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How to effectively respond to e-commerce website inquiries - Five reasons for failure and the solutions.

Do you run an e-commerce site and feel that sales have been declining recently, or that repeat customers are decreasing? Perhaps the response to customer enquiries is not going so well.

If your e-commerce site’s enquiry handling is not satisfactory for your customers, your product sales will drop.

In this article, we’ll explain why effective customer enquiry handling is so important and we’ll also address five common mistakes to avoid. At the end of the article, we’ll introduce some pro tips on how to successfully respond to customer enquiries to ensure the highest levels of customer satisfaction, so please use this as a reference. 

Communication Business Avenue, has been helping some of the world’s largest companies to integrate call center systems and digital communication tools for the past 16 years.

Table of Contents

Why is it important to respond to e-commerce website enquiries?

If you find that your customers are expressing less appreciation for your e-commerce site, or that their scores on satisfaction questionnaires are low, they may be dissatisfied with the way you respond to their enquiries.

However, in order to improve the response to enquiries, it’s necessary to spend time and money reviewing the business process.Think about why you should focus on improving the quality of your customer service now, and avoid putting off improvement in these areas simply because of the work involved.

Two enquiry categories

To improve the quality of enquiry handling, it’s important to first divide enquiries into categories. Let’s divide them into two categories: ‘pre-purchase’ and ‘post-purchase’.

Pre-purchase

Pre-purchase enquiries are often about the following:

● Colour and size of the product.
● Delivery time after ordering.
● Campaign measures.
● Products on sale.
● Coupon use.
● Defects in outlet products.

Post-purchase

The most common post-purchase enquiries can be found in research conducted by NEO MARKETING Co., Ltd. in 2021 .

Customer support from manufacturers and brands after product purchase

Top support requests

1st place - repair/failure response 67.4%
2nd place - product exchange 51.5%
3rd place - shipping/arrival contact 41.9%
4th place - Refund of purchase price 36.7%
5th place - Hearing for each problem (maybe ‘listening to each problem’?)

Top inquiries received by companies.

1st place - repair/failure response 67.4%
2nd place - product exchange 51.5%
3rd place - shipping/arrival contact 41.9%
4th place - Refund of purchase price 36.7%
5th place - Hearing for each problem (maybe ‘listening to each problem’?)

As you can see from the stats listed above, the number one enquiry companies receive after customers purchase a product is the related to the ‘dispatch/arrival time notification’’, and this makes sense as customers are naturally keen to find out exactly when their purchased item will arrive.

On the other hand, when it comes to the number one type of support that customers want to receive, we can see that support requests related to ‘repair/failure handling’ ranked first, while ‘product exchange’ and ‘refund of purchase price’ ranked second and fourth, indicating that most post-purchase queries are related to the product warranty.

Why it is important to respond to e-commerce website enquiries

We have identified the most common pre-purchase and post-purchase enquiries. Why should you be prepared to respond adequately to the most frequent enquiries? Here are three reasons why it’s important to respond to such enquiries:

● Improves word-of-mouth ratings
● Enhances the customer experience
● Increases sales

Each of these reasons are explained below.

Improves word-of-mouth ratings

The importance of word-of-mouth on e-commerce sites is increasing year by year – see the data collected in “Word of mouth marketing – Statistics and trends” by invesp.

88% of consumers placed the highest level of trust in word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know, showing that positive ‘word of mouth marketing’ can have a significant impact on e-commerce site sales.

Ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction by successfully handling customer inquiries is one surefire way to leveraging the hidden power of ‘word of mouth’ marketing. If your customers come away feeling that their query was successfully handled, then this postive experience with your brand is likely to make an impression on them, meaning they are more likely to recommend your website to others. What does this mean for your website? Increased trust in your brand, more unique visitors to your site, and ultimately, more sales!

● Create a dedicated FAQ’s page, and regularly update this with commonly asked questions
● Include an FAQs section as supplementary information on key product pages
● Make the text design stand out

Using the above tips will not only boost the efficiency of your customer enquiry handling, but will also enhance the customer experience.

