Customer Support Does Not Matter In Online Commerce

by Jeremy Schoemaker on January 31, 2008 · 89 comments

I don’t think we live in a world where customer support really matters anymore. Look at the most successful companies there are. For computers there is Dell. Ever called dell support? Its a fun time (not). But I still buy dell products. In web services… we have Google. Every had to contact Google for something? Sure they get back to you eventually through a non personal email but… its not really efficient.

When my mother-in-law first started working for me my main business was selling computers on eBay. I had a ZERO tolerance policy on customer support. I provided none what so ever. If someone had a question they could feel free to return the item. I was VERY clear about this on this in the terms of service. I guaranteed the part or computer would not be DOA (dead on arrival) but other then that you were on your own to get it to work. Anyway my mother-in-law was astounded and thought I should be calling each of these people and walking them through trouble shooting installing drivers or some random problem that had nothing to do with what I sold them. She thought that providing hours of customer service would deliver a long term customer. – not true.

So here is what I have found out from my experience about selling a service or products online. Providing great customer service has very little to do with people buying or being returning buyers of your services or products. There is NO CUSTOMER LOYALTY IN ONLINE COMMERCE.

Look at the power house Amazon. Guess what their return policy is? Its return it. Thats it. No support, no calls…. and it doesn’t even matter what it is. I returned things that my local store would have never accepted as a return with no questions asked…. just a credit on my credit card applied. Amazon provides such a amazingly awesome and EASY 1 click purchasing I just love it. I do not need a sales person or customer support. If I cant figure it out or its not what I thought it was then I send it back. I can print return labels online at Amazon and I am out nothing. Back when I used to get $1,000 Amazon gift cards every month as “bonuses” from affiliate companies (damn I miss those days) I would go on crazy shopping sprees and end up sending back half of the items.

Anyway make a good product… make it easy to buy… make it easy to return.

full disclosure

About the author...

– who has written 2858 posts on ShoeMoney.com.

Jeremy "ShoeMoney" Schoemaker is the founder & CEO of the ShoeMoney Blog, Elite Retreat Internet Conference, & the PAR Program. In 2013 Jeremy released his #1 Amazon Best selling Autobiography titled "Nothing's Changed But My Change" - The ShoeMoney Story. Jeremy currently lives in Lincoln Nebraska with his wife and 2 daughters.


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{ 83 comments }

1 PhotoTiki Chris

Amazon has AMAZING customer service and return policy. UPS lost my package a week before Christmas last year and I called Amazon to resolve it. Someone picked up almost immediately and within 2 minutes had a new one was being over nighted with no questions asked.

2 Jeremy Schoemaker

wow less then 20 seconds after being posted ;) You guys are getting super fast.

I agree Amazon has amazing customer SERVICE but they provide no support at all (most don’t know anything about their products they sell).

3 Jeremy Palmer

Interesting thoughts. I must say I agree with your main points. There is not a lot of loyalty with online shoppers – especially if you’re offering commodities/products that can be purchased anywhere. It’s really about offering good service up front, quick delivery, clean easy-to-use site etc.

Regarding customer service, I think the return it only approach you recommend is intriguing. It’s probably cheaper for most businesses to initiate this policy than it is to support a customer… Hell, look what Sprint did – they took the customers that were the biggest pain in the ass and fired them. It’s not for every business, but if the customer costs you more than they make you it might be worth considering.

4 ShowYes

What should be mandatory work well in all companies… Today is a competitive differential. Customer Support is something basic, companies should now totally dominate it. (Using Google Translator)

5 RacerX

To a point I agree with you. Dell is a great example. Their Horrible customer service has cost them market share, big time.

If a product is equally priced, and equally available, you are going with the best service provider. As more and more manufacturers adopt a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) this is your only difference maker.

Bad customer service also affects LAS (Lifetime Average Sales) as you will tend to not get the order a second time.

