With brick-and-mortar retailers continuing their shift towards eCommerce and digital interactions, the contact center has become the most prevalent customer touchpoint and the de facto face of many retail brands. By not utilizing the latest generation of contact center solutions – with purpose-built capabilities including practical AI and Machine Learning applications – to create a cohesive brand presence, customer journey, and agent experience, many retailers are overlooking a massive opportunity. According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer, 80% of customers place the same emphasis on flawless brand engagement as they do on product quality. No matter the channel – website, chatbot, SMS, email, phone – customers expect a seamless experience with brands throughout the customer journey.
From research and purchase to the overall experience including support, any misstep along the way can damage a brand’s chances of securing a purchase and driving customer loyalty and advocacy.
Unsurprisingly, recent global events have supercharged the massive shift in the ways that customers expect to interact with brands and how they buy goods. The retail industry, already increasingly digital due to the rise of eCommerce, has had to further ramp up their digital transformation initiatives beyond just offering fully optimized online merchandising and purchase portals, to engaging consumers wherever they are. With the decline in in-store shopping, retailers have had to innovate in-house or align with technology providers to develop applications and solutions to ensure their customers can have positive experiences with their brand across digital channels.
Chief among these solutions are AI-enabled applications like chatbots and virtual agents, and purpose-built CRMs that unify and make actionable customer data, including purchase and engagement history, in the moment of interaction. Together, these tools can ensure the customer need not worry about endless conversations with uninformed live or virtual agents and that their information is carried throughout the omnichannel journey to improve their experience by reducing errors and inefficiencies. A purpose-built CRM and mature knowledge center can also allow customers to utilize self-service options that eliminate the need for agent intervention on more rudimentary tasks and issues.
AI & automation
Not only are practical AI applications and automation key to customer experience, but they also improve the agent experience – an overlooked driver of the overall customer experience. We’re now at the point when most organizations and employees understand that AI is not here to take their jobs, but rather to augment their capabilities and allow them to focus on more mission-critical tasks. Customer service and experience are no different. AI-enabled chatbots and virtual agents are key to not only keeping customers happy but also your employees.
For example, chatbots and virtual agents that are linked to a company’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or Customer Data Platform (CDP) can assist consumers with account issues – password resets, purchase history, payment information, order completion– and provide real-time updates on order status. By implementing chatbots and virtual agents powered by customer data, consumers are given the option to self-serve, speeding up issue resolution and freeing live agents from handling mundane repetitive tasks.
There are pitfalls to be aware of when AI isn’t done right, however. We’ve seen uninformed chatbots and virtual agents used incorrectly. Whether it’s the never-ending “press 1 for order status” phone tree or a chatbot that requires you to enter endless amounts of information that doesn’t make its way to a live agent when your issue is routed, outdated ill-conceived technology can do more harm than good.
Customer loyalty & advocacy
With the recent holiday season behind us, it’s important to discuss the final piece to the customer journey – loyalty and advocacy. Not only is this step crucial to keeping current customers coming back, but it is also key to driving new customers to your brand since existing customers will share their experiences, good or bad, with their social circles.
The holiday season is when retailers need to be at the top of their game or risk losing the loyalty of customers for years to come. Tensions are high, demand is high, and so are customer expectations. So now that you are past this holiday season, what can your contact center do over the coming months to ensure your customers keep coming back in 2022 and maximize your organization’s performance next holiday season?
- Provide unified, actionable data across the customer journey
Today’s brands understand that customer data is the central component of orchestrating successful customer journeys, but if the data is raw and siloed and agents – virtual or live – can’t freely access it to improve the customer experience, isn’t it a waste of a precious resource? A CRM that effortlessly connects customer information throughout the journey when properly deployed can meaningfully improve outcomes at every touchpoint.
- Seamlessly route customers from self-serve to best-fit live agents, if necessary
Once your data is readily available, your contact center should have no issues employing data to escalate tickets and route customers from self-service (chatbot or virtual agent) to the best-suited live agent when appropriate.
- Don’t forget to care for the customer by investing in your agents
Customer care is not the same as customer service. You’ve already managed customer service with actionable customer data and seamless routing across customer journeys that help you resolve customer issues better and faster.
But to truly drive customer loyalty, your customers need to feel empathy from your brand and organization and that requires investing in your agents so they are properly trained and treated. Robust agent training including performance management, eLearning, and feedback loops, as well as workforce management capabilities, are key to attracting, retaining, and encouraging your employees so you provide the best customer experience. Do that and your customers will be back again later this year and for many more to come.