This year has seen a boost in the fusion of online and bricks and mortar shopping behaviors, as millions of consumers are taking advantage of offers including “buy online, pick-up in store” or “buy online, return in store” scenarios.
With an improving economy and hyper-competitive retail industry, Customer Experience (CX) is becoming more important than ever, as today’s shoppers not only want bargains and convenience, but want fast, friendly and free and reward retailers who deliver a consistently awesome experience with loyalty, high ratings and recommendations.
Even companies like Amazon, known for automating nearly everything and running an “economy” bigger than most countries GNP, staff up for this peak season, setting up temporary pools of highly trained human agents (and “command centers” on a similar scale to monitor and address technology issues, while also keeping track of the winter storms which have been crippling travel in the US and impacting same-day, next day and two-day deliveries).
Big Box stores like BestBuy, Target, Walmart and others are better positioned to compete with Amazon, and have been studying, developing and rolling out their “digital twins” – and in many cases winning by making their physical locations their competitive advantage. (Amazon is responding slowly to this by opening their own stores with payment apps that allow consumers to simply pick products up and be charged automatically on their mobile devices, but so far only in “boutique” sized test shops).
Whatever the future holds, we have learned that given advances in web and mobile platforms and apps, the digital transformation of how people buy things has put a tremendous amount of power into the hands of consumers, who have more choices than ever, and more convenience. In exchange for agreeing to share their personal, behavioral preferences, consumers are enjoying “personalization” at a granular level, and despite warnings about loss of privacy and even threats of identity theft, still happy to be presented with products they may like at prices they can’t resist – they are “co-botting” (collaborating with the bots) while customer service agents do the same.
As the retail industry continues to “remix” itself, here are ten tips for retailers who are gearing up to become even more attractive in 2020 as we head into the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century.
- Embrace the channel mix.
While it may seem daunting, and is daunting without the right experience and software, retailers can associate a multitude of channels with a single customer or account. With the right process and systems architecture, whether a buyer comes in through their smartphone, their laptop, an in-store kiosk…whether they prefer speaking with an expert agent one day and prefer to interact with a chatbot the next day…you can still continue personalizing the CX. Scaling to deliver this has created enormous challenges, costs and business risks as e-commerce has matured, but innovations including those Eventus has developed for extremely sophisticated retailers now make the journey smoother and more profitable than we could have imagined only a few years ago.
- Measure every minute, yours and the customers.
The more things change, the more they remain the same in some cases; those of us who have been passionate about the contact center, customer service and CX industry know that time is money, and that handling every conversation and transaction swiftly makes the experience better for all participants. How long does it take to resolve questions? What patterns are forming that will enable continually faster resolution as the same questions arise across many different customers? How able are we to win at first-contact resolution? With the evolution of big data analytics combined with affordable cloud computing and exciting new AI solutions, we can “crunch the numbers” in near real time and feed insights into operations that make every experience faster and friendlier.
- Leverage customer interaction data into inventory management and rebalancing – and product innovation.
Whether customers are coming into a physical location for their favorite version of Tide, are buying that Tide from online pantries, or are pressing the WiFi-enabled button on their smart washer, simply having best sellers in stock makes customers happy. Especially during peak seasons, and especially associated with seasonal favorites, like holiday foods and beverages, “hot” new gift items, and above all the latest consumer electronics, feeding data from millions of CX interactions benefits departments across enterprises, including supply chain and inventory management. Some of our most active voices in our retail client base are CFOs, as they have oversight into all the “profit levers,” and some of our biggest fans in those same retailers are the product innovators and developers who mine CX data in order to improve the “next big holiday thing” for 2020.
- Offer live chat.
Live chat continues to grow in popularity and has quite likely the most transparent “ROI” of all CX technologies. Deploying it strategically can help with everything from sales inquiries, to real time selling, to managing follow up questions about shipments and payments. With the right “macros and algos” intelligent automated chat reduces time and cost, and increasingly frequently is the preferred interaction when problems are solved automatically and delivered with natural voice capabilities. Automated chats are happening faster than ever, as the software “machine learns” – and given data analytics and AI layers, there is no longer a need to read every transcript when computers can do that and, based on policy, trigger alerts and notifications (for example detecting a pattern of frustration with certain products in certain geographies).
