5 Customer Service Lessons from AO.com

Post Date: 26 June 2015 Author: Amanda Mulquiney

On the Maginus Blog, we often take a look at what’s good, and not so good, practice in the world of omnichannel retail, distribution and eCommerce. Following my visit to the Retail Symposium from the BRC yesterday, I thought I’d share 5 customer service lessons retailers can learn from AO.com to achieve outstanding customer service.

The company was launched 15 years ago and has set a new standard in customer care, winning many accolades for creating a company culture based on customer service. A key reason behind their growth is in part due to their focus on good design, quality content and a culture built around transformation, strong IT infrastructure, testing and continual optimisation.

While customer service is high on the agenda for most retailers, AO.com have taken customer service to the next level. John Roberts, the founding Director and CEO of AO.com has been instrumental in using the internet as a platform to change the way in which kitchen appliances are sold in the UK. John has presided over the evolution of the business and led the management team which has successfully expanded the Group’s business during periods of challenging market conditions.

The pure-play e-tailer has introduced a number of new initiatives that increase customer engagement, let them know their feedback is valued and incentivise staff to go ‘the extra mile’.


1. Treat Every Customer Like they’re Your Grandma.


For any business, investing in great service is more profitable than poor service. And the best possible service – ultimately means - no service at all.

Whilst it’s true that every interaction costs money, AO.com take a long-term, life-time value approach to customer service. This is nowhere more true than in their Call Centre where they have a “No Rules” approach, except one:

“Treat every customer as if they were your gran.”

Call centre staff have no financial restraints when it comes to customer compensation. Roberts says they can do anything they think is “fair and reasonable” to rectify issues, whether it costs 50p or £5,000. “Our rule is that you treat every customer as if they were your gran and fix how you would for her.”

Call centre staff are empowered with the freedom to despatch a new product the same-day a customer calls up with a complaint and can send a bunch of flowers without any barriers for approval.


2. Find People that Care.


Recruiting the right people is critical to AO.com’s success. In order to make customer service a priority, they always try to find people that are passionate about the customer and the business, essentially because you can’t pay people to care.

Being a pure-play, online retailer they have created an algorithm to help match whether prospective employees would be a good fit. They seek out new people who have values that complement the AO culture to ensure a strong match.

They have a principle called the “AND not OR” approach. For example, they want to recruit people who are “ambitious AND humble” – it’s usually the case that you get one or the other.  

AO’s mission to provide outstanding customer service is obvious throughout the site. Looking at their “About Us” page, this is a great example of a simple page that explains the company’s proposition - that AO.com put the customer at the core of everything they do.

A page like this is important, not only as a statement to their commitment to customer experience, but is important for a retailer like AO.com which, up until recently was an unfamiliar brand to many of their customers.


3. Great Service is More Profitable than Poor Service.


AO.com don’t support the saying that the “customer is always right”, but prefer to advocate that the customer should “always be happy”.


Brand trust is increasingly important, and AO.com have signed up for the Google Certified Shop and TRUST PILOT scheme where they promote that they are rated 9.7/10 based on 36,000 customer reviews (not bad).

This is not the only way the site conveys trust: Along with the stats on customer service, delivery success rates, as well as offering protection for customers, they provide reassurances about free returns, refunds or exchanges within 14 days. And they ensure their contact details are clear throughout the entire customer journey.  As a result, AO.com don’t feel the need to display trust marks throughout the checkout, instead they rely on good design and good content throughout their product pages.


“As a culture, as a business, we’re fanatical about service. We obsess about single one we get wrong.” He say, “Every single customer that posts on Facebook gets a hand-signed letter from me.” It’s a time-consuming task. In fact, Roberts spends 40 minutes a day signing letters. I file it under high-class problems. If I have hundreds of thousands of customers to thank, that’s a pretty cool problem.” – Retail Week.
John Roberts CEO and Founder of AO.com

Roberts believes that this is time well-spent in helping to win loyalty and help spread the word about the company. On top of these personal, 1-2-1 touches, AO.com have a dedicated team of people whose job it is to monitor comments and engage with customers on social media and customer review sites, seven days a week.

The e-tailer recognises the importance of responsive, positive customer service and the potential impact of social media. So much so, that they have trained call-centre staff to interact with customers on Facebook over more traditional (and private methods of communication, which has improved sales online.


4. “Facebook Feedback” Promotes Improved Delivery Service.


Another initiative that has proven beneficial is their bi-monthly publication, “Facebook Feedback”, which contains comments by customers about drivers and the quality of the customer service they provide.

This publication is sent to the driver’s home every 2 weeks, it includes both positive and negative feedback along with a note from Roberts himself. The aim is to show the bigger picture and the impact they can have on the customer experience.

Roberts believes that by allowing customers to say thank you, give honest feedback, and by putting a few grand behind the production of the publication, there’s been a huge improvement in their driver performance.


5. The Importance of Value, Praise & Recognition.

My last tip from John Roberts’ presentation at the Retail Symposium is short and sweet….

Value, praise and recognition are more powerful than money. There are 2 great words in the English language that go a long way…'Thank' & 'You'.



More Information

Retail Week, November 29, 2013: AO.com's White Goods Man 

AO.com focus on providing an excellent customer experience, from providing a user-friendly site that meets customer expectations around delivery, product information and returns. For 13 best practice eCommerce lessons, read the eConsultancy blog below:

Econsultancy, 13 eCommerce Best Practice Lessons from AO.com