3 Ways to Gain Actionable Insights from your Customer Service

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. –  Bill Gates.

If you’re an e-commerce business owner doing your own customer service, or a customer service manager, there’s no shortage of opinions and feedback that comes your way every day.

E-commerce is in a unique position in this regard. Many companies outside of the e-commerce world pay thousands of dollars for market research, using the feedback from their target audience as a valuable tool for validating ideas and making strategic business decisions.

In e-commerce, customer feedback is both plentiful and free! Your customer service interactions are an ocean of opportunity. Instead, the difficulty lies in efficiently filtering through the feedback and converting your customers’ opinions into tasks and projects meant to improve your business.

During my time working as a product manager at a large software company, I was introduced to two frameworks that helped the way I thought about the challenge of processing feedback, the concept of quantitative and qualitative research methods:

  1. Quantitative: Emphasizes objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing data using computational techniques. This method focuses on gathering numerical data and generalizing it across groups of people or to explain a particular phenomenon.
  2. Qualitative: Observation to gather non-numerical data. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences explains this type of research “refers to the meanings, concepts definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and description of things” and not to their “counts or measures.” This method is more concerned with understanding human behavior.

As a product manager, the ideal strategy included a combination of the two approaches. If you spend a lot of time focusing on your product or service, you’ll often find that quantitative data will back up your “hunch” (the qualitative thought process/patterns you may have already had).

I led several software projects with thousands of daily users, making combing through feedback a challenging process. Yet, we still went out of our way to interact with our users as frequently as possible because we knew that in order to improve our products and services, we had to start with our customer.

“Start with the customer” isn’t just a cliché  idea. The true source of your best improvements will typically come directly from your customers’ feedback. Amazon’s top leadership principle, listed at Amazon.jobs, said it best:

“Customer Obsession: Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

When customers communicate with you, they will usually tell you exactly what their struggles are. By implementing changes in your product or business that reduce those struggles, you’ll increase the likelihood for greater sales. On the flipside, your customers will also tell you what they loved, which is evidence of experiences that you can reverse engineer, making sure they happen again and again.

So how exactly do you make the best use of your customers’ feedback? Below we dive into three steps for converting day-to-day customer interactions into actionable insights. We’ve also included a free daily tracker template you can download to get started. By systematically recording and analyzing your customer service interactions, you can discover the next steps to take to improve your e-commerce business.

Converting interactions into actionable insights.

1) Start simple: Categorize your interactions.

The first step toward truly digesting what your customers are saying is to begin categorizing your customer service interactions. You can begin dividing interactions into groups of similar feedback. You’ll likely find that most interactions can fit into general category “buckets”.

Most ticketing systems (e.g. Helpscout, Groove, or Zendesk) and email clients (e.g. Gmail), include the ability to add tags or labels. We’ll start by creating a new tag for each possible category.  As you reply to buyer messages, each interaction can be tagged with the appropriate category.

Qualitative approach to customer feedback

Some examples of category tags could include:

  1. Product Inquiry/ FAQ: General product questions. FAQ, specifications, sizing, what it’s made of, how it works, requesting suggestions.
  2. Order Processing FBA: Order info/issues for FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) orders, billing, order cancellations, checkout issues, invoices, receipts, general contact questions, etc.
  3. Order Processing FBM: Order info/issues for FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) orders, billing, order cancellations, checkout issues, invoices, receipts, general contact questions, etc.
  4. Shipping: Fulfillment order info/issues, shipping/delivery issues, requests for tracking numbers, address change requests, lost/missing orders, etc.
  5. Product Availability: Inventory questions, “out of stock”, etc. A way to track how often you hear requests for when a certain item will be back in stock.
  6. Refunds: Interaction related to processing a refund due to an issue.
  7. Returns: Interaction related to processing a return due to an issue or similar.
  8. Defects/Replacements: Manufacturer defects/issues, defective product received (this isn’t working/is broken/ not as described), product wear & tear, warranty, etc.
  9. Feedback/Reputation Management: Interactions related to product reviews or seller feedback, general experience feedback, acknowledgment/compliments, etc.
  10. Admin/Requires Attention/Urgent: Cases that require admin attention and should be handled quickly. Urgent concerns, wholesale orders, partnerships, business inquiries, marketing opportunities, system updates, account questions/issues, supplier inquiries, account-specific inquiries, etc.
  11. No Response Needed: SPAM/ auto reply / no response needed/ promotional material, etc.

While these categories will not always fit every situation exactly, we recommend trying to tag every case with the category tag(s) that makes the most sense. Some cases may warrant the use of multiple tags, but try to keep them to a minimum. This will help make the data more digestible later.

Quantitative approach to customer feedback

In tandem with this approach, consider tracking the overall breakdown of your interactions. This could include:

  1. # of messages by marketplace: This can provide insight on the distribution of your customer service inquiries.
  2. # of product review/seller feedback interactions: This can provide insight on the fluctuation in your reviews and feedback.
  3. # of replacements (+ type): The number of replacements made by your customer service team.
  4. # of refunds: The number of refunds provided by your customer service to resolve an issue. This should not include FBA refunds, although those can be tracked separately.
  5. Defects (by type): Breakdown the # of defect reports, ideally by product if possible. As a bonus, you can request pictures of defects from your customers and save these in a folder or Google sheet. You can use this information to discuss solutions with your manufacturer or distributor.
  6. Warranty redemptions: Breakdown of warranty redemptions.

