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South African Ecommerce Customer Expectations: 2018

The key distinction between a traditional and a customer-cultivating company is that one is organised to push products and brands whereas the other is designed to serve customers and customer segments.1

Thus far, 2018 has been an exciting year! For South African consumers the cost of connecting to the internet is decreasing2 even with a VAT increase, smartphone sales are continuing to rise3 and ecommerce sales are on track to grow to R53 billion4.

So what can your company do this year to take advantage of this explosive growth in the digital space? Start by building a customer-centric company that meets and exceeds ecommerce customer expectations.

See your business from your customer’s point of view

Seeing your business from your customer’s point of view is easier than you may think because you are a customer in your own right. If you are like the 54% of South Africans who are internet users or the 32% of South Africans who are active social media users5, then you would be no stranger to:

  • Reading the news or checking social media in bed on your phone,
  • Using your computer to buy clothes, shoes or books online,
  • Using a search engine, like Google, to research holiday destinations and buying your flights,
  • Engaging with a company over email, social media or on their website, or
  • Logging your last gym work out on your phone or smartwatch.

So you know what it means to be a customer in a digital world and you know what things will make you really happy or seriously frustrated. You may not think like this but, deep down inside, you know you have very high expectations of how you want to be treated, informed and engaged with this year.

To test this:

  • Would I be correct in saying that for the companies that treat you well, you will pledge your loyalty, repeat your purchases and tell your friends about your experience?
  • Would I be correct in saying that for the companies that treat you poorly, you will vent your frustration, look for another provider and tell your friends about your experience?

Given that you, as a customer yourself, are an expert in customer expectations let me run some scenarios past you.

Action Point

To see your business from your customer’s point of view, start by being a customer of your own business. Try filling out an online form and see if anyone gets back to you. Download your company’s app and see how it works. Try to complete an online application. Call the customer contact number. Search for your company’s services and see where your company ranks in the search engine results. The results are often very interesting.

Customers expect to be treated as individuals

Have you ever received an email newsletter from a company about products that have nothing to do with you? What was your response? Personally, I would unsubscribe from those marketing emails. I get enough emails as it is and I don’t need more emails that are of no interest to me.

If we unpack this type of interaction, we see that customers disengage from brand communication that is not relevant to them. With the implementation of POPI, company’s are forced to honour a customer’s request to opt-out. The result is a going list of customers to whom you can no longer market your brand, products or services.

In 2018 companies can be empowered to provide relevant and personal communication to their customers, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, big data, AI and machine learning are more accessible and cost-effective than ever before. Even simple database segmentation can be used to send the right message to the right customer.

Action Point

Have you considered implementing a CRM tool for your customer to better understand how they interact with the company? Have you looked at the unsubscribe list for your email and SMS communications? What could you do to better segment your customer database and what message would be most effective for each segment?

Customers expect to be part of a conversation

Can you relate to this recent interaction that I had with one of the leading South African asset managers? I was looking to make a change to my investment policy. I emailed the relevant person to request the form that I need to complete. I received an email with the form. So far so good. I completed the form and sent it back. No reply. The next day, I sent a follow-up message and was asked to submit further supporting documents. Sure but why didn’t you ask me this yesterday? Then I get an email from another support person requesting other documents. Hang on, what about the request from the other person? I email these documents. Now things start to get frustrating. I start having to manage multiple requests from different support staff, for different documents on different email threads. Even after the change to my investment policy was completed, I was still receiving requests for additional information. In short, I don’t like dealing with your company. You waste my time and have me running in circles trying to complete documents I have already sent or you do not need.

In this interaction, there are a number of areas for improvement.

Firstly, no one wants to be part of a conversation where the other party takes their time in replying to you. You can test this principle very easily. When you get home tonight, wait for your spouse/partner or pet to say hello and ignore them. Do you get a happy or a mad response? The difficulty with response times is that they are subject to the communication channel the people are using as well as the accepted norm in your industry for that channel. If you want to wow your customer on social media (Facebook or Twitter), you need to look at getting back to them whilst they are still on the social media channel. This could be 15 minutes or less. An email reply should be come through in 6 to 24 hours. A phone call should be answered and not no hold for 5 or more minutes. If you think these benchmarks are unreasonable, how long would you be happy to wait for a reply?

