The World Wide Web today is very different from what it used to be in the 90s. Be it communication or shopping, the fact that the internet provides users with that sought-after discretion and speed makes it a reliable channel to fall back on, which is all the more reason to use it for many different purposes. Speaking of online shopping, it has been affecting the purchasing trends for a long time in the Middle East now. There is absolutely no reason to be overawed by the famous retail giants like Amazon or ASOS, as today, the Middle Eastern online stores legitimately stack up against them.

Growth and development invariably require sustainably effective customer service, because what we like to call ‘digitization’ is in fact a greater challenge for the companies to provide instant contextual help, wider self-service functionality and employment of useful customer service technologies online.

Today, magnification of social networking and ever-present mobility is having transformative effects on how companies interact with their customers. Companies have widely started to resort to engaging customers on social platforms as well as providing support through online tools.

The Incessant Growth of Online Retail Economy

Given the convenience it has to offer, there exists a greater affinity for virtual platforms among the purchasers. Moreover, the fact that users are now largely equipped with tablets and smartphones is a premonition for retailers to prepare for an even greater upsurge in the number of online sales in the times to come. A survey of 50 leading international retailers made by CBRE shows that global online shopping is expected to double in the coming years. An estimated 63% of global retailers believe that shifting customer preferences would force them to fully integrate their physical stores with online shopping and mobile apps in the next two years.

The UAE leads the region’s e-commerce market, with online spending totaling around $2 billion in 2010. This makes up about 55 to 60 percent of total GCC e-commerce sales. The UAE online retail market is followed by Saudi Arabia (USD 520 million), Qatar (USD 375 million), Kuwait (USD 280 million), Bahrain (USD 175 million) and Oman (USD 70 million). This growth in the volume of online sales is the result of increasing internet penetration in the Gulf region. From 2000 to 2010, the number of internet users has risen from 1.2 to 18.7 million.

Here is a regional breakdown of worldwide online sales share in 2012 and 2013, according to eMarketer:

  • North America, 33.5%, 31.5%;
  • Asia-Pacific, 30.5%, 33.4%;
  • Western Europe, 26.9%, 25.7%;
  • Eastern Europe, 3.8%, 3.9%;
  • Latin America, 3.4%, 3.5%;
  • Middle East and Africa, 1.9%, 2.1%.

Customer Service Channel Preferences are Shifting:

According to the latest Forrester report on customer service channels, consumer’s preferences are rapidly changing. According report statistics:

  • Customers Want Companies to Value Their Time

71% of customers say that valuing their time is the most significant thing a company can in order to provide good service.

  • Voice Is The Greatest Used Communication Channel For Service

73% of customers still use voice for customer service. Thus, it is still the most extensively used channel.

  • Chat Is Becoming Progressively More Popular

Adoption of online chat has risen from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012. But most of all, the satisfaction ratings are the highest for this channel after voice.

  • Premature Demise Of Email

Email is the third most widely used communication channel. In last three years, the use of email has increased from 56% to 58%.

  • Social Channels Are Becoming Increasingly Important

Usage of Facebook and Twitter has incredibly increased in the past three years. Nevertheless, companies’ failure to employ their best practices to manage interactions has led to a lower rate of satisfaction.

Online Customer Service Solutions

1. Assisting Customers Through Social Media:

Online support is no longer confined to conventional channels of communicating like email. Companies now frequently resort to social support, which has been one of the major paradigm shifts in the customer service realm. Social media is widely used for both customer engagement supporting sales and branding, thus seamlessly blending marketing and customer service. With the passage of time, social media strategies have become much more complex than before as they now include facilitating customers, resolving their issues and redirecting them.

“The fact is that consumers are online, so brands need to be online”, said Reda Raad, chief operating officer of TBWARaad, the Middle East arm of the global advertising agency TBWA. “The use of digital channels has continued to increase dramatically after the Arab Spring and advertising on social media has become a highly targeted, cost-efficient way of communicating with consumers.”

Moreover, given the fact that peer validation is more influential than any form of advertising, social media is constantly shaping the way consumers make purchase decisions all across the globe. They use it to find useful information about a company, its products and services, and to even get assistance. As far as the companies in the Middle East go:

  • 17.8% of brands use social media page to post fun and interesting content
  • 14.9% use it to provide customer service
  • 13.2% for answering queries and comments
  • 11.7% for frequent updating

Facebook was the most commonly used platform, where 65.5% of the companies set up a Page.  Google+ and LinkedIn follow with 10.7% 9.7% respectively. Twitter had surprisingly low percentage of 3.4.

Another report by NM incite reveals that:

  • 1 out of 3 social media users use it to reach out to a brand for customer service.
  • 71% of users who come across positive social care would recommend the brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers that do not receive any response.

2. Live Chat Support for Customers:

A Forrester study named ‘Making Proactive Chat Work’ says that:

“Many online consumers want help from a live person while they are shopping online; in fact, 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a Web site can offer”.

Although nascent in its growth, but live support is gradually strengthening its foothold in the customer service domain all across the Middle East. Nevertheless, other regions like the US and UK are witnessing incredible uptake. In the US, more than 65% of online shoppers are engaged in a live chat, which is up from 50.4% in 2009. At 53%, the number is slightly lower in the UK, up from 41% in 2011. 66% of online shoppers from both these regions find proactive chat invitations extremely helpful and are appreciative as well as receptive to these. A whopping 94% say that live support adds to their satisfaction.

An emarketer.com report reveals that:

  • 63% of customers are more likely to return to a website with live chat support.
  • 62% are more likely to repurchase from the site.
  • 38% of users said they had made their purchase because of chat support.

For businesses, live chat is a low-cost customer support alternative that animates the online shopping experience for the customers. Browsers are proactively assisted by live representative through the whole shopping experience, which makes it quite akin to shopping in a brick-and-mortar-store. Thus real-time proactive chat helps eBusiness professionals acquire goals of reducing abandonment, increasing conversions, and enhancing customer satisfaction.

E-businesses can Dodge the Rock Bottom Only with Exceptional Customer Service

The fact that today customers are incredibly web-savvy makes online stores as important as the offline ones. There is no question for online business to compete on price or selection today as customer service takes the forefront. Therefore, to say that online customer service is important would just be an understatement, in reality much more significant than just selling your product. Thoughtlessness for customers’ needs can easily drive them away for good. After a distasteful experience, the odds of a customer recommending your brand to peers are just about zilch. Therefore, if online businesses wants to hop the bandwagon of success, focus on the following fundamentals is extremely important:

  • Whether it’s live chat support or social care, the service should be standardized across all channels.
  • Employee empowerment and investment in knowledge management is very important so that customer service reps have sufficient insight and knowledge to provide them with personalized experience.