Tracking these additional categories will provide you with more context in step two, where you can use the data to focus on trends, root causes of issues and possible solutions.

Things to note:

  • These categories are meant to be a starting point. Over time, you’ll likely need more specific categories for tagging your interactions and may decide to add more tags. Be cautious of adding too many as this can cause you or your team to misuse or forget about the appropriate tag for each scenario and can disrupt your reporting. We recommend staying within 7-10 categories, unless you have a really good reason to add more.
  • Exercise your best discretion with tag usage. Each case is different so it is up to your interpretation of why it fits into a certain category bucket. If you have a team managing your customer service, spend time creating a shared understanding on what may qualify cases as a certain category type.
  • Many ticketing systems allow you to create automated rules. After you find patterns with keywords that repeat, you may create rules to auto-tag your cases. For example, cases that include “return” in the email body could automatically be tagged with the “Returns” label.

2) Create a consistent habit of reviewing your data.

After tagging your interactions for at least several weeks, it will become important to create a regular cadence of reviewing the information you’ve collected.

To dive deeper, consider setting aside time yourself or assigning a team member to review available reporting on the frequency of usage with each tag.

First, choose a frequency for checking in. Reviewing every week, or at least once per month is a good starting place. During this time, you can look at specific categories and ask questions to extract deeper insights from the tagged interactions.

Break down the frequency of your case tags into percentages. You may note an increase or decrease in how often a certain category comes up. You can also monitor the fluctuation over time, as you implement solutions (we’ll discuss this more in step 3).

For example, you may review the data and ask yourself: Were there more refunds/replacements this week? Why did this happen? Was it due to a supplier issue? Listing error?

Exploring this should help you make more precise decisions on the exact items you should pay attention to or report on, such as items that have the largest impact on your day to day business or customer service.

As we mentioned before, it’s important to start simple! Don’t fall victim to “analysis paralysis.” The key to this step is to truly try to understand the patterns behind what your customers are saying, and interpreting their importance by seeing how often these things come up.

As you gain comfort with this system, consider more involved strategies, including automation. For example, you may begin adding these common ideas as potential tasks on a project management tool (e.g. Trello or Asana). Or you could begin adding more visualization to your data through dashboard tools like Google Data Studio.

Convert actionable insights into improvements for your e-commerce business.

3) Use what you learn.

Now to enjoy the fruits of your labor! You haven’t just been tagging your interactions for nothing. It’s time to put this data to good use. After consistently repeating steps 1 and 2, you’ll have data that will either back up your hunch or will take you in another direction entirely.

Some key takeaways could include items such as:

  1. Product iterations: What are your customers saying about your product? Is there a common feature request you get often? Is there feedback you can turn into minor product updates with your supplier? Is there an opportunity for a new product variation or new product opportunity altogether?
  2. Channel distribution: Do you receive greater sales on channel A, while channel B receives more customer service emails? Can you attribute a reason to this?
  3. Customer-facing messaging: What are common points of customer confusion? Can you use an outbound messaging tool to send your buyers a helpful PDF or image? Can you include new help text on your product packaging or website FAQ? Is there information you should be including on your product listings?
  4. Shipment and packaging: Are your buyers happy with your shipping options? Do you need to consider alternative shipping options? How do your buyers feel about your packaging? Do they have what they need when they receive their order?
  5. Supplier feedback: Are there common paint points you can share with your supplier? Are there any recurring defects? Your data could even help you seek reimbursements or replacements from your supplier.

These are just some examples, but the opportunities are truly endless.

Things to note:

  • Be mindful of your vocal minority aka “the squeaky wheel”. Not all strong opinions will warrant taking action. Using a quantitative and qualitative approach should help you decide if the feedback should be acted on. Keep your core customer in mind.
  • Gathering and reviewing feedback is just the first step. But you may not always know what to do with certain feedback. Document and save those ideas to revisit later. This may not help you right away, but might be the inspiration and research you need later down the road.

Start categorizing your customer service inquiries today by downloading our sample Daily Customer Service Tracker.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, we discuss this more in-depth in episode six of our podcast, Keep Smiling: The E-Commerce Customer Service Podcast.

Gaining insights from your customers is just one of the many services that SellerSmile provides for e-commerce sellers. Our services are catered to each of your e-commerce customer service needs:

  1. Full 7-day multi-channel email coverage: US-based support for all e-commerce marketplaces and web stores, including Amazon North America, Amazon Europe, eBay, Walmart, Jet, Overstock, Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, Squarespace, Weebly, website contact forms, and more.
  2. Reputation management: Product review and seller feedback management through commenting on positive and critical product reviews and seller feedback, seller feedback removal, and critical product review/seller feedback resolution via direct messages.
  3. Live chat support: Support for customer interactions via website live chat.
  4. Feedback service management: management of tools such as Feedback Genius, Feedback Five, and many others for message compliance and proactive customer service copy edits.

To learn more, schedule a call with our team at SellerSmile.com/Schedule. If you’re ready to enjoy a free week of customer service coverage, start your 7-day free trial today at SellerSmile.com/TrialStart.

Michael Melgar
Michael Melgar is co-founder and COO at SellerSmile. His love for working with people and technology brought him to the role of Store Manager at two Apple Premier Partner stores, followed by working as Director of Customer Success and later Product Manager at Seller Labs. In 2017, he teamed up with a fellow team member and great friend, Tygh Walters, to form SellerSmile, a US-based customer service agency for e-commerce sellers.