6 Money Never Sleeps

Amazon is amazing. They even have the cheapest possible shipping rates because they find packaging that exactly fits what you ordered…exactly! On the flip side, Ebay is the hardest and most frustrating people to get hold of over the phone and their email response is pure cut-n-paste!

7 Eduardo Maio

It’s easier and cheaper to simply get the product back instead of giving tech support and probably end up with a unsatisfied costumer who will still ask for a return and will badmouth your company everywhere.

8 Hustle Strategy

buying online is crazy like that. the internet/google is kinda your customer support group now.

9 SonicReducer

Exactly. People will always choose the place with the better customer service, given the same product.

10 r.idiculous.com

To read, think and respond in under 20 is crazy. That is is a nice typing speed. Not to mention catching the article as soon as it goes up…

11 Mike 11|15 Media

Well Amazon doesn’t have a product, they sell other merchants’ products. Amazon offers a platform for the consumer to purchase many products from many merchants. And it offers merchants an outlet that reaches more customers within a trusted brand. So it makes sense that Amazon wouldn’t offer support, other than returns. However, if you’re the merchant you may want to rethink support. The speed of market changes online puts you in constant communication with your customer.

12 greg

You know I love ya Shoe, but this may be the worst piece of advice(?) I have ever seen. Are you suggesting that business owners should simply ignore the customer support? Not provide any type of support for people trying to give you money?

In today’s age of one-click away to a competitor, I think it’s the companies that provide extraordinary customer support that shine.

13 Fat Kid Unleashed

I’m actually glad Amazon and a lot of retailers don’t give support. Why would I want support from someone who doesn’t directly for for the company of the product?

Great points, Jeremy and I love Amazon more than cherry pie :-)

14 Dave C.

As much as I am an advocate for customer service being the cornerstone that any business should be based around, you make a valid point, Shoe. While you’re post is outlandish in a Shoemoney way, I cannot argue with your last statement.

The funny thing is, making things easy to buy and easy (or easier) to return is good customer service. It’s no different than what Nordstrom does, just without the shiny, happy sales person and the expensive price tag (typically).

15 big money

lol, i just bought civilization 4 gold edition with expansion for $19.99 last night, super deal, but it will be great if I can send it back with no questions if it doesn’t work on my computer.

16 carl

I thought this post was linkbait but it is absolutely true!

17 Chris Jacobson

I disagree. I run a web hosting business and customer service is my #1 priority, more so than making sales. My customers love the fact they contact the support department 24/7 and receive a fast and friendly response.

18 John

I agree that running a customer interactive business such as web hosting, running a restaurant, or a car service you need to make sure people are happy so they keep coming back because there are many choices. A lot of online business these days just don’t need to offer customer service if theyhave clearly stated polices, and easy to use interface, and good prices. When I buy online I am not looking for a warm and fuzzy feeling that I get from brick and mortar stores, but for the best price with the least amount of hassle.
So i think customer service varies widely.

19 Bahamas Hosting

Shoe,

In our business we do all the things you have said, but we also provide TOP NOTCH SUPPORT – we’d be dead if we didn’t. The good support allows up to retain our customers (save their a** in some cases) and they tell their friends and we get more business. But we’re selling a service, not goods we ship to people, so I guess there is a difference — it’s still online commerce though!

Regards,
Richard.

20 Jeremy Schoemaker

Yes that is exactly what I am saying. Lets look at your industry for example. DMOZ is the most sought after hardest to get into directory their is. And they have a complete FUCK YOU attitude to the customer.

21 Paul

I hate that I agree with you. Through college I was a bartender and working in that business customer service “CS” is top priority. I have noticed since getting into my online line business that there is a lack of CS I get so mad when I don’t receive any. I think that if they did have some CS it would make us like them more. The thing is that we need them to operate so they don’t have to give CS. Like when people complain about Google. What are you really going to do? Nothing you get most of your traffic from them and probably target your SEO efforts with Google on your mind, I know I do.

The rant of an ex restaurant employee.

22 Jeremy Schoemaker

most of your examples (restaurant, car service) are not online which is what this post was about. I do think customer support applies to them still.

