Winning the Customer Service Game This Holiday Season

online-shopping

Kevon Hills is Vice President of Research at StellaService. Connect with Kevon on LinkedIn.

The retail world is preparing for the season of giving and shoppers are continuing to turn to ecommerce as a convenient alternative to crowded stores throughout the holiday season. The pressure is on for online retailers as customers are more emotional than ever during the holidays.

At the same time, the holiday shopping season represents a golden opportunity to create customer loyalty for seasons to come.

Throughout the 2013 holiday season, StellaService ecommerce analysts placed multiple orders, made calls, sent emails and live chats to the top retailers to measure the quality of their customer service performance during the holiday crunch time. We also polled consumers in August 2014 to understand expectations specific to the holiday season. It’s no surprise to find that just 5% of consumers would shop again at a retailer that gave them bad customer service during the holiday.

Based on …

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StellaService Report: Essential Holiday Ecommerce Data & Best Practices

Today we’re excited to release our Q3 2014 report, Essential Holiday Ecommerce Data & Best Practices. As more consumers are turning to the ease of online shopping, the stakes are rising for ecommerce retailers during the holiday shopping season. This report, available in full here, provides a snapshot of 2013 holiday performance, what service levels consumers expect for holiday performance in 2014 and how retailers are trending into those expectations as the holidays approach. The report covers the following areas:

2013 Holiday Performance
Failure to meet Christmas cutoff shipping guarantees left gift-givers empty handed and call centers flooded. After a disappointing Holiday 2013, shoppers are more attuned to delivery speed and accuracy than ever and meeting promised holiday cutoff dates has never been so important. Just 11% of consumers will shop with a retailer again if a holiday shipping guarantee isn’t met.

2014 Holiday Consumer Survey
Customers are more emotional …

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You Can Still Order a Last-Minute Engagement Ring Online In Time For Valentine’s Day

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Chocolate and flowers won’t suffice. Baby’s getting bling this year.

But, for the last-minute kind of guy, is buying online still an option?

According to Josh Holland, Blue Nile’s senior manager of communications, shoppers may have more last-minute options than they realize. For instance, a fully-customized diamond engagement ring ordered from the retailer by 5 p.m. ET can be delivered by 10:30 a.m. the next day.

Holland said every Blue Nile engagement ring is shipped FedEx Priority Overnight for free, insured to the customer’s door and wrapped in an elegant gift box.

Overstock.com also said they can cater to the last-minute jewelry shopper. Items on the site carry a festive red label that serves up detailed information about receiving orders on time for Valentine’s Day.

Jewelry ordered from Overstock.com before 11 a.m. ET on February 13 can be delivered next-day.

“We get calls close to holidays asking about guarantees,” said Stormy Simon, Co-President at Overstock.com. …

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StellaService Study: These Retailers Issued Holiday Refunds Fastest

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For consumers, January means it’s time to drag the Christmas tree to the curb and return the unflattering sweater grandma left under that tree.

For retailers, a wave of returns signals the final piece of the whirlwind holiday season.

In a study of the returns and refunds performance of 25 of the largest retailers by revenue, StellaService found that the majority of retailers evaluated aren’t meeting consumer expectations.

StellaService Analysts ordered the same product from each retailer to be delivered to three separate regions – East, West and Midwest. They then returned the product, tracking metrics such as the presence of a prepaid, adhesive return label, total time to receive a return authorization and refund speed. The effort was part of the broader 2013 StellaService Holiday Insights study, sponsored by global management and consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

The average refund speed of the Top 25 was 10.7 days.

And, interestingly the two fastest refund speeds came from the …

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Cyber Monday Recap: Top Retailers Used Ship-from-Store to Fulfill Orders Quickly

delivery on the dolly by hand

After Black Friday, Cyber Monday is the busiest day of the year for most retailers. Web sales this year surged 21% from 2012 according to IBM, and StellaService Analysts found a subset of online retailers that were well-prepared to get the deluge of orders processed and out the door to shoppers quickly. (However, our analysts noted quite a different experience in the week leading up to Christmas Day; you can read that study here.)

We placed orders to 45 online retailers on Cyber Monday, including eight of the Internet Retailer Top 25, as part of our regular operations.

RELATED: Online Retailers With Quick Draw Call Centers Over Thanksgiving Weekend

The three standout performers, which all delivered in under three days, were:

These three retailers had the ability to source products from stores located near the shoppers homes, allowing them to deliver a great customer experience and capitalize on a trend in ecommerce. None of the orders were …

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StellaService Study: Did Leading Retailers Deliver By Christmas as Advertised?

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We anxiously awaited a few last-minute holiday orders this year – 75 orders from 25 retailers to be exact.

StellaService analyzed retailers’ stated standard shipping cut-off dates to receive orders by Christmas. StellaService Analysts then ordered the same product from the 25 of the largest online retailers to be delivered to three separate regions – East, West and Midwest. The effort was part of the broader 2013 StellaService Holiday Insights study, sponsored by global management and consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

Eight retailers – or 32% – failed to deliver at least one order by Christmas. Of all 75 orders, 12% did not arrive by the estimated date. And, all but one failed delivery was shipped using UPS.

In a statement today, a UPS spokesperson issued an apology, saying that ”The volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network.” While UPS said only a small number of orders were affected, StellaService data shows …

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Best of 2013: Top 13 Happy Customer Posts

2013-year-in-review

As ecommerce sales continue to rise, so do the expectations of online shoppers. Here on Happy Customer we’re always on the look out for the latest innovations in online retail, and how leading sites are delivering a world-class customer experience from support to shipping to returns. We hope that you’ve found our expert interviews, original StellaService studies, and analysis of the top news stories in ecommerce valuable throughout the past year. (If you’d like to receive a weekly digest of our original content, you can subscribe here.)

With out further ado, here are the 13 most viewed blog posts on Happy Customer in 2013:

13) Check Out The Way J.C. Penney Is Responding To Comments On Its Apology Video
While it’s been a turbulent year for J.C. Penney across the board, we wanted to highlight the fact that the company’s customer service reps were making a concerted effort to respond to both positive and negative comments on YouTube, and solicit feedback …

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1-800-Flowers.com Staffs Up Social Customer Service Team in Advance of Peak Season

1800flowers-mothers-day-2013

This Mother’s Day Americans will spend an estimated $2.3 billion on flowers alone, and with nearly 3 in 10 Americans expected to purchase their Mother’s Day gifts on the Web, online flower delivery services are staffing up in anticipation of one of the busiest days of the year. The competition is fierce for companies hoping to capture their own piece of the holiday spending — and customer service plays an integral role in not only winning and servicing sales this Sunday but turning those one-time transactions into repeat customers.

“When it comes to peak season, our volume more than quadruples,” Bibi Brown, vice president of customer experience at 1-800-Flowers.com, told Happy Customer in an interview. “We expand to handle that volume and we know that customers are very impatient.”

The 1-800-Flowers.com social media customer service team staffs up to 30 agents to service orders during the company’s peak season, which Brown defined as Valentine’s Day through …

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Social Media Is The Sweetheart of Valentine’s Day Customer Service

tweet-me

February 14 is definitely one of the most emotional days in retail, particularly for the customer service teams at flower retailers.

And, if you were a consumer looking for help with a flower order, it seems social media was your sweetheart this year.

STELLAService analysts monitored the service performance of nine online flower shops from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, logging how quickly the businesses were connecting with customers via phone and Twitter. Calls were placed in three separate time blocks and abandoned if the wait time exceeded 20 minutes. All Twitter interactions were monitored and samples were pulled from the same time period.

Businesses included were 1800Flowers.com, 48Longstems.com, CalyxFlowers.com, FlowerShop.com, FromYouFlowers.com, FTD.com, JustFlowers.com, ProFlowers.com and Teleflora.com. All are rated STELLAService EXCELLENT or ELITE.

The most standout performance was 1800Flowers.com’s interactions via Twitter, which clocked an average response …

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Refund Processing In November Slowed This Year, Amazon and HP Were Best

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You can bet that if Ralphie from the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” had his way, he would be shipping that bunny suit from Aunt Clara back for a refund as soon as possible.

But, how quickly that refund is processed can vary greatly depending on the retailer.

STELLAService’s evaluation of the refund process in November found that 14 of the top 25 retailers required more time to credit refunds this year compared to the same period last year.

Sears.com had the biggest year-over-year hiccup, taking 16 days longer.

While many retailers will issue a refund on the spot if you provide a tracking number that proves the company received the return, STELLAService shoppers found that Sears.com doesn’t always follow that policy.

Still, several companies in the top 25 managed to improve. Zappos.com bested their performance in November 2011 by 6 days. On top of that, Zappos.com provides free returns and STELLAService shoppers appreciate the option to ship items back via UPS or USPS.

The …

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