As the world becomes increasingly connected, it also becomes easier and cheaper to sell apparel to consumers in new countries. Which explains why the fashion industry, consisting of clothing (or apparel), footwear and accessories (e.g. bags, watches, jewellery, eyewear, and cosmetics and fragrances) was valued at an estimated $2.5 trillion making up 3% of global GDP in 2017. In the same year, clothing and footwear accounted for 7.25% of total worldwide retail sales, valued at $1.7 trillion.

To stand out in the crowd, providing excellent customer service is paramount for any fashion retailer. The challenge of ensuring you meet the expectations of all your customers is intensified by expansion into new markets.

How to turn international e-commerce customer service from cost to competitive weapon

The all-in cost of answering one customer call or responding to one e-mail might be £5 or more, and many retailers deal with 1000 or more events per day. Still many companies continue to make investments in better customer care. Why? Firstly, they know that a happy customer is a loyal customer, and customer retention pays off big time: a regular loyal customer spends about 3 times more than a repeat customer and 10 times more than a first-time customer. Secondly, successful companies know that bad customer care can be detrimental: while a happy customer will on average tell 3 people about their experience, an unhappy customer will tell 10.

Developing your own international customer service strategy

The best solution for customer service will be different for each organisation. It will most likely also develop over time and with the scale and complexity of their operations. In order to develop the optimal solution for your company there are several key questions that will help you make the right decisions:

1. How should your customers be able to reach you?
Email and telephone are still the most important channels in the UK and Europe, but as Millennials and Generation-Z become an increasingly important part of our demographics, there is a clear and definite change towards social and chat.

2. What software solution are you using to support your communication and track customer information and enquiries?
As your company grows and customer expectations develop, the demand for efficiency and quality will increase. Does your software allow you to keep track of your conversations, does it allow for (part) automation, and will it support chat and social?

3. When should your customers be able to reach you?
Most customers would like to be able to communicate with you after-hours and on weekends. Can you support that? Should you? 37% of customers expect a service response within an hour.

4. What level of personalisation and automation fits your company?
Implementing auto-generated messages helps in efficiency but in many cases reduces the customer experience. Consider what is right for your company.

5. How are you going to deal with detailed product enquiries as opposed to general enquiries?
Would you have a well-trained and more expensive member of staff also deal with simple enquiries?

6. How are you going to work to continuously improving your customer service experience and reducing your cost of the service you provide? What is your path to continuous improvement?
E.g. Do you capture the nature of enquiries and then use the resulting insights to improve your FAQ section, website content (e.g. improved sizing tables), or pro-active communication with the client? Do you have a clear idea what your customer would like?

7. Would you consider call centre outsourcing?
Outsourcing your customer service can have several decisive benefits including: lower upfront investment and lower monthly fixed costs; access to the best technology and new channels of communication; ease of scaling up and down.

Cross-border customer service

Clothing, footwear and accessories are the most popular category for cross-border purchases. To effectively support your sales plus achieve customer satisfaction in other countries it will be important to adapt to the expectations of your overseas customer. They are clear in what works for them and what does not: Local customer service telephone numbers and email addresses as well as native customer service agents and e-commerce-trained customer service teams create trust and appreciation. They are, therefore important drivers of international success.

Providing excellent customer service for customers with different cultural backgrounds and across time zones adds complexity and risk – some companies can put this together themselves. For others the step to start exporting might be a good time to start considering outsourcing their customer service or seeking assistance with seasonal customer service overflow.

Read more information about delivering a great customer experience, the best route to market, how to overcome challenges and make the most of opportunities.

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