23 Gary

Further props to amazon, i found them to be one of only a handful of companies that answer questions quickly

24 Making The Money

Agree completely. I sell my own software and the second people start asking for help with this that and the other (normally because they don’t understand what they have bought) I just refund them the purchase price and deactivate their license. Before I started doing this I’ve got e-mail conversations that go back 30-40 replies from some people that just like to whinge. Cool thing is I now spend my time writing better software rather than typing endless e-mails.

25 Day

Wow, I gotta disagree with you Shoe! At the LEAST, people recommend good service to their friends!

26 domprofesor

Who needs customer support when you have google?

27 Start Blogging

SO true. I shop at Amazon frequently and have never even thought about their customer support-or using it.

28 Affiliate Confession

I don’t know if I agree with you one this one Shoe. You still have to provide some level of melp to customers. Are you not (or rather were) a customer of the Yahoo Affiliate program for search marketing? Would you have liked better customer service at least in explaining where all those fruadulant credit card transactions came from, instead of just kicking ou out of the program?

29 Money Never Sleeps

@ Shoe,

In response to your comment about DMOZ, I just checked and your site is not listed there! I was completely shocked. What the hell is there bloody problem?

30 Start Blogging

Yeah. Forums and “groups” more specifically.

31 Jeremy Schoemaker

I refused to pay their extortion fee.

32 Jeremy Schoemaker

To be honest I would rejoin again tomorrow if they let me. Even though they gave me SHIT customer service. Its because of the payouts not the customer service.

33 greg

DMOZ isn’t a business. It’s an organization powered by volunteers. They’ve clearly indicated time and again that they are not interested in helping out a site owner – it’s not their mission. If they were interested in parting consumers with their money, I’d bet that they’d take a different attitude to the site owner.

Providing helpful customer support is a great way for a business to stand out from the other players in the space. Provide support well enough and your customers will not only appreciate it, but they’ll talk about it.

34 Affiliate Confession

I this crap still going on and is Google still using them as a quality index?

35 Bubba

Maybe they believe this Blog is not high quality enough or maybe the frequency of misspellings.

36 iantrepreneur

digital products? its like a commerce service – should you have support for them? they have your product already – would customer care or service matter at that point?

37 dcpublius

I consider quick and painless returns/exchanges as part of customer service. As a customer, I would rather exchange an item asap instead of going though a number of levels of troubleshooting.

There are several big sites I no longer use becase I know that if anything goes wrong, I will waste too much time trying to get a resolution.

38 Michelle Greer

Good job generating the comments on this one.

Does customer service matter? The extent depends. If you are the low price leader, it’s just not practical to offer cappuccinos and personal shopping assistants to everyone. Dell is a low cost leader. So is Wal-Mart. These companies spend money in marketing and better distribution, and less money making sure every customer has that warm and fuzzy feeling. Does this mean they shouldn’t bother offering good service? No, it just means the average Wal-Mart customer sacrifices comfort and service for price.

I used to work for an eBay store that sold Ferraris. That is a lot different from selling computers. If we pissed off the wrong customer by selling him a lemon, that one customer who probably had a pretty high profile can inflict a lot more damage if we left him angry. And returning a car after its been titled and delivered is a nightmare. So we found that making him happy upfront made things 1.) a lot easier and 2.) a lot more lucrative, since people are more willing to shell out for sellers who have feedback that reflects good customer service.

Even if you don’t sell Ferraris, returns come with their own costs. Do you pay or does the customer pay to ship and item back? How much does it cost to restock? If you anger a customer, how likely are they to slam you in feedback and in forums? Dell might sell a lot of computers, but the Dell hating sites contributed to a tumbling stock price and Kevin Rollins’s job. Ask a Dell exec who lost all of their bonuses last year how effect the Dell “no customer service” policy worked out for them.

Just because you handle customer service efficiently, it doesn’t mean you don’t offer it. Big difference.

