I am using the term customer service quite loosely here and perhaps a better description is how do we maximise the customer journey to ensure the customer has everything they need to make and complete a purchase? Key to this is the need for marketing divisions, both online and offline, to understand the importance of integrated solutions that focus on the customer and what they want. It’s important that retailers understand all of the touchpoints and how to maximise opportunities both online and offline.
I am still amazed at the number of big retailers who simply don’t have a long-term integrated strategy. With the massive growth of online sales, the ability to purchase form multiple devices anytime and anywhere, the customer experience has completely revolutionized the way retail must think about the customer journey. Argos has taken the lead in developing digital stores opening 11 stores this year with further planned for 2014. Here customers can walk into a shop use an IPad or their own phone find the item, watch the video, read the customer reviews, purchase and leave without speaking to a single person.
Three key trends
So what are the key trends affecting customer service in 2014? I have identified three key trends which marketing executives should take account off in 2014:
Improving website/online customer interaction
We have seen a major shift over the last 12 months in the use of instant chat on websites. Some retailers have embraced this and established call centre back systems to assist. The data suggest that retailers can expect an increase in sales of up to 20% and that customers spend more as a result. The next trend and one in my view which will have even more impact is, call me now services. Here the consumer can add their telephone number and hit a button. Within seconds they will then get a call from the call centre. What’s interesting for retailers is that the technology is moving so fast that it is often cloud-based and able to integrate with the existing call centre infrastructures. Amazon has developed its own service with a help facility and video link, which takes the concept to an even richer customer experience. The technology sector has responded with interest. Oracle, the software database specialist, has moved into the space and is set to dominate in the US with a range of services focused on improving the customer experience.
For marketing directors it’s important not to get caught up in the technology but to explore the ways in which call me now can be integrated into mobile applications and websites to enable better interaction between you and your customers. The benefits are obvious for most retailers especially those that have existing call centre operations. Imagine how the customer would feel if they are having problems at the checkout and you could solve those problems with a simple call. Conversions would certainly increase.
It demonstrates the importance of planning for the unforeseen and not being afraid to stand up and defend what you believe in and what you know to be true.
Improving the call centre experience
We all order items online and sometimes there are issues or problems. We hate ringing the customer service centre because we know we will be in a queue and we know that if they need to ring us back or we need to ring them back we will never get to speak to the same person twice. It’s one of the most frustrating issues that call centres have to manage. A potential solution is at hand with the call me back technology now available. If you are using the company’s app or website and you ring the centre and are in a queue, you now have the option to ask for a call back or plan a call at any time you want. It’s simple and effective. From the call centre perspective it means that peak times can be managed more effectively and that customers are not as frustrated and angry when they receive the call. This alone could revolutionise call centers forever. No more queue and the same person to talk to - it sounds too good to be true. But the technology is here and I am predicting that this type of solution will be a game changer for many retailers, banks, insurance companies and utilities. Come on BT keep up. Again, what’s key here is that most of the technology can sit within the same infrastructure that exists within a call centre environment.
Prompt calling, a new dimension
This is perhaps the most exciting area for retail marketers to explore as the possibilities seem to be endless her. The key premise is that technology can be used to plan and automatically call consumers triggered by your own key date and its parameters. Imagine being in a store and they don’t have the item in stock or your size is out. You simply scan the tag or display icon and add your phone number and within seconds you are talking to customer service and you order is placed. How cool is that? Or you are out shopping and you receive an SMS offer only available today from one of your favorite stores. You open and read the offer and are considering it. You request a call and again can either go into store and purchase the item or buy over the phone.
There are other uses for prompt calling. For example anything that needs to be renewed could quite easily be tagged in your database and a SMS sent and a call planned to help you renew. I think in some sectors this could have a major impact on conversions. Highly competitive sectors such as insurance could profit from such systems.
The future lies in integrated touchpoint technology
If you are looking to improve your customer experience, improve sales conversions and improve repeat business, then you need to ensure you have an integrated strategy that understands the customer journey and identifies the key touchpoints. You need to understand how to maximise your interactions to achieve your business goals.
Technology is enabling the process and is changing rapidly, so it’s important to both understand it and explore how it can be used to benefit your sales and marketing approach. Your digital eco-system is critical to how you manage the whole process, but marketing professionals need to be at the heart of it to ensure that solutions are focused on what they need.