Based in Almere, the Netherlands, Mascot Online carries a wide range of lifestyle brands with more than a thousand articles. The mission of Mascot Online is clear – transforming trends and mainstream consumer needs into high-quality products that are accessible to everyone. With great ambition and ample resources, the company has planned for a rapid global expansion through marketplaces.
Currently, the Mascot Online brands have established a steady digital presence on Amazon in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, as well as on ManoMano, Fruugo, Wish, Cdiscount and eBay.
Challenge #1: Lack of Amazon B2C customer service experience and knowledge
Amazon’s regulations sometimes seem as extensive as its reach in the e-commerce world. In order to create a marketplace that best serves the end buyers, Amazon is known to be very demanding of its sellers. The strict guidelines and requirements to sell on Amazon and its biased favor towards buyers can be hard to swallow for many online retailers.
Mascot Online started out as a B2B company, and as such had very little experience with Amazon customer service and immediately noticed the differences between providing customer service to businesses and individual buyers. Despite the common best practices, B2B and B2C customers buy with different motivations that often result in different product inquiries and expectations.
Challenge #2: Lack of language/cultural expertise for worldwide customers
Before working with ICE, Mascot Online had already established a degree of e-commerce presence in multiple countries and marketplaces. As customer inquiries started flooding in from all over the world, the lack of language/cultural expertise to handle such inquiries within Mascot Online became obvious and the need for a multilingual customer service was clear.
Staff without the appropriate language skills for expansion countries can be inefficient and sometimes lead to catastrophic results. Despite ever-improving machine translation tools, customer service still calls for the personal and customised response that machines lack. Failure in understanding cultural nuances among buyers from different countries can create communication gaps, result in cultural misunderstandings and cause customer satisfaction to suffer. Knowing this, Mascot Online sought a partner who specialized in international customer service.
The customer service (CS) team at ICE has been supporting sellers with multilingual, native speaking customer service since 2011. As end consumers demand rapid responses to their questions and claims, ICE is able to help Mascot Online fulfill this expectation with dedicated e-commerce-trained customer service representatives. The first step of the Mascot Online-ICE partnership involved the company filling out a list of commonly asked questions ICE has encountered throughout the years as well as questions regarding their specific products. Once completed, these answers allow ICE to quickly answer the majority of the incoming questions without any input from the Mascot Online team.
In case a question is asked which is not covered in that extensive list, ICE translates it into Mascot Online’s preferred language and once the company replies, ICE then translates the answer into the customer’s native language. This ensures the combination of Mascot Online’s product expertise and an ICE representative’s culturally adapted response.
One of the biggest and on-going tasks for ICE customer service team is to help our clients understand how Amazon expects its sellers to best cater to the needs of their buyers. Knowing how customer-centric Amazon is, the CS team at ICE has helped Mascot Online solve multiple claims that could have turned into negative feedback, poor seller performance metrics and even account suspension.
During an incident involving mis-shipments in late 2018, ICE noticed that orders to specific countries were being shipped to incorrect destination countries due to an internal miscommunication within Mascot Online. It was peak gift season and the incident brought an unusually high spike in customer service inquiries, as numerous customer questions and complaints flooded in regarding late deliveries. To begin to solve the issue, ICE had our native CS representatives from five countries contact all respective buyers who might have been affected by the mis-shipments. In our experience, giving customers a heads-up on potential problems is highly appreciated, and that transparency often leads to understanding responses.
Through years of working with customers of various nationalities, ICE CS representatives have gained useful insight which proved handy during this crisis. For example, when explaining the cause of the issue to buyers from Spain or Italy, admitting the human error and siding with them is likely the best approach. “Don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes” was the one response our CS team heard most often in Mascot Online’s case. Putting a human face to hard facts is important in southern European cultures and will often cause buyers to sympathize with the seller and hinder them from leaving a negative review. It’s also worth mentioning that in some cases, resorting to the “common enemy” can be helpful in handling Spanish and Italian buyers. Postal services in these countries are notoriously inefficient and locals know it, so if that’s the reason why your customers aren’t receiving their orders on time, don’t hesitate to name the local postal service as the cause of the delay after nonetheless apologizing for the issue.
For customers in France, Germany and the UK, customers often react better to “technical issues”. In Mascot online’s case, besides providing a detailed explanation of how and why the mis-shipments happened, our CS representatives were also asked how the seller would prevent such incidents from happening again. For buyers in these regions, sellers are expected to be responsible for the whole purchasing experience. In other words, if the local postal service is unreliable, it’s up to the seller to offer better delivery options. It can be discouraging for sellers to see buyers in France, Germany and the UK leave an unsatisfying review even when the problem’s been solved, but buyers from these nations also tend to believe it’s their responsibility to provide honest and accurate comments reflecting the experience for other’s reference.
During Mascot Online’s mis-shipments, ICE’s experienced customer service team has helped the company maintain a healthy seller account across countries, with enhanced brand image built on successful customer service management.
During our time working together, ICE has helped Mascot Online to proactively identify various issues and process improvements. The company’s Amazon account performance metrics exhibit steady and healthy account activity and the ranking and satisfaction rates for all its accounts have shown significant improvement. Recent statistics revealed that in Germany alone, the overall satisfaction rate has increased from 78% (January – July 2018) to 92% as of December 2018, despite the aforementioned mis-shipments.
When asked what’s next for Mascot Online in terms of e-commerce expansion, “we’re looking to get into Japan, Poland, Scandinavia and the US,” said Ondrej Hradec, Head of eCommerce and B2C Sales, “and when this happens, we’ll need more customer service support, as then we’ll be dealing with audiences from even farther cultures than what we’re used to. Not to mention a whole new set of languages.”
As much as culture effects customer behaviour in various countries, sellers should always keep in mind that individualism also plays a big role, “after all, all customers are different.” says Michela Moschetto, the Head of ICE customer service team. It can be helpful knowing the cultural background of the customers, yet greater importance should go into observing the situation and customer’s reaction to it. It’s convenient to identify patterns that are culturally unique, but it can be dangerous to handle the customers based solely upon stereotypes.
With ICE’s international customer service and marketplace experience, we’re excited to continue growing our partnership with Mascot Online B. V. to further expand their e-commerce business across borders.