Secondly, no one wants to be part of a conversation where the other party answers with a different answer to your question. You can test this principle very easily. When you get home tonight, wait for your spouse/partner or pet to ask you a question and reply with a completely different answer. Do you get a normal or a confused response? With the advance in customer support tools, CRM tools and other methods of tracking customer engagement there is no reason for anyone in your company to respond to the customer without being aware of the conversion to date.

Lastly, no one wants to be part of a conversation where the other party does not listen to a single thing that you say. You can test this principle very easily. When you get home tonight, wait for your spouse/partner or pet to acknowledge that you are home, start a conversion and don’t let them say a single word. Do you get a happy or a mad response? If you want customers to feel part of a conversation, there needs to be a mechanism for them to feel heard. In my example above, not one of the support staff acknowledged that I was getting requests from multiple people, that I had already submitted the requested documents or made any effort to improve my experience. Nobody was listening, I can only assume they were ticking boxes on their side.

Action Point

  • Do you know where customer conversions are taking place? Do you have a call centre, email support service or social media profiles?
  • Where are customers having a conversion about your company? Just because your company does not have a Twitter profile, for instance, does not mean that your customers are having a conversion about the company on Twitter. If this is the case, I would suggest that you engage with that channel and become a part of the conversion.
  • Do you measure your customer response times?
  • Are the relevant people in your company informed about the customer conversations taking place so that they can respond appropriately and timeously?
  • Are your customer-facing staff ticking boxes or taking the time to listen to and understand a customer’s query.
  • Are your customer-facing staff empowered to request and act on customer feedback?

Customers expect great service

This expectation is self-evident – as a customer would you be happy with poor or average service?

One of the key challenges faced by any company using the internet is how to build trust without a physical interaction. A customer cannot touch your product to feel the quality of the workmanship. Outside of a 2D photograph or video, they cannot see the image for themselves. Personal interactions are often limited and the benefits of meeting “face to face” are difficult to replicate. How can your company build trust in this environment? The answer often lies in brilliant customer service.

Let me give you two recent examples of amazing customer service. In these examples, both companies are internet retailers, to my knowledge they are not national or international companies, yet both companies were able to build incredible trust with myself the customer through the way they serviced my orders.

The first company is Pethero , a stockist of dog and cat food brands as well as related accessories. My fifth or so order with Pethero was delivered on a Friday to my offices. I was on leave that day, one of my colleagues signed the order in, and I only received the order on the following Monday when I was back in the office. When I check the order I found that one of the items that I had purchased was not delivered. I sent an email to query the order. Here is the brilliant trust building part – I received a reply within 15 minutes to apologise for the non-delivery and the outstanding item was delivered to my office that afternoon. It was exceptional customer service. They did not query that the person who received the order had signed for the goods or dispute my claim. I assume they must have some internal stock tracking that verified my query.

The second company is Kids Living, a stockist of children’s furniture and baby items. A few weeks back, I ordered a new cot mattress with two fitted sheets. Given the unique size of my baby’s cot, there are few retailers who stock these items. The order was delivered to my home address and signed for by the guards at my estate. In this instance, only one of the two sheets was delivered. When I got home I discovered the error with my order and sent an email inquiry. The staff at Kids Living replied in less than 5 minutes and delivered the other sheet the next day. Again, there was no dispute and they did the utmost to provide me with great customer service.

As a customer, I doubt that I would have ordered from either of these online retailers again if they have fought with me over my claims or made it difficult for me to verify that I have not received the items. Yet their exceptional customer service has made me more than just a customer who trusts their brand – I am now a brand advocate.

If you are not sure of how best your company can meet or exceed your customers’ expectations in 2018, give us a call and we will be happy to assist.

1 Harvard Business Review. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategic Marketing (with featured article “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt) (p. 2). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition. 
2  My Broad Band. ADSL and fibre data prices in South Africa will drop.
3 BusinessTech. Smartphone sales continue to boom in SA – but tablet sales tank.
4 Fin24. SA e-commerce growing by leaps and bounds.

Yes! I have an idea and I need your innovation to turn it into an online store invention!

Charles Mackenzie

Guest Author

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