Increasing sales by responding to enquiries

Customers who make pre-purchase enquiries can also be categorised as those who are considering a purchase. As potential customers, they are much more likely to decide to make a purchase with you  if they are treated professionally and politely. 

However, if the response is slow or inadequate, the likelihood that they will make a purchase decreases significantly.

Be aware that an inadequate enquiry response is giving the prospect a reason not to buy.

Post-purchase enquiry responses can make or break your ability to create repeat customers.

However, it is difficult to know how far to go in responding to post-purchase enquiries. There is no right answer as to how far to go in replacing or repairing a product once it has been used.

In the aforementioned survey on post-purchase, the top support desired by customers included ‘handling repairs and breakdowns’ and ‘product replacement’. In other words, it shows that customers want to continue to use the products they have purchased.

If you are courteous, your customers will be satisfied with your service.

They may become repeat customers, or they may create potential customers through positive ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing.

Remember, either way, it will lead to increased sales.

Five common mistakes that impact e-commerce website enquiry handling

We’ve highlighted five of the most common reasons why e-commerece website enquires are not handled well:

Too Many Identical Enquiries

In some cases, the reason for inefficiency is that agents and customer support specialists have to deal with similar enquiries on multiple occasion, that can easily be resolved without the need for a live agent. When an agent has to deal with these kinds of enquiries over and over again, this can greatly slow up efficiency, and takes away valuable time that could have been spent dealing with more complex customer enquiries.

Long Reply Times

Longer reply times increase customer stress and are more likely to lead to complaints. This then has a knock-on effect, as agents time is then spent dealing with responding to complaints, meaning that other important tasks are not handled effectively. 

Customer support teams that have to deal with a high number of complaints also tend to have a higher turnover rate and a shortage of staff, creating a vicious circle where reply times become even longer.

Missed responses and double replies

If there are a large number of people in the team responding to enquiries, or if part-timers are working in irregular shifts, communication may not be good, resulting in omissions and double replies. Mistakes due to poor communication can also occur frequently in e-commerce sites that have introduced remote working and in companies that outsource customer service.

Not knowing the status of the response

When the number of enquiries is small, free email applications such as Outlook can be used, but when the number of enquiries per day increases to more than 20, it becomes difficult to respond efficiently. This is because it becomes difficult to know the status of each response.

Even if there are three or more people in charge of responding to enquiries, it becomes difficult to share the status of each other’s tasks.

Lack of knowledge sharing

If you rely on an experienced person to handle complex enquiries, no one will be available when that person is on holiday or has left the company. This means that it takes time to find the right person after receiving an enquiry. A lack of knowledge sharing within a company can often create serious operational inefficiencies.

Tips for successful e-commerce website enquiry handling

If you’ve identified the reasons why your enquiry handling operations are inefficient, you can solve them using the following methods – see these 7 tips for successful e-commerce website enquiry handling:

● Use chatbots
● Improve your FAQ resources
● Increase the number of staff
● Improve your e-commerce website
● Use an enquiry management system
● Knowledge sharing
● Centralise information management
Each of these methods is explained below.

Use of chatbots 

Chatbots can be used to efficiently respond to frequently asked enquiries where a complex response is not necessary. The most common post-purchase enquiry is ‘dispatch/arrival time’, which can be handled efficiently if the primary response is handled by a chatbot. The difficult part of the ‘dispatch/arrival notification’ response is the identification of the individual and the product. Even this can be addressed however, by creating a system to identify customers by their order number or account that the bot can reference. By exploring the possibilities with bot technology, you will realise that many customer query responses can be automated and still handled effectively.

Enriching FAQs

Enriching FAQ resources can guide customers to solutions that they can implement on their own without the need to contact a live human agent or customer support representative. Well-organised FAQs also have the added benefit of improving AI chatbot operations as the bots can learn to reference FAQ material themselves to respond flexibly to customers’ questions.

Supplementary information on creating FAQ content

You may feel that if the volume of FAQs becomes too large, there is the danger that it will become too difficult for customers to navigate and read. In line with this the April 2022 issue of Call Centre Japan has some useful advice on how to create user-friendly FAQs:.