39 Kevin Fleming

Since when did Shoemoney become an E-Commerce Expert?

This is either REALLY good linkbait or a REALLY dumb article. Pick one because what you said simply isn’t true.

Shoemoney 40 babalou

lol he has been a powerhouse in the industry since he started doing millions a month in revenue! Who are you again?

His REALLY good link bait has 300-500 comments not only 30 like this article!

41 Jonathan Volk

The only place that customer support REALLY matters is web hosting.

I’ve canceled many a time due to poor support.

Shoemoney 42 roger

ummm its absolutely true.. maybe you should do some e-commerce and you would have a clue.

43 Jeremy Schoemaker

I disagree. its a public company and they have a business arrangement with Google. Mozilla is also a organization of volunteers but they also are paid a quarter of a million dollars by Google.

Its really not the point though. Lets talk about specifics. What is the phone number people can call to get walked through submitting their site on best of the web? I could not find any phone number to get support on your website. Does this mean you do not value customer support or that you instead focus on customer service through good online documentation that can scale?

44 Jerome

I have no choice but to agree with you on this one. Online commerce especially when the products are intangible like Softwares, Scripts, Mini Games and stuff, CS are less significant than when we try to sell a Laptop or other Electronics.

45 Mike Mothner

I think customer service is essential for any online service provider. As a search engine marketing/online advertising company, it is crucial that we provide our clients with the best possible customer service, whether it be via online chat, quick responses to email, or phone support (and not just giving a phone number that goes to a machine but actually being able to speak to a customer service representative directly). If we didn’t I don’t think our clients would stick around for long.

46 Alan Johnson

Well as far as hosting is concerned, customer support is extremely important because with all of the competition out there, you don’t stand a chance if you don’t stand out as far as that aspect is concerned.

47 Alan Johnson

Some companies can afford to have bad support, with Dell being an example. But if you’re interested in word-of-mouth advertising and in building your business where there is a lot of competition, customer support is extremely important.

48 Alan Johnson

It depends on the product we’re talking about and on the demand there is for it. When dealing with high-priced items which only cater to the needs of specific types of customers, things stand a little bit differently.

49 Alan Johnson

When running a hosting business however, as Chris has suggested, customer support should never be neglected because otherwise, people will simply stop using your company and switch to one of your competitors who can cater to their needs.

50 Shane

The title is linkbait – the truth is, the best customer service policy is just as Jeremy outlined in the post … “make it easy to return” and I might add “no questions asked”. Really simple, really thorough, very little cost and you will build customer loyalty or at least trust with that kind of policy.

51 greg

We do have a phone number on the site (516.522.2501), though admittedly it’s not a toll free number, and it’s not very conspicuous (it’s on the Headquarters page, from the About). Perhaps it’s time to update that… I’m extremely proud of the customer support that we provide, and I think it’s one of the major reasons that we have accomplished as much as we have – both on BOTW, and the hotel business. We’ve always maintained a focus on helping the customer. The companies you are talking about (Amazon, Dell) are the 800 lb gorillas – they might be able to get away with shoddy customer support. The scrappier amongst us can’t afford to overlook it.

52 anty

I just wanted to comment the same thing. Support is critical in some (online) business. I love the no-questions-asked amazon service too, but if I have the choice between a non existing hosting support company and an all inclusive let-me-know-your-deepest-wishes support, I chose the last one.

I think the real point is: Customer support is not existent anymore, therefore you don’t miss it as long as you don’t need it.
If you buy something that is unique, you have to have customer support, because you can’t replace anything.

53 Failure Sucks!

Make money and sell support.

“Most people find our product extremely easy to use. However, due to the extremely high volume we process we are unable to answer personal support questions regarding the (installation, use, configuration…whatever fits) of XYZ product. If you’d like to purchase our “priority care” package you will be able to receive personalized responses to questions about XYZ product within 24 hours via e-mail (or phone or whatever you like here).

See, charge for support then it becomes a profit stream and not an expense. Hire someone to do it and bam- more income.