- Set up and continually enrich your knowledge base.
Forget the original knowledge base approaches established in the early days of e-commerce, most often associated with complex technical products. Today, every industry and every e-retailer can benefit from the collection and use of big data enabling valuable and scalable customer service tools. Deep knowledge stores, combined with AI and intuitive interfaces lead to self-service experiences customers love, and contact center operators love even more, as “KBs” free up human agents for more complex issues and to provide premium support for the high-end, highest lifetime value customers.
- Offer 24-hour voice-based services, even if you don’t staff with live agents.
There is a growing number of multichannel CX solutions including automatic voice response using natural language intelligence that can interact with inbound callers without frustrating them with traditional, despised IVRs. These include options for a live agent to call the customer back on the date and time of their choosing. For peak periods, making an investment in flex services with a pool of highly trained, skilled and friendly agents can pay off, and by combining automated human-like voice services with actual human experts makes it possible to improve the ROI (including not overstaffing for non-peak periods).
- Make many happy returns convert into future purchases.
Easy and “no questions asked” returns are one of the secret weapons of great e-commerce companies. Key to success is the creation of a simple and smooth policy and process, communicated clearly, with FAQ’s when necessary. just one part of doing business, online or offline. Spend time crafting and testing your returns strategy and process; if the policy is confusing you are guaranteed to confuse and upset customers. Stay focused on the long-term relationship and potential long-tail revenue and referral power; word gets around fast when you treat customers with empathy and trust (especially in this world of social media sharing and scoring!)
- Provide transparency across the entire account.
Amazon continues to raise the bar in this area; their “Prime Members” especially have access to everything and the ability to search everything whether order history, payment history, payment options, return requested, returns processed, and more. While setting this up requires substantial investment, not only money but time from marketing and CX experts who can help create differentiated account management experience, it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that customers who can serve themselves are happier.
- Don’t be afraid to ask how customers felt about interactions, while at the same time keeping the time required for “surveys” brief.
While many CX platforms include surveys sent out following an interaction, even including a quick “star rating” capability at the end of a self-service online transaction, many companies are using conversational behavioral data to pick up on how customers may be feeling – whether their words, tone of voice, and overall “sentiment analysis.” Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) ratings are valuable and when effectively programmed, can drive recommendations and personalization in the future. Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are also helpful for measuring how likely your customers are to recommend your products, services and “quality of service” – but like more traditional CSAT ratings are being augmented by AI-based analytics which can be more accurate and require less effort from customers.
- Be sociable.
Customer service over social media is trending up and will continue to do so as channels and messaging apps are more broadly adopted by all demographics. Successful e-tailers are leveraging social media on a constant basis, promoting special offers, promoting new products, and of course – offering extremely convenient CX options. Back to the original point of this post – integrate social channels into an advanced CX platform and you’ll start to see immediate gains, from happier customers and more valuable data relevant across multiple functions, especially during peak shopping seasons when adaptation and quick responsiveness can make or break new revenue and profitability records.
CX is the lifeblood of retail, physical, virtual and blended. By investing in CX innovation and automation, retailers can increase long-term loyalty and the lifetime value of their customers and compete in the moment, and into the future. Please reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about how Eventus is serving some of the most prestigious and forward-thinking retailers and e-commerce companies in the world.
Rob Rutledge is a Managing Director at Eventus. Before joining the company, he was a Partner at Accenture, where in his last role he led Management Consulting work for one of their five largest global clients. Rob worked closely with clients to help them successfully address their most important challenges. In many cases, this involved some form of business transformation.
It can be hard to fathom a life without customer service in it. Before remote desktop support, live chat and other contact center solutions, there were complex phone trees and outsourced call centers and before that there were buggy IVR systems and telephone switchboards connecting you to the store you purchased the product from.
The past few decades have seen the business world sway multiple times between call center outsourcing and internal call center operations.