Many retail stores treat customer service as an afterthought, and it shows. The average conversion rate for e-commerce sites is just 3.2 percent. This means, out of 1,000 visitors to the typical company’s website, only 32 of them actually buy something. Sites that are slow to load, difficult to navigate, suffer from complicated checkout systems, or confuse shoppers turn customers away, and many of them never return. The fact is that customer service is just as important (if not more so) on the web as it is in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. As shoppers become more accustomed to shopping online, they have higher expectations of the sites on which they shop.

There is plenty of room for improvement in customer service on the web. Shoppers’ unmet expectations of superior customer service translate into a high shopping cart abandonment rate. According to e-commerce research company Forrester Research, 75 percent of web shoppers who fill their online shopping carts abandon them without checking out.

E-Commerce Myth: Customer Service Is Not As Important Online

When customers abandon their shopping carts, companies can close a significant percentage of those “lost” sales by sending prompt follow- up e-mails designed to convince the customer to complete the purchase. On average, nearly 21 percent of shoppers who abandon their carts and receive a follow-up e-mail from the company return to complete their purchases, spending 55 percent more than shoppers who completed their purchases without abandoning their carts.

In an attempt to improve the level of service they offer, many sites provide e-mail links to encourage customer interaction. Unfortunately, when responding to e-mail takes a very low priority at some e-businesses, customers take it as a clear sign of poor service. The lesson for e-commerce entrepreneurs is simple: Devote time, energy, and money to developing an effective system for providing superior customer service. Those who do will build a sizable base of loyal customers who will keep coming back.

The most significant actions online companies can take to strengthen their customer service efforts are to create a clean, intuitive website; hire a well-trained customer response team; offer a simple return process; provide an easy order-tracking process so that customers can check the status of their orders at any time; and offer the opportunity to chat live with a customer service representative. Even small companies that lack the manpower to staff a live chat center can still provide customer – responsive chat options on their websites by using virtual chat agents. Loaded onto a company’s site, these virtual employees can step in at the appropriate time to interact with one customer or millions of customers, answering their questions.