For brands seeking to expand their on-line sales this year, you can obviously look at maximising additional growth from existing or domestic markets, but what about unlocking new opportunities further afield?
Whilst it may be more complex and costly to set up physical operations abroad, the beauty of e-commerce is that there are no geographical boundaries. Indeed research shows that 17% of global on-line shoppers buy from the UK, making it only second to the United States in the popularity stakes. It is also significant that 56% of content on the web is in English, yet for just over a quarter of users, this is not their first language. This suggests, that even without tackling the language gap, there is huge untapped potential, in particular from the Far East where the appetite for western goods is high and on-line buying habits are well established.
So how easy is it to enter a new market and why does customer service play such a crucial role in bridging cultural differences?
One of the main challenges faced when operating across multiple overseas territories is in setting up, managing and funding the individual in-country operations from warehousing and logistics through to service and sales teams, not to mention any translations such as websites through to product documentation. Duplicating your organisational footprint in each region can be both time-consuming and expensive, but with the increasing homologation of international markets (have you noticed these days how the basis of many global brands’ TV ads are identical, apart from the language) the traditional strategies of setting up shop abroad are being displaced. One trend that we have witnessed as an outsourcer is a move to centralisation of both sales and service.
British shoe company Vivobarefoot (www.vivobarefoot) is an example of a brand that has embraced the idea of a centralised, single customer care and sales hub to support on-line sales. Like many brands, they recognise that consolidating service at one location has many rewards. According to their Head of E-Commerce, Paul Walker, they are seeing many benefits from centralising service in the UK. Not only does it reduce costs it also saves time in training as it only have to do this once rather than replicate in multiple countries for both the English and foreign language teams, plus it helps with the consistency of its overall customer communications. The appeal of the UK is echoed by Google’s Eric Schmidt who recently commented, "Britain is the leader in ecommerce in the world, far ahead of the US. Britain has every aspect to build £1bn, £10bn, £100bn companies. You have the right regulatory environment. You've got the right role within the European continent. Just look at the ecommerce plays and service plays that are now happening in London."
Vivobarefoot’s decision to choose the UK was largely influenced by language, not just English but also because there is access to a huge pool of native language speakers from the likes of France, Germany, Holland, Spain and so on. Since introducing native language speakers to the service team, their international conversion rates in several countries have risen by a massive 90%. This reflects research by Gartner that found that 91% of marketing leaders believe that in two years they will be competing primarily on the basis of the customer experience. And for e-commerce the emphasis on service is even greater as Amazon boss Jeff Bezos says, “In the offline world . . . 30% of a company’s resources are spent providing a good customer experience and 70% goes to marketing. But online . . . 70% should be devoted to creating a great customer experience and 30% should be spent on ‘shouting’ about it.”
Customer care goes digital
Amazon is of course a glowing example of an on-line business that boasts an exceptional customer experience, but for many brands it is the ability to offer a choice of interactive buyer touchpoints that has the most significant impact on sales and repeat business. So, whether it’s responding to tweets or a Trustpilot Review, through to answering a customer question via web chat or email, by offering these services altogether in one place, you can draw on centralised resources that deliver economies of scale and an exceptional depth of shared knowledge. In turn, the amount of data that can be harnessed and analysed collectively across all channels and countries can be invaluable in understanding your customers and adapting your product or service to match.
So if you choose to streamline your customer service centre, what are the next steps? There are several factors to decide including location, in-house or outsourced. If you want to trial a new market then outsourcing could work well as you can suck it and see with minimal risk. Likewise, it is also a good option if you need access to specialised and/or dedicated customer care staff that have knowledge of emerging channels such as social or have access to a ready-made pool of native language speakers. Alternatively if you already have an in-house customer care team you can simply add or run a mixture of both in-house and outsourced, with specialist teams dedicated to different channels. Whatever, you decide, with Forrester predicting that by 2017, on-line retail sales will reach 191 billion euros now is the time to make service the nerve-centre of your operation and let the sales take care of themselves.