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CX Leadership & Strategy

What CX Leaders Need to Know About Ecommerce Industry Trends

March 30, 2021
0 minute read

For years, brands invested slowly but surely in the technology, processes, and people that take their business from brick-and-mortar to click-and-mortar. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated all of this. In 2020, as the world stayed mostly indoors, the eCommerce sector grew by 44% in 2020—and shows no signs of slowing down. 

For most of us, the home has become the office, gym, and mall, all rolled into one. And while this poses unique challenges for CX leaders, the retail landscape continues to evolve, throwing another wrench in the works (or three).

Support teams—often the largest department at companies—answer thousands of inquiries from customers at a mission-critical moment: when something's gone wrong. Managing large teams can be difficult, let alone a large customer-facing team. On top of this, new channels and mediums for support require a wide range of communication skills that agents must master to be successful. 

To understand the impact these shifts will have on the day-to-day operations of support teams, we embarked on a huge research project, analyzing over 265,000 tickets to answer these questions:

  • What eCommerce industry trends CX leaders should be aware of?
  • Are your CX metrics telling you the full story about your customer experience?
  • What metrics should eCommerce CX teams be tracking?
  • What skillsets are eCommerce CX teams investing in?

Let’s dig into the data 🚀

What are some eCommerce industry trends CX leaders should be aware of?

  1. Technology has Lowered Barriers to Entry

With services like Shopify, Squarespace, and Square allowing anyone to start a business from just about anywhere, competition is intense. With competitors only a click away, consumers find themselves defaulting to making purchase decisions just on the basis of price. 

In response, brands have been turning to providing stellar CX as a way to differentiate themselves to new customers, and retain existing ones.

  1. The Rise of the Subscription Model

Subscription businesses, rising in popularity over the past few years, naturally rely on customer retention. Acquiring a new customer is more expensive than retaining an existing one, so subscription businesses are increasingly placing emphasis on CX channels to help keep retention rates high.

  1. The Social Media Megaphone

The impact that an unhappy customer can have has been amplified by social media. Where one dissatisfied customer might speak to a few friends about their experience, today’s consumer has the power to inform hundreds, if not thousands of people in their network about a poor experience.

In response to these trends, eCommerce teams are leaning (more than ever!) on stellar CX to differentiate themselves, drive revenue growth, and build customer loyalty in a highly competitive environment. 

But the same technological shifts that have given rise to eCommerce have also made support more complicated... and have reduced the impact of traditional CX metrics like CSAT and FCR.

Are your CX metrics telling you the full story about your customer experience?

If you’re still relying on traditional or efficiency-based metrics like CSAT and FCR, the short answer is no.

Let’s break it down using CSAT as an example.

While CSAT is a great aggregate measure of the customer experience, its weakness is that it can’t offer insights into individual agent performance or areas where you can make improvements. It can also easily be impacted by forces outside your agent’s control. 

Consider the last time you filled out a CSAT survey. Chances are, you were either extremely thrilled or pretty disappointed. This is known as the response bias, which can lead to results that either skew high or low. This in turn results in data that CX leaders cannot rely on to make important decisions on matters like staffing, training or quality.

The one-sided nature of CSAT doesn’t provide clarity for CX leaders looking for a holistic understanding of the performance of their CX program—something we’ve come to call the Experience Blindspot.

The best thing to fill this blindspot: QA scores

Each company’s CX goals are different, so QA is a completely customizable metric meant to reflect every brand’s unique approach to quality customer service.

QA can include an assessment of the agent’s performance, their adherence to policy and brand voice guides, as well as account for the customer-given CSAT rating. This allows CX leaders to have a complete understanding of their support program’s performance, while identifying ways to improve training, policy and technology to lead to better CSAT outcomes.

To take our analysis one step further, we compared 265,000 customer support tickets with both CSAT and QA data, and tried to identify the relationship between our benchmark—QA scores—and CSAT.

image banner for MaestroQA eCommerce Whitepaper
Looking for the full industry report that this blogpost is based on? Download your copy here.

Customers receiving high quality service give higher CSAT scores

It's pretty straightforward—good quality service correlates strongly with good CSAT scores. Customers know and appreciate good service when they see it, and reward it accordingly.

But those that were unsatisfied might still have received high quality service

In fact, the average QA score on tickets with a negative CSAT score was a respectable 82.8%, showing that CSAT didn’t always tell the full story when it came to the quality of the customer experience. 

To confirm our hypothesis, we looked only at tickets scoring above a 90% QA score. These tickets still resulted in negative CSAT reviews 31.8% of the time.

