Ever had a terrible first bite of food, associate a certain smell with something you refuse to revisit, or say, had the shopping experience from hell? Thought so. We all have frustratingly similar stories to share when it comes to bad customer service.

But in today’s world of endless choice, there’s no room for error — first impressions are everything.

There’s a common myth that online shopping platforms aren’t held to the same customer service standards as brick-and-mortar. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

eCommerce can never be built on a data-only basis
Image Credit: Jose Luis Barros/©Gulf News

Just because we don’t physically engage with our customers doesn’t mean our job stops at uploading product pictures to the site and then sitting back and waiting for them to make a purchase — far from it!

It comes down to this; you can have an incredible platform, the best product selection and competitive pricing, but if you fail to live up to the one thing that matters the most to consumers today ... then you’re in trouble.

Three seconds is all it takes for a visitor to decide if they want to stay on your site, so how do you keep them from closing that browser? Simple — make it personal.

Bye bye bots

It may feel counterintuitive to talk about personalisation given the hype surrounding all the A’s, (AI, automation ... you get the idea) said to make life easier, faster and simpler. It doesn’t mean we should eliminate the human factor in its entirety. In our rush to automated greatness, we’ve neglected one of the most critical components to any business.

Sure, tech is important, but so too are the people who operate it. Bots (arguably the most hyped buzzword of the year) have replaced customer service teams in most cases, largely to cope with the rise in demand and international accessibility. Businesses are taking a second look at the system they’ve so willingly deployed to speak to the people who matter most. Let’s be honest here, consumers don’t want to speak to a robot with scripted responses; they want a real person, who can offer answers with emotion and assurance in their voice.

While mass producers and large online retailers may be willing to cut corners — trading people for robots — the heart of a business should be an incredible customer service. It’s an approach that makes all of the difference when a customer is, for example, desperately trying to track down the perfect baby shower gift and have it delivered the same day. Well, you can imagine how comforting a robot would be in this situation.

Take control of the customer experience

Easily the most overlooked area of any business is its customer service department — but not in the way you might think. Companies recognise its role in aftersales but fail to realise how vital a killer customer service team is to every stage of the purchase process.

Everything is interlinked, from the moment a customer comes on the site, right the way through to following up for feedback, and this is something we’ve definitely developed as we’ve evolved.

We’ve had to shift our business model in response to the changing consumer demands, both from a communication and logistical perspective to remain relevant and on top. Earlier this year, we took the step to open a fulfilment centre to cope with increasing demand, but also to bring control back in-house.

We’ve also realised the importance of “the last mile” and how it affects the consumer perception of the overall business. It’s no secret that a late, lost or just plain bad delivery experience can just about sink you as an e-commerce platform. We still closely monitor any element we don’t have total control over to ensure the overall experience isn’t spoiled by a third-party supplier.

Listen, don’t assume

I know what you’re thinking … doesn’t data allow you to be more personal? It’s easy to look at data and think we know everything there is to know about our consumers.

Sure, this helps in personalising the service and offering, but there’s nothing quite like real feedback — we need it to do our job better.

Brick-and-mortar aside, we don’t discount the value of meeting our customers face-to-face and getting feedback first-hand. Even if your company is 100 per cent online, you still need to have an omnichannel approach with your customer service to lend credibility to what you are offering.

We’ve partnered with British Mums Dubai for the last 12 months to run mummy mornings and consumer events, which gives us direct access to the ultimate decision-makers … so, husbands beware!

My advice in today’s experiential age is to place your bets on the people that are your direct landline to the consumer. Let the human element, while quiet for the last few years in the face of increased tech usage, be the true differentiator for your business.

If we’re being honest, this has always been the case, so for 2019 make a new kind of resolution … one that puts people, and not process first.

Sarah Jones is CEO of Sprii.