Why the customer experience should be top priority for retailers
How can retailers take some of the strain out of customer services at time of peak demand? Stephen Ball, senior vice president Europe & Africa at Aspect Software, shares insight into the importance of integrating self-service technology and developing a cohesive digital customer experience.
Retailers are facing serious struggles, due largely to difficulties in adapting to changes in consumer behaviour, as highlighted by reports that more than 10,000 stores are expected to close this year. Since January, Maplin and Toys R Us in the UK have both gone into administration, banking behemoth RBS confirmed the closure of 162 branches and Marks and Spencer has announced it is planning to close 100 shops by 2020.
This disruption is being driven by declining retail sales, summed up by figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) stating like-for-like retail sales in the UK in April fell by 4.2% year-on-year, with total sales in the same period down 3.1%. This represents the sharpest fall since the BRC started collecting data 23 years ago and can be seen as a stark warning to the entire sector that action needs to be taken.
The above are just some examples that highlight how an evolution in consumer shopping habits is impacting the retail sector, forcing businesses to re-evaluate their customer experience (CX) by ensuring it is responsive to the demands of an increasingly online and mobile-focused generation. Key to this is being able to provide a seamless interaction at times of peak demand, such as busy sales days like Black Friday or Christmas.
As shoppers are increasingly engaging with their favourite brands on multiple devices and platforms, including telephone, desktop, mobile, apps and social media, they expect to easily switch between options such as interactive voice response (IVR) and automated chatbots with the ability to instantly connect to a human agent if the issue becomes too complex to resolve.
This is about giving customers the freedom to choose how they interact with a brand by providing easy-to-use self-service options wherever possible, whether during or outside of peak times. Based on results collected from Aspect’s State of Consumer Experience survey, the most common pain point for customers is a lack of effectiveness and not getting an issue resolved, with 36% of people reporting they have stopped doing business with a company as a result of poor customer service.
The importance of an efficient resolution process is further emphasised by 75% of respondents stating they would be happy to pay more for exceptional customer service, with 48% claiming the ability to interact using their channel of choice is the most important facet of a personalised customer experience.
This underlines the importance of a seamless and flexible omni channel self-service system that can automatically switch between digital channels and human representatives at the touch of a button or by voice command. Fortunately, recent advances in cloud technology have made this easier and more affordable, as it enables all contact points and customer data to be unified within a single, powerful, easy-to-use platform.
This also means that companies can reduce their reliance on in-house IT departments and on-site data centres that can be very expensive, as cloud providers will do a majority of the essential maintenance, system upgrades, software updates and technical support, resulting in reduced overhead costs and a much more efficient service.
Your voice is my command
With the rise of personal assistants including Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Duplex, consumers are becoming more comfortable speaking to chatbots instilled with powerful AI functionality that can listen and respond to complex instructions in real time. An example of this can be seen in a chatbot deployed by supermarket chain Lidl to assist customers in selecting wines.
According to Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report, technological advances over the last few years have meant voice recognition can now achieve 95% accuracy, resulting in the potential for higher first call resolution rates that contribute to the overall customer experience.
The modern contact centre needs to adapt to this trend by having a robust omni channel engagement platform that integrates digital self-service with sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) and speech recognition capabilities.
Some enquiries such as tracking an order, making a complaint or reporting a fault can be funnelled through an automated resolution process with the user inputting data into an online form. This can be an efficient way to support customers and reduce waiting times, although there should always be the option of communicating with a human representative to ensure the journey from query to resolution is as painless as possible.
The impact on behavioural economics and shopping psychology is fundamental in determining whether a customer will continue to do business with a particular company. If they retain a positive emotional memory resulting from an issue being successfully resolved, there is a much higher chance of repeat business, however, if their memory is connected to irritation, stress or sadness, it is highly likely they will switch to a competitor.
The key is for organisations to add value to the engagement process by designing an agile self-service platform that ensures the customer has experiences a positive, seamless experience across all channels. When it comes to CX, organisations often operate in silos, making it difficult for their customers to switch between channels which increases the chances of them having to repeat information.
This is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating experiences linked to interacting with automated contact centres and this can be exacerbated in times of peak demand. By taking advantage of the latest cloud technologies including AI, self-service and chatbots, retailers can go some way towards improving the effectiveness of their contact centre.
To make sure that these customer engagement options are blended seamlessly with one another, it is crucial that each and every option is given equal attention as part of a coherent omni channel strategy. Organisations that proactively implement these methods of communication will see the greatest impact on customer satisfaction and stand the best possible chance of seizing the competitive advantage during the busiest times of year.
The author of this blog is Stephen Ball, senior vice president Europe & Africa at Aspect Software.