How to Crush Ecommerce Customer Service Like Zappos, Amazon and Nordstrom

by Tony Mariotti

August 31, 2015

A few years ago, a woman checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas and realized as she was unpacking that she'd forgotten her favorite pair of shoes.

Remembering she'd purchased them from Zappos, she went to the website to order another pair. After searching for the shoes to no avail, she called Zappos to see if they could ship her the prized shoes.

Unfortunately, Zappos no longer stocked those shoes, but luckily for this woman the company is located in Las Vegas. (In fact, Zappos had recently moved their entire company to Las Vegas from San Francisco to cement their customer service operations.) With any other company, this would be the end of the story and this customer would have to go without her shoes.

But Zappos isn't any other company. Instead, here's what happened:

Zappos employees went out and found the shoes at a nearby mall and then delivered them to the woman at her hotel... for free.

This is just one of hundreds of impressive examples of Zappos providing their signature WOW experience for their customers. In fact, this entire article could consist of examples of Zappos going way beyond the call of duty for their customers. 

But here's something that might surprise you...

Despite all of the PR and accolades about these WOW experiences, providing a few customers with a positive experience when the opportunity presents itself is not the path to kick-ass customer service.

Sure, it's what made Zappos famous. But even they would agree that delivering consistent, excellent customer service for all their customers is what make them the company they are today.

For Zappos,  customer service isn't about being opportunistic, but ensuring every customer has a great experience, every single time. It's a high bar, but those are the table stakes now in ecommerce customer service.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, says it himself:

"Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company."

How to Crush Ecommerce Customer Service Like Zappos, Amazon and Nordstrom

Consistent and effective customer service is what drove word of mouth about the company, and ultimately, their astonishing growth. As Hsieh said in his #1 New York Times bestseller, Delivering Happiness:

“Our philosophy has been to take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and invest it into customer service and the customer experience instead, letting our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth.”  

So while going well beyond the call of duty might delight a few individual customers and get you some good PR in the process, the best way to make your customer service a competitive advantage like Zappos is to be everywhere your customers are so you can solve their problems quickly and consistently.

(And it's not as difficult as it sounds. Keep reading...)

A recent Harvard Business Review study found customer service interactions are 4x more likely to prevent a customer from leaving than they are to create customer loyalty.

As Harvard's study shows, you can try win customer hearts and minds with WOW experiences, but the best use of your efforts is to make sure they don't run off because of inconsistent service.

Why Customer Service Is The Ultimate CRO Strategy

You can talk about conversion rate hacks, retargeting campaigns, and copywriting fixes until you're blue in the face, but if you're losing business because of poor customer service, all your CRO efforts will be for naught.

On the flip side, crushing your ecommerce shop's customer service as part of your marketing strategy can increase customer retention and drive word of mouth, all in one fell swoop.

This is because the perception gap between how a company thinks they're doing with customer service is usually far different from their customers' experiences.

In fact, 80% of companies think they are meeting customer expectations, but only 8% of their customers agree with them.

To close that gap, the best brands in the business go to great lengths to offer impeccable service to every customer. For example,  every Amazon employee (including CEO Jeff Bezos) is required to answer customer support calls for two full days every two years.

The bottom line is: all the conversion gains of your CRO efforts will be short-lived if your customers jump ship because of poor experiences.

The Stakes for Quality Customer Service Have Never Been Higher

If you're thinking you can get away with mediocre customer service without hurting your brand these days, you've got another thing coming.

There's nowhere to hide bad customer service anymore. StellaService, a startup that secretly buys and returns items from ecommerce retailers, uses over 200 metrics to rate ecommerce companies' customer service.

Even more, studies show 89% of shoppers have stopped buying from ecommerce stores after experiencing poor customer service.


So given the fact that customer service is something you just can't screw up, how do you ensure you're providing consistent service with speed and efficiency?

The answer, my friends, is omnichannel customer service.

Let me explain...

Why Ecommerce Customer Service Needs To Be Everywhere, All The Time

What ecommerce retailer do you think Millennials voted as having the best customer service?

If you thought Zappos, good guess – but it's the company that bought Zappos: retail behemoth Amazon.

Think it's a coincidence? Think again. Amazon was followed in the survey by:

  • Victoria's Secret,
  • Best Buy,
  • Nordstrom, and
  • Macy's.

What do all of these online retailers have in common? They have all mastered omnichannel customer service.

Your customers obviously don't think about "channels" when they're seeking help; they just want a solution to their problem. But given the fact that you're an ecommerce store, they can reach you via phone, social media, email, or live chat. That's the start of omnichannel customer service.

Omnichannel customer service allows your customers to start a customer service query on one channel and then switch to another seamlessly if needed. And as the following numbers show, your customers expect a seamless experience:

  • 90% of your customers expect to receive a consistent experience over multiple channels.
  • 88% of customers are less likely to buy from companies who leave social media complaints unanswered.
  • Self-service resources are essential: 90% of your customers will go to your website before calling or emailing you for help.
  • 77% agree that live online chat positively influences their attitude about their retailer.

