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Retail Customer Expectations are High for Online Self Service, Agent Interaction, and Loyalty Programs

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Customers expect online tools that are easy and useful, live agents who are efficient and effective, and loyalty programs that enable agents to deliver personalized and customized service.
Retail Customer Expectations are High for Online Self Service, Agent Interaction, and Loyalty Programs

Retailers are finding that customer expectations for customer service are growing more challenging. Increasingly, customers expect online tools that are easy and useful, live agents who are efficient and effective, and loyalty programs that enable agents to deliver personalized and customized service.

Radial and CFI Group surveyed 500 retail shoppers to better understand their expectations when engaging customer service. The resulting feedback demonstrates the need for a retailer to provide its agents the tools and systems needed in order deliver the experience customers expect to receive when contacting customer service.


Before contacting customer service, many retail shoppers are willing to try self-serve tools online. Prior to contacting customer service, 64% of retail shoppers try to resolve their issue on their own, with 69% doing so by visiting the retailers primary company website.

And while visiting the company website is the most frequently used self-serve method, use of mobile apps by those who try first to self serve prior to contacting customer service has recently increased from 21% just 6 months ago to 32% currently.

Of course, the situations when a retail customer expects to handle an issue on their own depends on the nature of the problem. A high percentage of customers expect to be able to handle their issue on their own if it’s a relatively simple issue related to the product or service order, such as placing an order (49%), checking the status of an order (45%), receiving general product or service support (38%), or making a change to an order (34%). For other actions, such as filing a complaint (27%) or inquiring about billing issues (14%), customers generally feel that the matter requires direct interaction with a customer service agent.


When customers do reach out to customer service, they have high expectations that a live agent will resolve the issue. In cases where online tools are insufficient to answer a question, customers prefer to connect with a live contact center agent rather than interact with automated responders such as IVR  or chatbots.

Most customers seeking to contact customer service (58%) end up placing a phone call to the contact center, and 65% of them speak directly to a live agent with no interaction with an IVR system.These customers who connect directly to an agent are 20% more satisfied and 27% more likely to recommend the retailer based on the call than are customers who interact partially or completely with an IVR system.

A smaller but significant number of customers (18%) connect with customer service via online chat, and 61% of them interact with a live agent with no chatbot activity. These customers who chat online with a live agent are 25% more satisfied and 13% more likely to recommend than those who chat partially or completely with a chatbot.

Customers are comfortable using online chat; they just prefer for it to be with a live person. In fact, for those who used online chat to connect with customer service, 71% took the initiative and actively looked for the chat function on the retailer’s site. Another 26% started using chat because a chat window popped up, suggesting that ensuring chat windows are clear but unobtrusive could effectively increase customer usage of chat support.

And while chatbot technology is improving, not one respondent indicated confusion as to whether the chat was with a live agent or an automated system. Live agents clearly provide distinctive service to customers.

Customers want to interact with live agents because customers expect agents to have the knowledge and tools needed to effectively resolve their issue, regardless of whether the customer ordered in-store, online, or over the phone. For customers who reach out to customer service, 67% expect the responding agent to have access to a customer’s order history, and 55% expect the agent to see the history of a customer’s prior contact with the retailer. A sizeable 40% of these callers even expect the agent to provide additional customized product offers.


Offering customers a loyalty program is clearly one way to deliver such customized offerings and effective customer service. While many retailers have well-developed loyalty programs, of the retail customers who contact customer service, only 39% indicate that they are members in that particular retailer’s loyalty program. This relatively low participation rate is important as loyalty program members are 15% more satisfied with the retailer and 13% more likely to recommend the retailer, compared to the other non-loyalty customers. Loyalty programs continue to be an excellent way to strengthen customer relationships for long-term profitability.

However, with the promotion of a loyalty program comes increased customer expectations for personalized treatment. Of the loyalty program member customers who contact customer service, only 67% were recognized as a loyalty program member by the contact center agent. For the loyalty program customers who are not acknowledge by the agent, these customers show no better intended loyalty than customers not members of the loyalty program. In fact, non-loyalty members are actually 3% more satisfied and 5% more likely to recommend the retailer than are the unrecognized loyalty members. Retailers who are currently offering a loyalty program, or planning to implement a new program, must make the required investments to ensure loyalty members are recognized.

Retailers must address several challenges simultaneously in adjusting to these high customer expectations. First, online digital properties and mobile apps must increasingly provide self-serve tools that enable customers to find answers on their own if they so desire. Second, the surging importance of professional live agents means that retailers must hire and train frontline agents who can effectively deliver a great customer experience. Third, retailers must invest in technology and systems that will allow agents to see a full picture of a customer’s interaction with the retailer, particularly for loyalty members, and enable them to provide personalized offers based on that integrated view of the customer.

About CFI Group (

Since 1988, CFI Group has delivered customer experience measurement and business insights from its Ann Arbor, Michigan headquarters and a network of global offices. Using patented technology and top research experts, CFI Group uncovers the business drivers and financial impact of customer experience.

About Radial (

Radial is the leader in omnichannel commerce technology and operations, enabling brands and retailers to profitably exceed retail customer expectations. Radial’s technical, powerful omnichannel solutions connect supply and demand through efficient fulfillment and transportation options, intelligent fraud, payments, and tax systems and personalized customer care services.