54 corey

Jeremy, I think for the most part you are spot on, but there is one exception. GoDaddy.com has tech support 100% on American soil, and I have never waited longer than 90 seconds for someone to help me.

55 gasmoney

definitely not true and i think this was just a link bait. good stuff shoe

56 SEO Optimization

Looks like Shoe has never been in the hosting business, where you can easily die without a decent customer support staff. Said this, customer support might not be needed for some fields (selling a number of computers or hardware on eBay) but for long term relationship with customers (especially in web hosting business, web design, coding services etc etc etc..) it is a MUST.

57 RacerX

Their is a huge difference in commodity pricing and value pricing, I agree.

But even there if the service is there it gets the order, and for the second order it just has to be close.

It would be like Shoe’s Un-natural KFC Addiction :) He could buy chicken at any grocery store, but service and quality matter :)

58 Josh

Dell’s support is actually pretty good – As long as you go through their online chat system. I’m a trained computer tech (though no longer actually practice), and I’ve always had more luck getting hardware issues taken care of by chat (fairly quickly, too) than by phone.

59 marhgil

getting listed in DMOZ does not guarantee better rankings. I don’t even bother submitting my sites there.

60 Kiltak

Dell business support is awesome btw… but this is for corporate clients, not average users… And yes, the support people answering you are actually from North America :)

61 rodel

all i know is that.. some of dell’s customer support is based in the philippines..as to why they transfered here? well.. filipino’s are more good at fooling customers :).. in fact WIPRO is also coming in..

anyway, support has been considered as a CORE process in multinational companies ..in fact, millions have been invested on this one.. so i guess it’s an irony if it’s of no use.. :)..

62 Keith Cash

I agree with above with The Dell tech support, it is good, I have to pay extra for talking to some one in the US.

There are lots of companies that do not support very much anymore. Just the new internet business model

63 Erica DeWolf

I completely disagree. I’ve recently had terrible service with Sirius satellite radio. They were inconsistent, un-helpful, impersonal, and just plain rude. I’ll be moving back to XM after the past few phone calls I’ve given them.

64 Erica DeWolf

Amen! Customer service is indeed still important. If there’s two similar services, and one has excellent customer service and the other doesn’t, you can be sure that the one with no customer service will lose customers to the other. Guaranteed!

65 sean

Nice bait, Jeremy.

Based on what you’ve written, Could it be that transparency and simplicity are the new Customer Service?

66 Erica DeWolf

But there are always the times when you have service troubles. If you need to know how to do something forums are great. But when it comes to actual service (isn’t that what customer service is there for), customer service is so necessary.

Trust me, I would much rather go to forums then sit on the phone and wait to talk to somebody who probably doesn’t even speak english…

67 SEO Wrench

I think the key to Amazon, Shoe$ Ebay and even Google is that I go in with no expectation of customer service. I know that Amazon has no way for me to contact them. I think this is a distinct advantage over a place that has customer service lines, live chat and other ways to contact them and then just don’t reply, are rude or just plain not helpful, or give you a hard time with accepting a return.

It is much easier to say “yeah I used them, be careful because you cant get support or call them” then “I called them and they said they were going to do X but did Y and took 2 weeks to get back to me and 4 months and 3 calls before I got credit back on my card”.

I guess I would argue that having a clean and easy return policy with no questions asked IS very much great customer service; just not in the traditional sense.

68 Affiliate Confession

Yea, I thought the title would raise some eyebrows. It did mine.

69 Affiliate Confession

DMOZ editors are weenies, I’m sure that won’t get me any points. I’ve tried numerous times to become an editor and I guess I just don’t fit into their clique. I don’t know how you’d classify DMOZ as a business. Serious geeks all with serious attitudes.

70 Popular Wealth

#1 get the biggest audience possible by any means.
#2 give them what they want without making promises.
#3 even if they return the goods the secondary market for returned goods is so huge that you’re guaranteed not to lose money.

