Customer service, not price, is key online battle

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Online panel debate: customer service is key

Customer service is more important than price for businesses competing on the web because it promotes loyalty and repeat custom.

That was the conclusion of a debate between a group of leading online retailers, organised by a leading internet hosting company, UKFast.

Price points may drive first-time sales but they don’t bring regular business, the panel agreed.

Berd: loyalty that counts

Glen Berd, founder of lovethoseshoes.com, claimed price is a secondary factor for online shoppers.

“It’s the loyalty that brings customers back not price,” she said.

Paul Walker, managing director of craft retailer Fred Aldous, agreed: “A lot of our customers are just discovering the internet and getting to grips with it. We make sure we keep things simple for them. And from a customer service perspective, we make sure they feel like they have ownership of the business. It pays off. I have customers coming to us asking if we can stock a product that they could easily get elsewhere but they would prefer to buy from us because of the extras we offer.”

However, Dale Hicks, founder of online industry networking business, The Fashion Network, found online encouraged consumers to shop around: “Now it’s easy for customers to go elsewhere. On the web, they just have to click a button, not walk another few miles, so online retailers are competing on price quite a lot.”

The roundtable debated the basic principles of customer service. Panelists said honesty, consistency, developing a one-on-one relationship and promoting a community feel among customers are key aspects of good customer service.

Lowe: online is extension of the Harvey Nichols brand

Jessica Lowe, press and marketing manager for Harvey Nichols Manchester, said: “Customer service is any interaction with the customer – active or passive. For us that means the music in store, the decor, our staff – it’s about making the customer feel happy. Our presence online is just an extension of that, giving them all the information they want or need. And we like to think our website is just as beautiful as our store.”

Panelists debated whether customer service could be neglected as firms grow and agreed bosses should empower their staff with the authority to make executive decisions to handle complaints and keep customers happy.

Galkoff: customers like small company approach

Rob Galkoff, founder of Wilmslow-based The Business Consultants, warned about the dangers of companies losing sight of their customers’ needs.

“Customers like the small company approach. It’s too easy for a firm to grow quickly and shift focus from customer service and a one-on-one relationship to KPIs and call times. Bosses need to invest in and empower people at the coal face or they will see sales fall.”