Automated or Human, Consumers Demand Smart, Speedy Service

After one year of avoiding physical stores as a result of the pandemic, consumers have had time to nuzzle up to the likes and dislikes of digital stores. But if vendors hope to keep customers visiting their online wares, they had better more sharply tune in to the new wave of shoppers’ attitudes toward online customer service practices.

Customer service platform Gladly in March released its fifth annual Customer Expectations Report, revealing what today’s consumers want from brands, especially when shopping online. That report describes how consumers’ expectations toward e-commerce/retail have changed in the last year amid a global pandemic and an online shopping boom.

Also detailed are where brands are succeeding and failing in driving revenue and consumer loyalty. According to the data collected from 1,507 international respondents, 83 percent of customers will spend more money with brands that deliver great online customer service. Nearly a third of customers (28 percent) say their customer service expectations are not being met, however.

Customers’ top reasons for this dissatisfaction include having to explain their issue over and over again (73 percent) and having to know their ticket number (21 percent). Even more concerning for brands is that nearly half of consumers surveyed (45 percent) will never shop with a brand again after two negative service experiences.

“The past year has profoundly changed the way consumers shop, with e-commerce jumping a century of ahead of where it was just twelve months ago due to pandemic-driven store closures and the first all-online holiday season,” said Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly.

In the past year, 45 percent of consumers have contacted a company’s customer service department at least twice. Another 35 percent have reached out three to five times, according to Ansanelli.

“This is where brand loyalty is being created — or destroyed. Online retailers must make personalized, cross-channel service the norm, not the exception,” he told CRM Buyer.

Fast, Knowledgeable Reps Drive Revenue

The report found that three must-haves are critical to today’s new shopping guidelines. In many cases, these three things are sorely missing from consumers’ online shopping experiences.

First, the customer service rep must be a knowledgeable expert on the product in question, noted 78 percent of the respondents. Next, the rep must recommend other products they know the customer will like, according to 34 percent of the polled shoppers. Lastly, the service agent needs to spend extra time consulting on other options, insisted 21 percent of the responding shoppers.

Of those surveyed, nearly half (46 percent) expect customer representatives to respond within a minute of initiating the live chat. Additionally, an overwhelming 62 percent of shoppers want to complete their purchase during the live chat conversation with a customer service representative versus still having to navigate through the shopping cart process.

The report also suggested that shoppers’ initial infatuations with chatbots seem to be fading. Online shoppers now tend to favor human agents rather than digital assistants.

Mixed Feelings Grow vs. Chatbots

This year chat unseated email as the second most preferred communication channel. Chatbots, until now an online customer service staple, are being edged out of favor. Consumers have mixed feelings about the technology, finding them both helpful and frustrating depending on their situation.

Slightly more than half (53 percent) of customers found chatbots most helpful when they do not want to talk to — or wait for — a real person. A slightly lower percentage edged just above half of the respondents (51 percent) preferred help from chatbots when seeking just a simple question answered as quickly as possible.

But chatbots are most frustrating for customers when they present an obstacle to speaking with a human representative (43 percent). A slightly larger consensus against chatbots occurs when they make consumers feel like a number instead of a valued customer (52 percent).

“Consumers are looking for fast, frictionless service and real-time channels like chat and self-service are quickly gaining ground. In fact, 60 percent of consumers reported that they prefer to resolve issues themselves whenever possible,” observed Ansanelli.

Customer Service Channels, Roles Changing

Phone and email, traditionally the most common ways of contacting customer service, are seeing less and less usage by consumers as digital channels rise in popularity. Phone as a customer service channel is down 11 percent year over year (48 percent vs. 37 percent).

Email also saw a drop from 17 percent in the beginning of 2020 to 15 percent at the end of the year. Live website chat and text saw the biggest increases, up five percent and three percent year over year, respectively.

Brands need to take note of this definitive message about shopping online. The report confirms that the service experience is critical to customer retention, noted Ansanelli; referring back to the 45 percent that will never again shop with a brand after two negative customer service experiences.

When Covid drove all commerce online, brands had to figure out how to replicate or approximate the physical shopping experience on digital channels. They also had to learn how to keep consumers engaged and shopping without the rich experience they can create in physical stores.

“All of a sudden, they no longer had sales reps to greet customers when they arrive in a store and upsell them on additional products based on what they already have in their carts. Instead, the service team is playing this role,” said the Gladly CEO.

Service heroes are now brand ambassadors. They are assisting customers with product questions, making recommendations, and closing the sale, he explained.

Vaccinated for Better Shopping

Covid-19 has forever changed consumer behavior, Ansanelli asserted. Shoppers have embraced the convenience of online shopping, free shipping and returns, and BOPIS (buy online pickup in-store). Ansanelli does not expect that to change when stores reopen.

“I think we will see more of a hybrid model where consumers shop in physical stores for larger purchases or items they need to see and touch before purchasing. But they will continue shopping online for everything else,” he predicted.

In this new world, consumers will expect a brand to know them and deliver the same level of personalized service as they move across digital and physical channels.

With the ever-changing buyer environment, retail marketers have to adjust strategies on the fly, recommended Nick Runyon, president of PFL, a marketing automation provider in Livingston, Mont. That is the essence of success advice the resoundingly connects to the customer experience.

“The best way to stand out against competitors is to use intent data to inform the message, medium, and timing of marketing touchpoints,” he told the CRM Buyer. It easily addresses the pain points disclosed in the Customer Experience Report.

“For example, after a consumer views a backpack on a retailer’s website, intent data can automate an email reminder with comparable backpack options. If no response to the email, an automated piece of direct mail can be triggered that highlights the backpacks and a 25 percent off coupon, he explained.

That strategy connects to consumer demands for informed customer agents. It is also a way to introduce automated technology to supplement customer services beyond conversational bots.

Another tool is tactile marketing automation (TMA), a new technology that makes automated multichannel experiences possible. It integrates with existing tech stacks so brands can use digital intent signals to inform the content and timing of their tactile marketing.

“Multichannel campaigns including TMA report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without. Now, when all brands are looking for an edge, intent-driven direct mail provides the keys to breaking through the digital noise,” noted Runyon.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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