Thats online commerce Shoe, and the difficulty is getting #1. New people don’t grow on trees, new websites and stores do.

71 Omicrontau

I couldn’t disagree with you more on this one. There’s a lady in the UK who built her online business around customer service and an angle (check it here – http://www.lingscars.com/). You can read more about her on http://selfmademinds.com/200801/interview-with-dragon-eater-ling-valentine/

72 Affiliate Confession

I’ve heard the opposite, but then again I’ve never had a site listed in DMOZ, except for my old personal graphics site from about 8 years ago.

73 Scorpiono

I hate from the deep of my heart the Google Adsense Support. I’ve messaged them with a high-risk related issue, they never replied back.

The thing is, competition started to upload porn to get me out of the business, and yes I moderate, but does google care? No.. and after several emails to support they decided not only to suspend, but let’s just disable him so we recieve no further emails.

I’ll write the Google Adsense – Cyber Assassin soon on my blog, you can get rid of cmopetition really easy with such a dumb support.

74 Juan Rossi

Jeremy, I don’t completely agree with you.. I think that giving customer support is good. Amazon policy is great because is fast and you don’t need to be 100 hours on the phone waiting for an answer but if you provide that same service giving other type of support, people is going to want your product.
For example webhosting. I know a bunch of hosts that have the worst support ever but they have plans with a lot of space. I’m sure that if they provide a better support, they’ll get more clients.

75 Webmogl

The company I work for would have to disagree with you. They pride themselves on going overboard with customer service. Their repeat customer rate is over 75% because of it. Free overnight shipping, free return shipping and the customer service reps are empowered to make all kinds of decisions to make the customer happy.

76 flypitcher

I hate say it but you are right on this post Shoemoney. First time for everything:)

77 Eric Dewhirst

You give awesome customer support – we are all customers of your blog and you seem to be reviewing and posting responses. The Amazon thing does not add up – I think they have awesome customer support – you don’t like what you got – here ship it back – that is mint! That is crazy customer support – the ultimate of the customer is always right. The customer is so right that we don’t even need to question them – that is how right their customers are.

Good post though – makes you go hmmm….

Cheers – Eric

78 Nothus

The first thing I thought of after reading your post was Above And Beyond: Zappos Sends You Flowers!!! Zappos.com built their business of selling shoes online off of customer support. In fact, Tony, the CEO mentions that they are a customer support company that happens to sell shoes. What have you been using your shoe money on???

79 Fat Lester

I could not disagree more with you about this subject.

I avoid doing business with companies that do not offer quality support (like Ebay), and I go out of my way to support companies that actually care about their customers (like GoDaddy).

I have noticed that a lot of internet-related companies based in California think they can tell their customers to F-off and get away with it. I no longer support any of these companies. In fact, I will pay more to support the competitors of firms that treat their customers like dirt.

In addition to boycotting firms with little, no or bad customer service, I also go out of my way to share my experiences with as many other people as possible.

On a different note, I just discovered your blog today and I’ve already read about 30 of your posts. You’re a terrific writer and I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read so far (even when I disagree with it ;-).

80 Mike_D_Chat _Addict

DISAGREE! I only bought product from Amazon for hard to find books, nothing else! For other products like electronics appliances I just used the Amazon’s reviews or browse the web for info on that stuff but I never buy online for such things. Electronics are better bought personally because this things are prone to mechanical/technical problems.

A good Customer Support makes your clients satisfied and satisfaction means a return customer plus additional referrals to relatives and friends… It’s like a PYRAMID one satisfied customer and Bingo this person would bring you some prospect down-lines!!!

81 Narender Smith

A good Customer Support makes your clients satisfied and satisfaction means a return customer plus additional referrals to relatives and friends…

82 Lordele

Heya. fine site, would you want to share links?

83 Purple Contracts

I disagree. We are an online car leasing company and in our industry, customer service counts for a lot!
The motor industry has suffered the last few years and if it wasn’t for our existing customers who return to us to buy again, we may have not lasted.

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