By Robin Gomez, Director of Customer Care Innovation, Radial
Today’s customers expect seamless omnichannel shopping and customer care experiences. They want to connect with brands on the channel of their choice and have self-service options, believe brands that already have their account and transaction data should know who they are when they interact with them, and expect quick and accurate resolutions with minimal effort on their part.
Customer care has become an interwoven part of the eCommerce customer journey — responsible not only for solving customer problems, but increasingly for upselling or cross-selling products and driving revenue. Contact center agents are often tasked with being omni-agents — expected to know both customer care and the store floor as customers turn to them with product questions as well as problems. With more retailers operating store fulfillment and other non-traditional eCommerce fulfillment options, comprehensive and personalized customer care bridges the gap between online and in-store orders and returns with exceptional service when and how customers need it.
But weaving together omnichannel customer care is complex. Reduced staffing, tightened budgets, lower margins, and other challenges have retailers reeling and needing to achieve more with less, while continuing to invest in their customer experience initiatives.
As customer expectations continue to evolve, retailers need to evolve with them by being strategic and proactive to ensure success in 2023 and beyond. We predict customer care will be shaped in the following nine ways.
- AI becomes supportive. We expect the use of AI to continue to grow and expand both for customer self-service interactions and for agent assistance, coaching, and guidance. Most major contact center software providers have embedded AI in their platforms and are focused on making AI truly supportive to customer engagements and to agents. Brands need to ensure that AI-powered bots are programmed to truly be helpful and that they do not cause friction. Far too many continue to require customers to repeat themselves or provide information that customers expect the brand to know. That said, brands may be wise to invest in more mature AI solutions that can deliver a broader range of interactions than simply collecting customer contact information and routing calls.
- Human agents become easy to connect with. Customer experience expert Shep Hyken found in his 2022 ACA study that, while 71% of customers are willing to use self-service options, 65% want to talk to a human first. This statistic reveals that customers were more likely to solve an issue by calling a retailer directly and talking to a live customer service agent versus using self-service options in 2022. Brands may feel they are offloading agent work and can respond to every call by using AI agents to field calls first, but they need to ask how many customers are simply wading through the AI agent interaction (just as they have the IVR protocols for decades) to connect with a human.
- Let’s talk. “Conversational” becomes more entrenched and synonymous with excellent customer care experiences. Omnichannel customer care means customers and agents can start conversations and continue them across channels, at their convenience. Web-based “live chats” have often had a pitfall where, once the conversation is closed, the thread is lost. A transcript is often sent to the customer, but there’s no way to continue the conversation. This has many brands introducing SMS text so that customers and agents can continue conversations easily — even when there are gaps in time. For example, if the agent needs to research a situation and get back to the customer, he or she can simply text them when the information is available. This adds to the convenience and lets agents provide deeper service as needed.
- Agents become empowered. Agent assistance tools and technology will increase in relevance as more complex issues and customer expectations evolve. Brands that support agents with AI assistants make it easier for agents to focus on customers and not on the technology they need to navigate. Agent assist tools are already popular, and many retailers will upgrade their tools to ensure that agents get the support they need in real time, with customer data, history, and predictive next best actions and recommendations during live customer interactions. Agent assistance tools also lift rote work from agents by automating things such as note-taking and after-call summarization.
- Automation drives operational efficiency. Robotic process automation and automated workflows will continue to impact and improve eCommerce fulfillment and customer care experiences. Retailers will need to evaluate their operational efficiency and make changes as automation repatterns how work gets done. For customer care agents, automated workflows connect the dots among sales, marketing, order processing, order fulfillment, inventory management, shippers, and reverse logistics to streamline customer care data.
- Loyalty incentives drive retention. Loyalty programs and customer participation in them will be critical for brands to further engage and retain customers. Customer care teams must leverage this information to build connections with customers and grow incremental revenue opportunities. Brands need to educate customers on their loyalty programs and on how to use the programs, as well as ensure there are valuable perks for being a loyalty member that go beyond just discounts or point redemption. Fostering a sense of exclusiveness and delivering true monetary value through the reward program are essential for retention. Remember, most customers are rewards members at many brands. Brands can win customer support by differentiating the loyalty experience.
- Customer care becomes holistic. Retailers and eCommerce teams will continue to look outside of the customer care business unit to analyze and understand the full supply chain and customer journey to capitalize on improvement opportunities. Understanding that everyone owns customer care helps improve the experience across the entire customer journey — from searching and purchasing products to fulfilling orders and seeking support. Brands will empower store associates with the ability to handle customer care so that every employee can help customers regardless of channel.
- “Relevant customer experience” becomes the priority. The importance of “relevant” customer experience will emerge as a critical factor for both customers and agents. This means that while brands must refine and get every touchpoint of customer experience right and in harmony, they recognize that what it means to each customer is different and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all consideration. To learn what feels relevant to customers, brands must ask their customers what truly matters to them. Giving customers a choice in customizing their experience (e.g., multiple options for how rewards are experienced) empowers them to personalize their relationship with the brand.
- Customer care gets embedded within fulfillment providers. As eCommerce retailers grapple with fewer associates and higher sales volumes, outsourcing order fulfillment enables them to deliver expert-level fulfillment services without having to own warehousing real estate, staff and train personnel, and manage the end-to-end fulfillment and delivery process. Going a step further, some fulfillment providers, like Radial, also offer outsourced contact center services so that customers can connect directly with the partner to resolve issues on behalf of the brand. Outsourced customer care typically lets brands scale operations to 24/7 and deliver care in dozens of languages—whether nearshore, offshore, or work-from-home—without having to hire, train, and operate contact centers globally.
As customer care continues to evolve, retailers will adapt and reconfigure their customer experience to meet the expectations of today’s shoppers. We believe that omnichannel, AI, automation, and hyper-personalized customer experiences will take priority in 2023 as brands chart the course for the future of retail.
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