Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (and Overcoming) Email, Social & Support ‘Failures’

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (and Overcoming) Email, Social & Support ‘Failures’

It’s a classic scene.

Luke is at his breaking point.

Captain stands over him, “You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don't you never stop listening to them clinking, ‘cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.”

Luke replies, “I wish you'd stop being so good to me, Cap’n.”

“Don't you ever talk that way to me,” Captain barks, pausing to kick Luke down to the rest of the chain gang: “What we've got here is failure to communicate.”

So, what does Paul Newman’s 1967 role as Cool Hand Luke have to do with ecommerce?

Let’s start with an uncomfortable truth: most ecommerce communication fails.

At least in regards to customer experience.

Worse, rarely will you hear about it. As the oft-repeated Bill Lee stat goes: for every customer who complains, 26 remain silent.

To close that gap, we recently walked through Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops to Build a Business Customers Can't Resist as well as How to Design Customer Surveys That Lead to Actionable Insights.

Once you’ve unearthed those insights, the question becomes: Now what?

For ecommerce communication, three areas plague customers the most: email, social, and live support. In the coming weeks, we’ll dig into each of these key areas.

Today, consider this your crash course to overhauling and overcoming your own “failures to communicate” with the very best resources and insights on all three fronts.

1. Email: Nurturing, Delighting and Rescuing Your Customers through Ecommerce Communications

First impressions matter … a lot. Your welcome sequence is easily one of the most important because the act of subscribing is an investment.

In truth, there’s no such thing as the welcome sequence. Rather, there are multiple welcomes to multiple segments:

  1. Newsletter subscribers who haven’t bought anything.
  2. Brand new buyers with the potential to become repeat customers.
  3. Repeat customers ripe for new products and lifecycle emails.
  4. Loyal customers and brand evangelists entering your rewards program.
  5. And the top 10% or 1% of your customers who deserve their own category.

We’ll explore each one of those groups and how to build your relationship with them soon. In the meantime, here are four sequences you can’t do without.

Make ‘Em Say “Wow”

In How to Write An Effective Welcome Email (13 Examples and 3 Templates You Can Steal Today), Dan Wang points out,

“Customers who receive welcome emails are more likely to engage with a brand over the long term than those who have not. That’s why you should make your welcome emails great.”

Wang goes on to outline how to write new subscriber sequences that don’t just intrigue but engage, complete with steal-worthy examples from companies like Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany. The commonality is each one’s ability to match their store’s image with their audience’s expectations:

“You won’t find many exclamation marks and all-caps in Tiffany’s welcome email. Tiffany’s is more subdued and elegant in the way it presents itself. That’s very appropriate for its brand.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Shopify

Welcome the lead, show off the very best of what you have to offer, and make getting what they asked for when they signed up -- a discount, trial membership, free resource -- abundantly easy.

Make ‘Em Want More

Transactional emails are notoriously bland. When it comes to receipts and delivery details, standard fare might cut it for convenience. But they don’t cut it for building a relationship.

Certainly, give your buyer all the info they need (in an easily clickable format). But also include post-transactional emails that relate to FAQs, review requests, and social invitations to share the unboxing experience. Above all, as Ty Rothstein puts it in 7+ Order Confirmation Emails That Will Skyrocket Ecommerce Sales:

“Say ‘Thank you’. When was the last time you felt appreciated? Saying those two words trigger a positive emotion of gratitude from the customer which, in return, should increase the likelihood of someone following through.”

What’s more, take advantage of what a ripe opportunity your transactional emails truly are:

“The customer experience does not end there [with a purchase], as order confirmation emails (i.e. the receipt) have an open rate of over 70%! To put that into perspective, the average email open rate isn’t even 18%.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Blue Stout

Make ‘Em Happy to Come Back

Abandoned shopping carts cost the ecommerce industry $4 trillion dollars. As I highlighted in Abandoned Cart Emails: Strategy and Timing for Rescuing Ecommerce Sales:

“If you’re in ecommerce, the only thing worse than the average ‘do nothing’ [visitors] are visitors who add to a cart, make it all the way to checkout, and then … do nothing.”

Thankfully, cart abandonment is an opportunity. As long as you act fast and get specific:

“The Reminder is the simplest abandoned cart email. The entire purpose is to get the exact product left behind back into your would-be customer’s mind. To do that, (1) send the Reminder out quickly – between one and three hours after abandonment – and (2) keep it short and specific.”