Even more, according to Zendesk, one of the industry leaders in help desk software, 64% of ecommerce customers expect to get real-time support regardless of the channel they are using. In a recent survey, Zendesk also found:

  • 37% expect to be able to contact the same customer service representative regardless of which channel they use.
  • 87% think brands need to work harder to create a seamless experience for customers.
  • 73% think brands pay more attention to generating sales across multiple channels than they do to providing an integrated customer service experience.
  • 78% say a company’s reputation for customer service is important to them when choosing to buy from a particular brand.

As you can tell, omnichannel customer service is the new baseline for ecommerce retailers.

Let's take a look at a few examples of what this looks like in action.

Service At the Speed of Light... (Sort of)

Check out how fast Golden Rivet, an ecommerce shop that sells military style art and t-shirts, responded to a question posted on their Facebook page about an order:

How to Crush Ecommerce Customer Service Like Zappos, Amazon and Nordstrom 

They were able to get back to a customers whose order hadn't been delivered yet in eight minutes. This is the idea behind omnichannel customer service – wherever your customers are, there you are.

Or take a look at this example from (who else?) Zappos...

A customer placed an order that wouldn't arrive for eight days, which is very un-Zappos like. But Zappos customer service was all over it, quickly offering a $50 coupon for the delayed order.

How to Crush Ecommerce Customer Service Like Zappos, Amazon and Nordstromhopify

However, the coupon came with strings attached. The customer could only use it on future orders and it had to be redeemed within 90 days. Zappos then became very Zappos-like and offered to apply the coupon to the customer's current order because of the shipping delay. That's going above and beyond the call of duty.

This may all sound daunting, but it's actually fairly easy to decide in which channels you should invest your time and resources. 

You should be where your customers are.  The obvious channels are website self-service, live chat, and email.  When it comes to social media, ask yourself again – where are your customers?

Once you decide on the digital channels you are going to cover, it's time to start thinking about the tools you're going to use and how to measure success.

Tools Of The Ecommerce Customer Service Ninja

There seem to be a million tools and metrics out there to kill 'em with customer service kindness. So we've decided to cut through the clutter and simplify all of it for you with the best software options and metrics to make your ecommerce customer service a secret weapon for your store.

  • Zendesk: The foundation of your customer service system starts with your help desk software and Zendesk simply delivers. With customers like Shopify, ModCloth, and Everlane, Zendesk is the way to go for ecommerce shops and they're pricing starts at just $1 per agent per month.
  • Hootsuite: This will help you stay on point on social media. Hootsuite is the industry leading social media management software that will alert you whenever people are talking about your brand so you can engage them immediately.
  • LiveChat: Online retailers like Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, and Wine.com all use Live Chat to message instantly with their customers online. Instead of picking up the phone or waiting for an email response, you can keep customers on your side and guide them through their shopping experience.
  • Grasshopper: Phone support may seem outdated, but retailers like Zappos consider it essential to their customer service strategy. Enter Grasshopper, which is the industry leading phone support provider. With a single phone number you can run your entire phone support system through Grasshopper – you don't even need a landline!
  • Friendbuy: Turn your outstanding customer service experiences into referrals for your business. The business reality is that investments in wow-worthy customer service often need to show ROI – and companies like MeUndies, NatureBox and Warby Parker use Friendbuy to get exactly that.

Now that you know where to start with software, let's talk about how to measure your customer service outcomes:

  • Net Promoter Score: This metric asks the question on a scale of 1-10 “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?" It's one of our favorite metrics for customer happiness, which we've written about on the blog before.
  • Response Time: This metric measures how long it takes for a customer to hear from you. A 2013 report showed that 71% of customers expect online assistance within 5 minutes. Plus, the report showed that nearly half of the visitors who don't receive help within their expected time frame will abandon the site.
  • First Contact Resolution Rate: This goes to the whole idea of omnichannel service because it measures how many customer service queries are solved during first contact with an employee. It turns out 84% of customers want their issue solved in one conversation. Who'd have thought?
  • Total Volume by Channel: Like we mentioned above, it's important to choose the channels to which you're going to dedicate your efforts. This metric shows you how many service requests you receive by channel. Use it to continually adjust where you send your customer service resources to remain as efficient as possible.
  • Churn: How many customers are coming back and purchasing from you again? Customer loyalty is a tough game these days and companies that have repeat customers typically have great customer service.
  • Cost to Resolution: This metric measures how much it costs you to fix customer service problems. By tracking this, you can figure out how to most cost-effectively solve your customers' issues and target any areas where you might be spending too much dough.

Using these metrics will allow you to iterate and improve your customer service efforts.

It's better to think of customer service as a part of your marketing strategy, instead of a department on its own island. Doing this can turn what many retailers think is something they have to do into a competitive advantage for your ecommerce store.

See how Nuuly's referral program generated thousands of organic subscriptions within weeks.