How to grow an online business while maintaining customer satisfaction

Lyndan Orvis, eCommerce manager at Hayes Garden World, discusses how it grew an online business while maintaining customer satisfaction and service levels.

Hayes Garden World is one of the UK’s largest independent garden centres. In 2007 we made the decision to take what was traditionally a bricks and mortar business online.

It was a risk and, more than that, it was a challenge – we had a new market, we had a new customer base (one that wasn’t even aware of us yet) and we had a whole host of new costs to account for.

In addition, we had more variables, elements of our service that were out of our control (Delivery being a great example) – so it was key that at every stage of the growth process we were able to maintain the customer satisfaction levels that we have spent the last 100 years building.

In the last couple of years customer reviews have just taken off with the likes of TrustPilot and Feefo coming to the forefront. More than this, online advertising networks such as Google have started to integrate these trusted third parties into their advertising platforms – displaying stars in the search results which could potentially have an impact on click-through rate and overall ad performance – which if done wrong can put customers off before they even land on your website!

As a result, customer satisfaction has never been more important and it has been a key pillar of growing our business over the last decade. Here are five key ways that we managed to maintain a good level of customer service, while growing an online business from scratch to a turnover of £3m-plus this year.

Don’t be greedy

Once the sales start rolling in it’s very easy to want more and more – but this can come at the cost of a customer if you don’t have the correct infrastructure in place. Every business wants to increase turnover, but ensure you have the right infrastructure at every stage (sales, service and aftermarket) to deal with this growth or you could quickly start losing loyal customers.

If customers are used to that personalised touch they will often be frustrated if that gets pushed by the wayside, especially if they are making a considered purchase – and if you have a shipment delay the customer enquiries can mount up, leading to angry customers and poor reviews if not handled correctly.

Look after your staff

It’s all well and good increasing sales substantially but if your staff are too under the pump, not trained to deal with new situations that eventuate as a result of this, or are simply too overworked then their customer service levels will be impacted. Involve your staff in the growth process, encourage them and reassure them that the support is there when needed, this will avoid any potential stress or concern as a result of quick growth.

It can often be difficult for staff to adapt to a new business model such as moving online after being a traditional offline business, so it’s crucial that you are with them throughout the process, ensuring they understand why this approach is being taken and that they are fully educated and feel comfortable in the roles that they are undertaking.

Take your reviews seriously

We’ve all heard of conversion rate and when it comes to determining where to purchase from customer loyalty is at an all-time low and one of the key influencing factors can be reviews from other customers on a trusted third party review site. Take your reviews seriously and understand that no matter what you do some customers will still be unhappy, it’s the way that you deal with these reviews by responding to them accordingly that will add value to your offering.

There are many sites which automatically accrue reviews without you even paying for them so it’s really important that you Google yourself to check your online presence – you may find a review site that you’ve never heard of where customers have been leaving feedback – keep an eye on these so you can respond to reviews and address them accordingly.

Add value

How can you add value to your online offering? This doesn’t have to be a monetary offering, rather it can be advice or it can point visitors in the direction of an accessory or cover for their product. Advice on how to set up a BBQ, common FAQs or perhaps even recipes can be a great addition to your BBQ sale in the same way that adding in a section which pushes useful related products (i.e. a cover or utensil set) can add value to their shopping experience – a lot of this is free or little cost to the business (except your knowledge!) but it can add huge value to the sales process.

Keep up with your competitors

As online business grows, so does competition and value offerings from each of your competitors. If you are the only business in the market that doesn’t offer free delivery or free returns (or a reasonable returns period) customers may choose to shop elsewhere due to ease or savings – this needs to be a consideration in your online model.

Evaluate how your customers are likely to purchase, is it considered or impulse? This will change the way you need to tailor your approach and your strategy – remember an impatient customer wants something yesterday and without it they can be just as eager to leave a bad review.

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