be a priority––people need to feel they can trust your business even after a negative experience.

To stand out in an increasingly competitive retail landscape, brands need to tap into customer preferences. Find the communication channels your customers prefer using and invest time and resources in providing the best experience possible.

Fast Customer Service FAQ

1. Why is fast customer service important?

Fast customer service is essential for keeping customers satisfied. The aim of fast customer service is to quickly and effectively provide customers with solutions and answers to their questions. When you value customer time, they’ll be more likely to remain loyal to your business and keep coming back.

2. How can you provide fast customer service?

You can provide fast customer service by shortening response times and providing solutions to customers more quickly. Use AI-powered chatbots to answer customer queries in real-time and set auto-responses to email inquiries.

3. What is delivering excellent customer service?

Delivering excellent customer service means engaging with customer needs, having an authentic approach, and delivering helpful resources. Excellent customer service means going above and beyond your customers’ needs and exceeding expectations. Essentially, excellent customer service means doing everything to ensure customers aren’t just satisfied but are delighted by your product and services.

4. Why are timely responses important?

Timely responses are important because they show customers your brand values their time. Responding quickly shows customers your business is reliable and responsible when it comes to taking care of consumer issues and requests.

5. What are the five qualities of customer service?

The five core qualities of fast customer service include:

  • Putting customers first
  • Focusing on the quality of customer service
  • Genuinely engaging with customers
  • Asking for customer feedback
  • Providing omnichannel options

About the author

Brendan McConnell

Brendan is Shopify's Senior Writer, Content Marketing. He's an avid writer, content strategist, nature junky, hockey fan, dad, and husband.