However, don’t stop there. The rest of the article outlines a three-part sequence built around sending:

  1. An initial reminder (1-2 hours after abandonment)
  2. A re-reminder (24-48 hours after abandonment)
  3. And then, testing three options for your final email: (1) an apology (if something went wrong to cause the abandonment), (2) an incentive (with a jaw-dropping, time-sensitive discount or perk), or (3) a proof-centered email in the form of user-generated content.

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Klaviyo

Make ‘Em Not Suck

Ecommerce newsletters have an all-too-predictable pattern: pitch, promotion, discount, announcement. (Wash, rinse, repeat.) The problem? They’re all about the company … not the customer.

Against this sea of selfishness, Mark Hayes -- in Email Marketing: A Guide to Ecommerce Newsletters -- illustrates how to write ecommerce newsletters that capture new leads, connect with customers, and position yourself as a trusted expert:

“A lot of people will tell you that sending newsletters isn't worth the effort. They'll say it's time-consuming, expensive, and doesn't provide enough of a return on investment. I disagree.”

The key?

“Mix your content up to include:
  • Sales and discount offers
  • How to tips & tricks
  • Links to articles your customers will find interesting
  • Current trends
  • Company news"
“Stay away from anything overly self-promotional. It's okay to mention a sale, but that can't be the focus of the correspondence.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Shopify

2. Social: Marketing without Dehumanizing Your Customers through Ecommerce Communications

Anticipate Buying Preferences

On the bright side, social media advertising is exploding. Facebook alone now exceeds Google for display ad spend by nearly $7 billion. The downside is that much of it is far from “social.” Nobody jumps onto Facebook hoping to be sold a new supplement or sneaker. They’re there because they wanna connect … and watch funny cat videos.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use social media to convert new customers. But it does mean advertising needs a social-specific approach.

On this front, two resources stand out, both by Buffer’s resident social-genius Kevan Lee. The first is a top-to-bottom, 2,500-word guide perfect for getting back to social-media-marketing basics: How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy From Scratch. (There’s even a free 25-day course at the start of the post.)

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Buffer

The second is where things really get good: The 7 Hidden Factors of the Most Effective Social Media Ads. In addition to data-backed insights like testing images and ad copy, experimenting with questions in your ads, featuring discounts as well as prices upfront, and creating custom landing pages for social campaigns, Lee also offers a controversial tip:

“To fully optimize your conversion rate, show your ad to those on desktops and laptops. Don’t show your ad on mobile.”

“Mobile visitors are less likely to convert to a sign-up or a sale. If conversions are the goal of your social ad campaign, then it might be great to focus solely on the desktop audience.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Buffer

It’s Not About You

For all its growth, paid advertising should not be your sole approach to communicating on social media. Of course, few merchants make that mistake.

The cardinal sin is far more insidious. Rather than going native and creating a genuinely social media presence, much of ecommerce dominates its stream with pitch, after pitch … after pitch. It’s the same problem that plagues overly me-focused newsletters.

The antidote? 11 Organic Social Media Marketing Tactics to Increase Your Reach Online by Braveen Kumar. Don’t be fooled by the title. Rather than “Marketing Tactics,” the piece might be better titled 11 Organic Social Media Engagement Tactics because that’s what it’s about.

“Bringing out the best in social media marketing is about more than broadcasting your brand—it's about understanding, engaging and reacting to your audience and the world they live in.”

“Because when so many brands use social media as a soapbox to pitch their products, it pays to be one of the ones building a real connection with their audience and adding a bit of joy to their day-to-day lives.”

Kumar works through best-practice tips like using emoji, hashtags, and contests, but also digs into how to piggyback on trending topics as well as deploy gifs, memes, and quizzes. The result? A humanized social media presence.

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Shopify

3. Support: Serving Your Customers through Ecommerce Communications

Quick and Easy ... Until

Live chat is quickly becoming a standard of top-performing ecommerce stores. Why? Two reasons: speed and efficiency. Done right, it functions very much like an in-person sales or service rep making your site feel personal and caring.

And its benefits reflect this: “61% of people who prefer to use live chat were more likely to purchase” and “retailers who chat with visitors have seen up to a 48 percent increase in cart size and three times better retention.”

Those two stats are from Angela Sokolovska’s Live Chat: The Most Underused Tool in Your Arsenal. The article describes the impact that live chat can have on your conversion rates and what’s needed to jump in.