“To enable customers who do not have a high level of ‘search literacy’ to solve problems, it is effective to implement a search engine that enables natural sentence searches within the FAQ site, and to use chatbots that can narrow down requirements in an interactive format.” Call Centre Japan, April 2022.

Also, this recent Hubspot blog post highlights some ‘best practices’ to keep in mind when creating and organsing FAQ resources and customer knowledge base articles:

“If your FAQ page does consist of multiple pages, then one critical element you’ll need to consider is your navigation bar. If your search bar is tricky to use or doesn’t yield desired results, customers won’t have the patience to sift through pages one by one until they find an answer.When creating your knowledge base articles, try to use searchable keywords in both your post titles and in your writing. This will make your pages easier to find since they’ll include the same terms and phrases that visitors are searching for.”

As we can see from the suggestions listed above, user-friendliness can be greatly improved by providing a search window in the FAQs and by installing chatbots. A list of frequently used search terms could also be displayed next to the search window to improve the customer experience.

Increasing the number of contact persons

Consider increasing the number of contact persons to handle inquiries in cases where the location is in an urban area or where there is room in the staffing plan. Increasing the number of staff in charge can reduce the burden on individual staff members. When increasing the number of staff, make use of tools such as inquiry management systems to enable information sharing. New personnel could be put in charge of the basic parts of customer relations, while experienced personnel could be entrusted with the implementation and operation of new tools.

Improving your e-commerce site

If at this present moment in time it’s not possible to increase your customer support staff, then fear not; there are other solutions you can implement to improve the efficiency of your custom inquiry handling. In some cases, you can respond to inquiries efficiently by improving your e-commerce site without increasing the number of staff in charge.

In addition to enhancing the FAQ content mentioned above, you could also take steps to make the purchase page easier to read. The following measures could be tried:

Display easy-to-read information on the purchase page about ‘shipping/arrival’, which is a common post-purchase issue.                

Provide a clear explanation of ‘product exchange’ in the order confirmation email.                  

Check that the design user-friendly and not too difficult to read, e.g. make sure that important information is in large enough text and not hidden somewhere are the bottom of the webpage.

Use of inquiry management systems

You could also make use of inquiry management systems and email sharing applications. Although there is a cost involved in implementing these tools, they are much cheaper than hiring additional staff and can improve operational efficiency.

The latest AI inquiry management systems can provide support by displaying past history and relevant information to the customer support agent. It can also analyse inquiries and prioritise the assignment of inquiries to personnel who have responded to them in the past.

The latest inquiry management systems deployed by FedEx and Odyssey in the US have automated package tracking and reduced the average processing time of inquiries by 50%.

Knowledge sharing

It is important to keep a record of previous customer inquiries and how these were solved, for future reference. This knowledge can then be shared through FAQ content or through the AI of an inquiry management system.

Modern AI can categorise daily inquiries and store knowledge by category and tag. Each person can search for the knowledge when required and the AI will automatically display relevant articles.

Centralised information management

To respond to inquiries on an e-commerce site, a variety of information has to be accessed, such as customer information, order information, delivery information and knowledge. If you use different systems for each piece of information, it will take longer to reply. Ensure that all information is available in one system, e.g. an inquiry management system.

If there are multiple inquiry channels other than telephone and email, such as SNS and chat, it may be more effective to choose a system with an omni-channel function that can centrally manage inquiries from all channels.

Final thoughts

There is an urgent need to improve the response to inquiries on e-commerce websites. This is because improving the quality of the response to inquiries will increase word-of-mouth recognition and lead to an enhanced customer experience. As a result, you will gain more potential customers and repeat customers, and your e-commerce site will naturally see an increase in sales.

To improve your company’s contact handling, please refer to the ‘5 common reasons for failure’ and ‘7 solutions’ discussed in this article.

If you’re not sure which solution to tackle for now, start by understanding the issue. Identify the types of queries you receive before and after the purchase. This will help you to see whether you just need to redesign your FAQs or whether you need to implement new tools such as chatbots or an inquiry management system.

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