ASOS the online fashion storeOnline retailing still requires great customer service, Nick Robertson, chief executive of ASOS , told retail employers at a Skillsmart Retail seminar this week.

Set up before the rise of social media (Facebook and Twitter and YouTube), ASOS has expanded internationally on the back of customer demand. It had no plans to launch in Australia but has huge sales there because social media helped shoppers to find ASOS.

A key measure of customer satisfaction for online businesses is to measure the number of shopper contacts to orders. For ASOS this trends between 25 per cent and 30 per cent (which means a shopper asks a question about every fourth sale). Heavy snow in the UK last year caused this to spike over 40 per cent. Distribution problems caused it to spike over 35 per cent.

Customer contact is driven by email. The call centre will only call back if the first two emails fail to solve the problem. Most emails are questions about colours and sizes which are easier to handle by email. If someone phoned you would have to put them on hold while you looked up the answer.

Good customer service is important because social media makes it very easy for shoppers to comment on your brand, says Mr Robertson. Use Google discussions search and find out what people are saying about you.

For example, today someone is asking on the first page: “Is this store trusted? I mean I am not sure they are good or bad when I see their customer cares. A lot of people are complaining at their forum…”

Mr Robertson says some companies get pre-occupied with policing what people say about them on-line. His solution is to provide good customer care. With Facebook conversations, we try to treat customers as friends, he explains.

And then there is You Tube, with ‘amateur’ beauty gurus like Fleur De Force, who likes to show what she has bought from ASOS for example. More than 81,000 people have watched her talk about her autum/winter fashion haul from ASOS and Mr Robertson shares the start of this upload with the conference where Fleur says she normally sends half the stuff she orders back but her latest haul is so good she is keeping all five!

The main point that Mr Robertson makes is that on-line you cannot control what is said about your shop. His rules for great customer service are:

1. invest in getting the service right first
2. communicate in advance if you know you will disappoint a shopper
3. set up shoppers’ expectations and beat them
4. read emails to the end before you respond and make sure you get it right first time (shoppers can take a long time to get to the point)
5. template responses are a “no, no” – personalise everything
6. remember, it’s the proposition as well as the service.

At ASOS it is all about the quality of the product. If they don’t get that right, there is no where to hide.