Regardless of the quality of the interaction, or of the agent's performance, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances which lead to a customer giving a poor CSAT grade. This can be anything from being unhappy with a brand's refund policy, wait times in the support queue, or product issues.

Combine that with the three eCommerce trends we identified at the start of this blogpost, and the bottom line is clear: in order to keep winning at eCommerce, CX leaders need more, and higher quality data points.

What metrics should eCommerce CX teams be tracking? 

Just to be clear: we’re not asking you to stop measuring CSAT altogether. It’s a hugely important benchmark for our industry and for support teams worldwide.

It’s weakness is that it doesn’t tell you how to improve when something’s gone wrong. 

Here are three metrics that you should be tracking to improve customer loyalty and your overall eCommerce customer experience.

Quality Assurance Scores (QA): 

Improving Quality Assurance can have an outsized impact on your customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

From our analysis, we found that low quality tickets were 1.7x more likely to result in low CSAT. QA is also highly customizable, allowing teams to customize rubrics to reflect exactly what they consider to be a high quality customer service experience.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV):

The directional shift of CLTV is a good proxy for customer loyalty, and the success of your eCommerce CX team. Just take a look at the factors that make up CLTV: average order value, purchase frequency, and churn rate. A good CX team influences all three of those factors, ensuring that customers stay loyal by using stellar CX as a differentiating factor from other brands on the market.

Net Promoter Score (NPS):

Net Promoter Score is another good indicator of customer loyalty and success. While similar in execution to CSAT (you survey a customer on a point scale), the focus is very different. NPS is a better measure of long term loyalty since the question asked is “how likely are you to promote this product” rather than “how satisfied were you with the product today”.

What soft skills are eCommerce CX teams investing in?

In the past, CX issues could be solved by a “see what sticks” approach—throwing more at the problem, and seeing what stuck: more human resources, more training, or more technology. 

While other CX leaders are still experimenting to see what works, we’d much rather take a data-driven, work-smart-not-hard approach 😉

We looked at the questions eCommerce CX leaders were including in their QA scorecards—and revisited the eCommerce support data we gathered—to find out what agent skills have the highest impact on customer satisfaction and long term loyalty.

Process-driven CX Skills

We looked at this data with one question in mind: “what process-based skills are key to building customer loyalty?”

It was clear that the skills that built customer satisfaction and loyalty were those that helped alleviate the customer’s immediate pain points, like resolving the ticket on the first call (also known as first contact resolution or FCR). Others, like the accuracy of tagging, were invisible to the customer, and largely had no relation with loyalty. To boost customer loyalty and CSAT, ensure that your QA program includes questions that address these pain points.

Customer Support Agent Soft Skills

This is where it gets interesting.

Surprisingly, the actions that many CX managers push for, such as building rapport and personalizing messages, had a weaker correlation with customer satisfaction than tone and authenticity. 

Our hypothesis? These are just the icing on the cake.

Agents need to get the basics right first. Be human, show empathy for the customer’s situation, address them properly, and strive for an authentic conversation. Rapport doesn’t matter if you can’t solve their problem.

Agent Soft Skills by Channel

The channel of communication between agents and customers dramatically changes what customers expect.

Tone is heavily correlated to CSAT in every channel. While it may be conveyed differently across different channels, your customers expect a positive tone from agents at all times.

On the other hand, empathy and etiquette have a greater tie to CSAT over the phone than in chat or email.

In order to create satisfied customers on the phone, agents have a stronger imperative to be empathic and practice acceptable etiquette. 

From the data we collected and countless interactions with our customers over the past few years, we have a few guesses as to why this distinction exists:

• Email and chat provide efficient ways to handle simple, transactional support issues (e.g., getting a replacement product), while phone calls provide customers an opportunity to air their frustrations to another human being.

• Customers expect less out of a chat or email since empathy and etiquette are harder to convey over written text.

• Customers who opt for phone calls, a more traditional mode of communication, expect more traditional etiquette and empathy.

Catch that eCommerce Wave

For most eCommerce teams, this research should be an affirmation of the strategy, process, and technology already in place as the industry embarks on this phase of hypergrowth. 

For teams looking to CX as a new channel to drive customer retention and differentiation, it’s also not too late to catch up—but execution is key.

Looking for reliable QA data to help inform your CX strategy, agent training plans and to elevate your customer experience?

Learn more about MaestroQA.

infographic describing the latest trends in ecommerce customer support based on MaestroQA's research and analysis of customer support ticket data
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