As we gear up for Christmas and increasingly rely on online retail rather than the high street for our shopping, it is worth taking a look at the quality of service we receive as an online shopper. In our survey ‘The UK and Services,’ conducted earlier this year, e-commerce was found to be the most highly-ranked industry on a Net Promoter Score (NPS). 25% of customers gave e-commerce a 9 or 10 satisfaction rate, but at the same time it scored the least well on a ranking of friendliness and cheerfulness (only a 68% score). It was also relatively low in terms of customer consideration (65%) and in its ability to bend rules to satisfy customers (54%).

With Christmas lights already decking our cities, we have carried out an unofficial poll among colleagues and friends to get a snapshot of their online customer experience at Christmas time. Very few said they did not use online shopping and their reasons included leaving the shopping too late or fear that the goods will not arrive on time. These were also the customers who felt it more important to be able to touch, smell or see the product before buying.

Among those who were happy with their customer experience, the fact that goods arrived on time was always one of the most important factors contributing to their satisfaction. Other significant factors included the quality of the after-sale (what happens if the size is not correct or the product needs to be replaced), and the simplicity of the purchasing process – making sure it is quick and convenient. The quality of the wrapping and the message put in the parcel also contributed to a positive experience.

Despite all of these positive experiences, 60% of our sample did have a bad experience to share. By far the greatest dissatisfactions were due to delays – no one is going to show any slack to a service that has forced them to buy additional presents because the parcel did not arrive. These delays were not seen among the major online retailers but tended to occur from the lesser-known brands. Another cause for dissatisfaction was complexity of the ordering process.

Of those surveyed nearly all will use online retailers for their Christmas shopping this year, even if they experienced problems last year. Expectations include efficient and fast delivery but extra touches such as festive wrapping or personalized notes go a long way to enhancing the experience. Interestingly, the delivery itself is an important part of the experience and a major expectation of our panel.

Our projection is that Christmas 2016 will be the year of delivery and logistics. 

Throughout the year we experience different types of delivery. If you choose the collection point, what you are looking for is proximity, and that you don’t have to be at home to receive your parcels. On the other hand, you absolutely don’t know in advance the kind of customer experience you are going to receive, because every single point of delivery has its own style and courtesy (or not) to treat you as a real customer.

If you receive your delivery at home, the retailer is relying either on the delivery service to reinforce the high quality service you are expecting of them, or it can be reinforced through further contact. In the case of Ikea in the UK, they send an email or text message before the product arrives which demonstrates a great level of consideration and understanding of the customer needs as well as making it as easy and efficient as possible to sort out any problems should they arise.

Reflecting the growing understanding that delivery is an integral part of the customer service process, Academie du Service has recently launched a special partnership with a start-up called You2you whose goal is to provide brands with a dedicated quality of delivery, based on an Uber-type business model. Academie du Service will provide ‘youzers’, the delivery providers, with certification that they have undergone training to ensure that reflecting the customer service of the product they are delivering is an integral part of their offering.

Other brands have also acknowledged the importance of delivery in the customer journey. Sister companies Rajapack, a packaging firm and Morplan, a retail fashion industry supplier, do not make products themselves so recognize that customer service is their lever for getting a competitive advantage. When it comes to their third-party carriers who deliver their products they accept that they are the window onto their service, even though they are not part of the company. To combat this they hold meetings with carriers to explain their expectations and senior staff sometimes get involved directly in the customer experience after goods are dispatched to ensure that everything has been up to scratch. They will carry out checks to ensure a carrier has collected parcels on time from the warehouse and if not they will contact the carrier, investigate the problem and try to fix it – or get in touch with the client to advise of any delay. This underlines the focus on the human touch in service culture.

Returning to the importance of the products themselves, a new trend is to make sure packaging is more eco-friendly. Nespresso for example now delivers in boxes that can be reused for many other purposes.

But according to our sample, when it comes to Christmas, we all appreciate something a little festive to enhance our experience. A personalized note or something to lift our spirits and remind us that it’s a good feeling to buy presents to make others happy can go a long way to make us feel well-disposed towards our online retailers. Yes, e-commerce can be friendly and cheerful too!

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About The Author

Founding partner and Managing Director, Academie du Service UK

Claire Bonniol has worked for customer service consultancy and think tank, Académie du Service since it was founded in 2001, and set up Academie du Service UK earlier this year. A graduate of the College of Europe and CELSA-Sorbonne, Claire advises firms on the deployment of their service culture both in the UK, France and elsewhere. She is also the managing editor of the magazine ‘Cultures Services’ and secretary general of the Service Lab Foundation.