As e-commerce becomes an increasingly overcrowded marketplace dominated by a handful of major brands, businesses are having to think of new ways to stand out from the crowd and attract new customers.

Previously it was commonly assumed that price was the best way to beat the competition, but that just results in a self-defeating race to the bottom.

Instead, businesses are now focusing on the customer experience as a way of differentiating themselves. It’s a subject our CEO Ashely Friedlein recently debated in a post looking at whether CMOs should actually be aspiring to become chief experience officers.

And a new survey from Oracle adds weight to the argument that the customer experience is of paramount importance online.

Overall 40% of respondents in the survey said they would be willing to spend more with a company if they improved the overall customer experience, rising to 81% of consumers in Western Europe and a whopping 90% of UK respondents.

Furthermore a third of total respondents (35%) want businesses to ensure they can easily ask questions and access information before making a purchase.

Other popular improvements that would increase spending include an easy returns policy (32%) and an improvement in the overall website usability and search functionality (21%).

These results suggest that despite the increased attention on social and mobile, getting the basics of customer service in place is still more valuable than what the report calls ‘service extras.’

We’ve previously covered the importance of giving consumers access to product information, with 61% of customers claiming to read online reviews before making a purchase decision.

Furthermore, a recent comScore survey found that delivery and returns achieve some of the lowest online customer satisfaction scores.

When asked what aspect of online shopping retailers wanted to improve, 58% chose free or discounted shipping, followed by ease of returns/exchanges (42%).

For more information on this topic check out our 14 best practice tips for handling online returns.

Multichannel customer service

Despite the emergence of new customer service channels such as live chat and social media, the single most popular method of contacting a business is by telephone (37%).

But overall email is perhaps the most common way of contacting customer services, as 22% said their first line of action is to send a support request email through a company website and 18% said they would send a personal email to a customer service agent.

The results also highlight the importance of having an effective multichannel customer service strategy.

When asked what aspects would create the ideal customer service experience, 58% said customers should never have to repeat themselves or re-explain their issue.

Similarly, 57% said that agents should have instant access to customer purchase history and information.

In order to satisfy these customer requirements businesses need to have an effective multichannel strategy, however our Multichannel Customer Experience Report report from November last year suggested this isn’t the case for a number of companies.

Just 26% of respondents said they had a well developed customer experience strategy, while 61% said they were just beginning to develop a strategy.

The good news from Oracle’s survey is that 76% of respondents said that they are often or nearly always satisfied that their problem gets resolved when they contact customer service.

However, almost a quarter (23%) said that they are rarely satisfied, while 1% are never satisfied.

Oracle surveyed 1,400 online shoppers (50% female, 50% male) who had made a complaint or enquiry to a customer services department in the last 12 months.