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What skills and metrics CX teams need in e-commerce: An analysis

For years, e-commerce has been heralded as the next big thing in retail. Unfortunately for brands, progress has been steady but not stellar... until last year.

By Isaac Lee, Demand Generation Manager, MaestroQA

Last updated November 9, 2021

In 2020, the e-commerce sector saw explosive growth, expanding by more than 32% – double the average growth rate of the preceding decade. Kept at home by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers took to their mobile phones and laptops to order everything from sourdough starters to barbecue pits, and the e-commerce sector finally had the right market conditions for hockey stick growth. Supply has also surged to meet demand, meaning brands face more competition than ever. Services like Shopify, Square and Squarespace have democratised the e-commerce landscape, allowing just about anyone with Internet access to start a business. With competitors only a click away, brands have started focusing on providing stellar customer experiences as a way to differentiate themselves, attract new customers and retain existing ones. To maintain their competitive advantage, CX leaders have been using customer service quality assurance reviews to uncover product, process and market insights. But for most brands, these reviews are limited to their own customer service interactions, so we took things one step further. We analysed 265,000 quality assurance reviews on e-commerce customer service across 80 brands to answer this question: How can brands use CX as a source of competitive advantage in today’s e-commerce landscape?

It’s time to move beyond old metrics like CSAT

The first thing we did was to look at the traditional indicator currently favoured by CX teams – CSAT. Short for customer satisfaction, CSAT scores have been favoured by CX leaders for decades as a barometer of how well their teams were doing. Our data seemed to agree: customers receiving high-quality service were indeed happier.

But was the reverse true? Did unhappy customers actually receive low-quality service? Well, not quite. In fact, the average QA score on tickets with a negative CSAT rating was still a respectable 82.8%. We dug deeper. Of customer service interactions that had received a 90% QA score or higher (a stellar score, by our standards), almost a third still received a bad CSAT rating from the customer.

An easy way to visualise the disconnect

A customer sends a chat to surface a problem with their order (a bright pink yoga mat was delivered instead of a more mellow navy blue) and offers to keep the pink mat in exchange for a form of compensation (a gift card worth £30). The agent follows protocol, offering instead to send the right colour if the customer returns the pink mat through the post. Unsatisfied, the customer leaves a negative CSAT rating, and the agent is unfairly punished even though they followed procedure to a tee. This is the basis of our first recommendation: Don’t rely solely on traditional metrics like CSAT. These metrics can usually show how CX teams are doing in aggregate and directionally, but fall short in giving actionable insights that CX leaders can use to improve processes and performance.

The low CSAT score from our example might raise a flag that something was wrong, but it might also prompt most teams to start offering expensive appeasements in order to keep customer satisfaction high – which isn’t the most optimal solution. Instead, teams should start filtering out these tickets in the QA process, then drill down and conduct root-cause analyses to nip these problems in the bud.

Track these metrics

CSAT isn’t all bad, but as the earlier example showed, e-commerce CX leaders should only use it for aggregate team performance, not for individual agent performance or individual interactions. Instead, they should rely on: NPS Similar in format to a CSAT survey, Net Promoter Score℠ has one key difference: Customers are asked how likely they are to promote the product, rather than how satisfied they were. This shifts focus to the long-term relationship between the brand and customer, rather than just one interaction. This makes NPS a far more reliable indicator of brand loyalty and customer advocacy. QA Every brand is different, and every CX team’s goals are different. That’s why quality assurance scorecards are completely customisable, meaning this metric can be adjusted to fully encapsulate and reflect your brand values and CX protocols. Advanced CX teams take this a step further to include areas of particular concern in their scorecards in order to track the frequency of occurrence and to take preventative action against worrying trends. CLTV Customer lifetime value (CLTV) gives CX leaders a sense of how loyal a customer is to the brand and is a good proxy for brand loyalty. In a high-churn, high customer acquisition cost (CAC) sector like e-commerce, high CLTV can be the difference between being a market leader or coming in a distant second. A study conducted by Forrester on behalf of Adobe showed that experience-driven brands have between 1.6 and 1.9 times higher customer retention, repurchase rates and CLTV, placing increasing pressure on CX leaders to build support programmes that help retain customers and turn them into brand advocates.

