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What do online shoppers want from your customer service operations?

May 2020

What is the role of customer service for online retailers?

We have outlined the current consumer expectations of customer service and following our recent research-based study "What do customers want from a contact centre?", which outlines factors to take into consideration when determining whether to outsource your customer service or to continue to manage this in-house. 

In addition to our research-based insights, we have also looked at some examples of online retailers who are setting the innovation agenda with customer service and some actionable tips on enhancing your customer service offering, with immediate effect.

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What is the role of e-commerce customer service?
The customer service function within an e-commerce business can take care of a broad spectrum of roles, but the core role is to minimise friction throughout the customer journey, and as outlined in the Hammersley Brothers Ecommerce Podcast: Getting Delivery Right In e-Commerce, we also need to remove any anxieties your customers may experience.

A useful framework called the Customer Service Lifecycle (CSL) outlines five phases of the customer experience: Reach, Acquisition, Conversion, Retention and Loyalty.

By enabling your customers to:

  • Discover your products
  • Learn about your product
  • Easily purchase your products
  • And finally, by driving post-purchase engagement and advocacy, you will enhance your ability to acquire and more importantly retain more customers and drive revenue.

At each of these Customer Services Lifecycle stages, consumers expect:

  • An easy to discover, easy to navigate website
  • Detailed product descriptions that mirror your actual product
  • A broad range of payment and delivery options at checkout
  • Frictionless product returns process
  • Clear shipping and refund policies

Customer service processes and procedures

When an online retailer is considering which type of customer support they need, they must consider several variables.

  • The volume of inbound enquiries, queries, and complaints.
  • Which time of day peak demand occurs.

Furthermore, the type of inbound query, sales enquiry, or complaint could be one of the following:

  • Product and stock level queries
  • Delivery tracking support
  • Complaint Management
  • Loyalty Program Management
  • Product Return Management

Online retailers require more than just a friendly helpdesk to assist potential and existing customers with queries such as "is this item in stock?" and consumers require support in of the above customer service functions across a broad range of channels, including:

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Live chat
  • Social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram LinkedIn
  • In writing

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What do online shoppers expect from their selected online retailers?

In today's highly competitive e-commerce market, consumers are increasingly disloyal, with 42% of global consumers saying they love trying new things. Online shoppers in the UK are used to services from high street names, such as Argos, who can provide a broad range of premium delivery, same day and in-store collection options. Meanwhile, marketplaces such as Amazon provide free delivery on certain items along with a plethora of pickup locations.

As an online retailer, selling the lion's share of your products from your website (D2C), complemented by marketplace sales, this is what you're up against. However, while major marketplaces and high street names are perceived to be pioneering the delivery experience, they often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to customer service. Helpfulness of customer support is the second-worst customer experience category among top internet retailers, which presents an opportunity to SMEs and mid-market retailers.

Online retailers experience fluctuations in demand throughout the year, some more seasonal than others. Companies such as Micro Scooters experience just this. Micro Scooters are supported by Whistl's Contact Centre Services, which ensures they can support their customers and their staff during these busy periods.

Customer service is among the most outsourced processes among large companies, with 78% of businesses all over the world feeling positive about their outsourcing partners. Whistl provides outsourced contact centre support to multichannel retailers such as Micro Scooters, in the form of overflow and out of hours customer contact services. Using Whistl's contact centre services allows them to focus on getting orders out the door and keeping their business going. This support is helping them to outperform marketplaces such as Amazon when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Read Whistl’s Case Study on the impact of outsourced contact centre services for Micro Scooter.

Consumer perceptions of customer service operations, and their impact on their propensity to consume.

In November 2019, Whistl conducted a research study of 1,000 UK adults from a large nationwide online panel. This study helped us to learn:

  • Which companies and sectors consumers rate positively or negatively.
  • The different types of queries they make.
  • Measure the impact this has on a consumer’s propensity to consume again with these brands following their experience.

Here are the key findings from this study that relate to customers’ online shopping experience, with e-commerce retailers:

  • Just under half of the consumers have reduced their willingness to spend more with a retailer if the call centre is unhelpful, with not resolving their issue the number one complaint.
  • Call centres considered ‘The Best’ are seen to resolve issues quickly (or agent are at least trying to).
  • The worst call centres are unhelpful; they take too long to answer the customer; have language issues; appear disinterested.
  • 80% of participants consider longer than 5 minutes to be unacceptable and 70% would hang up after 10 minutes on hold.

Do I need to outsource my customer service?

It is clear that getting customer service operations, by delighting customers through proactive customer support is crucial to the success of your business.

As detailed in the last section, consumers continue to be frustrated when shopping online. This negative experience has a direct impact on revenue generation and customer lifetime value. Taking these externalities into account, the next place to look is internally at your business operations. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do Whistl’s findings mirror my customer’s experiences? 
  • And if I do have room for improvement, does this mean I should consider outsourcing my customer service operation?

As your business increases so should your customer base and revenue opportunities. As a business, you may experience growing pains in the form of an influx of inbound customer service queries. If you are able to manage this in-house then you will need to consider longer working-hours and investing in growing your operational capacity to support this growth.

In online retail, there tends to be peaks and troughs in demand throughout the year. By keeping all of your operations in-house you may experience unnecessary wastage. By outsourcing your customer service operations to a third party you can mitigate risk and minimise wastage by only paying for query handling when you actually need it. For example, for Micro Scooters, Whistl manages all delivery related customer contact queries, whilst also acting as an overflow and out of hours multichannel customer service team.

Why outsource your contact centre services

How to improve your customer service operations right now:

  • Ensure your product descriptions mirror your actual product offering.
  • Provide a broad range of delivery and payment options increasing conversion and checkout choice.
  • Read our in-depth research for more insights into consumers’ perceptions of contact centres and customer service.
  • Consider outsourcing e-commerce customer service to minimise wastage, mitigate risk, and facilitate profitable growth.
  • Make it effortless for customers to self-serve, and to get in touch with your in-house or outsourced customer service team, with a carefully crafted customer service section on your website.
  • Consider implementing multi-contact support functions, such as live chat.
  • Synchronise your customer service operations with a customer experience management platform such as Freshdesk to create a single view of all of your inbound queries.


In this article, we have covered the role of customer service, its impact on the customer journey and discussed when the right time is to outsource customer service. 

Customer service should underpin your e-commerce business strategy and customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal. If you have decided that outsourcing is the right next step in your e-commerce growth journey, Whistl is the partner of choice for mid-market online retailers.
We provide: 

Proudly helping multi-channel online retailers with very quick implementation and onboarding processes. With Whistl’s contact centre services,  your business support can be live in as little as 24 hours.

Whistl provides tailiored Contact Centre solutions


At Whistl we work to reduce initial contacts and increase First Contact Resolution (FCR) whilst improving the overall customer experience. It’s not just about providing great service to our clients’ customers, Whistl’s dedicated account managers regularly provide feedback and important insight to our clients to improve processes or self-help/information online to negate the requirement for a contact and to quickly highlight any challenges customers are facing.

Trevor Flack, Head of Contact Centres at Whistl

Found the insights of this article interesting, then read more in our research-based study: 

Download Whistl's research guide as a PDF Download Whistl's Summary Fact Sheet

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