“Is live chat the cure-all solution for your business? No, of course not, but it can connect you with prospects in a timely and effective manner.”

As a mirror to live chat’s two main benefits, two factors are prominent when it comes to overhauling live chat: (1) age and (2) depth.

“When considering live chat, it’s important to narrow down your average customer’s age.

“Would live chat work for you if the majority of your customers are 55 years old and up? A Software Advice report also found that people 55 or older have never used live chat, or when they’ve tried to, they usually were left confused and the session ended unsuccessfully.”

As for depth, chat is fantastic for quick inquiries, but complicated questions ought to dealt with via more naturally long-form means like email and phone. The point of this insight, however, is not to abandon live chat but use its limitations -- especially the common questions and complaints -- to inform the rest of your communication strategy overhaul.

Chat transcripts from both visitors and customers contain a treasure trove of content you can essentially “steal” from to address:

  • Onsite navigation: “Where do I go to find ... ?”
  • Product questions: “Does this come with … ? How do sizes compare with … ? Does the warranty still apply if … ?”
  • And complaints: “How do I get it to ... ? Why won’t it … ?”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Shopify

Meet ‘Em Where They Are

As far back as 2013, J.D. Power found that nearly 70% of customers had “used a company's social media site for servicing, compared with 33% for social marketing.” Not only has that number grown, but so have expectations. Today, 32% of people who reach out to a brand on social media expect a response in 30 minutes, and 42% expect a response in under an hour.

The best starting point for social support is Groove’s The Complete Guide to Using Social Media for Customer Support. Packed with examples, the guide also outlines how to monitor social media for questions and complaints, when to “step into a customer conversation,” and what metrics matter most for measuring success.

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Groove

The other side of the social support equation comes from social messaging. As mentioned, we’ll dig deeper into all these topics in the coming weeks. For now, Shopify Plus’ Facebook Messenger for Ecommerce: Human Versus Inhuman Chatbots deals with more than just the dos and don’ts of automating this kind of service … it’s a crash course in “conversational commerce.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Shopify Plus

Support Meets Love

Finally, the phone: the mother of all ecommerce communication heartaches.

For far too many companies, the phone is a source of fear and loathing. Unfortunately, it’s the same for customers. Thankfully, this means it’s one of the lowest-hanging overhaul fruits and the one with the richest repository for optimizing the rest of your communication strategies.

As Talkdesk writes in 14 Phone Based Customer Support Best Practices for SaaS Companies:

“The number one priority of customers when they call customer support is to have their problems solved quickly. … Answering support requests quickly and sufficiently should be the overarching goal of any support team.”

While the headline might sound like the article deals with SaaS support, it unpacks exactly what ecommerce phone support should look like and includes insights like setting expectations, following up, escalating, and -- most insightful of all -- being proactive:

“When a customer is complaining over chat, sent an email that is pretty discouraging or has given feedback on a survey that they are unhappy with your service, have your agents ask if they can call them.

“Making the effort to reach out and establish a personal connection shows that you care about them as a customer.”

“Finally, when you don’t hear from a customer in a while, don’t assume that no news is good news. Reach out to them to see if there is anything your team can do to help meet and exceed their expectations.”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Talkdesk

As an inspirational bonus, check out Zappos’ short profile on their record breaking 10 hours and 43 minutes customer-service phone call. In Steven Weinstein’s words -- the rep who took the call -- his motivation wasn’t “just for the sake of breaking” the record. Rather it was a direct reflection of Zappos’ culture of care: “This was amazing. She said, ‘I’ve never been treated like this by any company, anywhere, ever before.’”

Ecommerce Communications: Overhauling (And Overcoming) Email Social & Support Failures

Image Via Zappos

From Plague to Profits: End the “Failure”

For all its apparent ills, the downside of current ecommerce communication means the upside is massive. Your leads and customers don’t want to escape your brand; they want to escape being dehumanized … the same fate Cool Hand Luke tragically couldn’t avoid.

The answer?

First, unearth exactly where your ecommerce communication is hurting you through qualitative feedback. Then, work through the insights and resources to nail your email, social, and live support.

In the coming weeks, we’ll go deeper into each, exploring how to draw together the lessons and apply them across the board. Even better, we’ll discover how to integrate those lessons into your CRM to centralize, simplify, and strengthen all your ecommerce communication.


About the Author

Aaron Orendorff is the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.