The how and why of QA tools for advanced QA teams

We took our analysis one step further, digging deeper into the type of questions teams were including in their QA scorecards and how that correlated with customer outcomes. Advanced QA teams typically use their QA scorecards to keep tabs on areas of weakness or to track the progress of a team after new training has been launched, and the 80 e-commerce CX teams we studied were no different. For our analysis, we looked at the correlation between including those areas of focus on the QA scorecard and actual customer satisfaction outcomes. That allowed us to pinpoint exactly which skills e-commerce CX leaders should be investing their training resources in for the best outcomes.

For soft skills…

CX leaders commonly ask agents to build a strong rapport with customers during interactions, personalise each interaction and minimise the use of macros or canned responses where possible. We found that this has little to no effect on customer satisfaction.

Rather, e-commerce CX teams saw better customer outcomes when they encouraged their agents to empathise with the customer’s concerns while being authentic.

This means throwing scripts and asking employees to “sound happy” out the window – instead allowing agents to simply be human in every interaction.

While this seems to be at odds with the stereotypically happy, upbeat and extroverted customer support experience we’ve come to expect, it doesn’t have to be. Our guide ‘How to Create a Meaningful Agent Experience’ shares a four-step framework to foster a positive work environment to keep agents engaged, motivated and authentically happy to be of service. As we explore in the guide, engaged agents are more likely to proactively raise issues and insights that can help improve the customer experience or product further. A Glassdoor study of almost 300 large employers has also shown a direct relationship between employee happiness and customer satisfaction. In fact, improving a company’s rating on Glassdoor by one star was associated with a 2.6% improvement in CSAT scores.

As for “hard” skills…

This group of skills includes an agent’s technical knowledge as well as their familiarity with the CX process. As the charts show, not all of them move the needle on customer satisfaction. That’s because while every one of the skills in this group is essential for the smooth operation of a customer support department, not all of them impact the customer’s experience. The skills that do are things like providing accurate information and content and solving the issue on the first contact, also known as first contact resolution (FCR). For e-commerce teams struggling with customer satisfaction and retention, working on reducing the customer effort score and ensuring issues get resolved on the first contact is essential.

And for omnichannel CX teams…

The rise of e-commerce has also led to another phenomenon: the increased prevalence of omnichannel CX support. To ensure that customers receive the same standard of CX even as the volume of customer support tickets increases, brands have been rolling out new support channels to meet customers where they are. Even as brands strive to deliver a consistent customer experience across their various support channels, our study showed that the channel of communication between agents and customers dramatically changes what customers expect.

Taking a look at the top drivers of CSAT from the previous two charts, we found that accuracy is heavily correlated with CSAT across every channel – chat, phone and email. That makes sense: Customers want their issues resolved quickly and accurately. On the other hand, empathy and etiquette have a greater tie to CSAT over the phone compared to chat or email. We have a few guesses as to why this distinction exists. Email and chat provide efficient ways to handle simple, transactional support requests, like updating the delivery address on an order. But phone calls provide customers the opportunity to have their issues and concerns heard by another human being and tend to be reserved for more complex and (potentially) more emotional issues. So, when an agent takes the time to truly understand and empathise with the customers, it elicits a stronger positive response.

Key takeaways

For most e-commerce teams, the results of this study should be an affirmation of the strategies, processes and technologies that they’ve put in place in anticipation of this phase of e-commerce hypergrowth. On the other hand, teams that are only now turning to CX as a new channel to drive customer retention and competitive differentiation might feel like they’re playing catch up. But it’s not too late. As you continue to build on your e-commerce CX strategy, remember these key takeaways: move beyond traditional, directional metrics like CSAT; use a data-driven approach to build customer support coaching programmes; use QA data to measure progress.

Maestro + Zendesk

MaestroQA pulls Zendesk ticket information directly into its powerful platform, enabling CX managers to grade tickets, assign lessons in supported learning management systems and perform deep analyses into the root cause of common ticket issues. For essential e-commerce insights, download the full report here.

Net Promoter and NPS are registered U.S. trademarks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld.