Staying within the law online
A recent check of retail UK websites found that more than a third could be breaking the law. The research, by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) uncovered issues at 62 of 156 sites, ranging from unlawful restrictions on refunds, failure to notify buyers about additional charges such as for delivery and not providing email contact details.
Following the survey, the OFT has asked sites to change their websites before Christmas to ensure they comply with the Distance Selling Regulations, which give consumers additional rights when they buy online, by post or over the phone.
One of the key failings was around email. Nearly two thirds of retailers didn’t provide an email contact address, which not only breaches the regulations but is also likely to upset consumers, who are forced to call a contact centre with queries or complaints.
In fact many of the issues highlighted by the OFT could be handled by clear, easy to find answers on retail websites. These would not only prevent issues later in the buying process, but would make the customer service journey simpler and faster for consumers.
For retailers looking to change their sites to comply with consumer protection laws, here are five ways that technology can help:
1 Use web self-service
As well as clearly displaying your terms of business online, make sure you have all relevant information available for consumers when they search your site. Information on policies such as refunds and charges should be simple to find through web self-service systems that understand customer questions and automatically provide relevant answers. This avoids the need for consumers to email or call.
2 Make chat available
Consumers can often become stuck at certain points in the buying cycle and want more information. Using proactive web chat is one way to help them, providing the chance for consumers to question agents online without needing to pick up the phone.
3 Be consistent
Information needs to be up to date, accurate and consistent across all your channels. After all, there’s no point your website providing a different answer to your contact centre. Use a single knowledgebase to provide consistent answers across every channel in order to meet customer needs.
4 Make email responsive
Obviously retailers need to legally provide an email contact address – but many don’t. Whether this is just an oversight or because they are worried that they will be inundated with emails, it is vital not to neglect this channel. Provide alternatives (such as chat and web self-service) to minimise the need for customers to use email, but then make sure you have sufficient resources in place to answer them. Acknowledge emails immediately and give a clear timescale for responding – and stick to it. That way you’ll both keep customers happy and stay within the law.
5 Don’t forget social media
Consumers have wholeheartedly embraced social media and retailers have, in turn, launched Facebook pages, online communities and Twitter accounts. Integrate these with your overall customer service so that you can monitor and respond to consumer questions within their channel of choice. Make it easy for customers to ask questions via your Facebook page so that you provide a consistent, efficient service across every channel.
With the OFT writing to all those that need to change their websites, now is the time for retailers to check they are within the law. Otherwise they risk being taken to court and fined – hardly the best advert for potential shoppers in the run up to Christmas.