Online Customer Service: Mixing Live Talk With Automated Tech

Last year’s online shopping season surpassed US$29 billion in sales, up a full 20 percent from the previous holiday. More consumers did their shopping online than any holiday season before, due to the convenience and increasing popularity of the Internet as a way to get too many things done in too little time.

This year’s online sales have already been projected to produce another solid online shopping season, with many analysts predicting another 20 percent increase in online shopping sales. How many more will make their gift-buying decisions online isn’t the central issue. Rather, given the fact that more consumers are shopping online, is online customer service able to handle the rising traffic seen on retail sites?

The fact is that many sites still use e-mail to respond to customer queries or feedback or default to their search engines to help consumers without human contact at all. This is at conflict with some of the fundamental drivers behind the growth of the online retail industry.

The issue is not insignificant. Despite the Internet’s massive growth and adoption as a shopping option, particularly for holiday consumers everywhere, customer service remains the ugly stepchild of America’s business. Everyone wants online sales to continue to grow this year, but many are slow to evolve the manner in which they communicate with their customers on service and support matters. With the holiday season looming before us, the e-commerce industry needs to raise its level of customer service for an overall better customer experience in time for this year’s gift buying season.

Give your Site Holiday Cheer

Why are more consumers shopping online? Is it to stay away from the mall crowds? Or is laziness, saving gas money to buy gifts, or simply the convenience of shopping from home the answer? More people are passing on the “helpful” in-store sales person for the keyboard of their family computer. So, does that mean the online experience should be heartless and mechanical? The reason the Internet doesn’t seem human is obvious; it isn’t.

Instead of being an extension of the holiday spirit with a cohesive human-quality customer service, the Internet has become a faceless tool that consumers force themselves to live with. Once online retail sites realize the value in providing consumers with a humanizing experience, they’ll build brand loyalty, higher sales, and an online experience that is worth staying home for on all shopping occasions.

Searching for the Perfect Gift

Every site uses search engines to help users to find what they want. But search very often finds more than what the customer wants — much more. We want to believe that there is a magical algorithm out there that will save us from actually having to find out what these customers desire.

When customers are searching an online venue for the hot child’s toy this holiday season, jump on the opportunity for some actual human interaction. When customers want and need customer service help and all they get is a million wrong responses, frustration will probably lead to a lost sale. Your customers will leave your site without finding the perfect gift, and the entire online customer experience is ruined before it could even begin.

Going the Extra Mile: Online Chat in Time for the Holidays

Black Friday is fast approaching. The best way to get your Web-based customer service up to human quality in time for the holiday season is to make it conversational, in the form of live Web chat.

This type of customer service software is actually something that can be put together fairly quickly for this holiday season by installing live Web chat software into your existing customer service infrastructure.

There is another method that takes a little longer to set up, so you might want to have this ready for next year’s holiday shopping season or even for spring/summer sales. This approach makes use of natural language processing agents that can actually learn and thus understand what users are asking for and answer their questions in an automated fashion that seems almost human.

Advanced systems can even selectively “take control” and lead the holiday question conversation in order to clarify ambiguous search queries or to “accompany” a visitor through any number of processes, such as signing up for a holiday discount promotion or obtaining an authorization for a return.

Poorly deployed examples of automated responses or live chat conducted by overworked trained service personnel yield either off-the-mark replies or, just as bad, force answers that don’t fit.

If you’re going to humanize online customer service before the holidays are in full swing, consider installing live chat customer service first. After finding success with that method, look into adding automated response chat software with the ability to learn what your customers ask and the capacity to expand its knowledge base to provide complete answers automatically.

No matter what online customer service application you use, you should seek a system that permits a seamless transition to a live representative to handle complicated matters — and back again — without disrupting the customer experience. Including an automated response capability calls for planning and time. It is a process that takes some weeks, but once done, such systems can handle up to 80 percent of the typical questions a customer service group tends to get.

Humanize Online Customer Service: Maximize Holiday Shopping Online

You can respond to the increase in online customer sales a number of ways. You can offer various discount promotions, you can provide a larger stock selection, or you can even change the site layout to a make online browsing easier. However, the change that’s going to produce real growth and develop a larger, more loyal customer base starts and ends with customer service.

Hoping that online shoppers will find what they need by just utilizing search or asking them to fill out a questionnaire with an e-mail response will only lose the sale.

The humanized online customer support solution works whenever the customer needs it. Whether it’s as they seek items, compare them, go through the check-out process or deal with technical issues, like what color the wrapping paper might be, a humanized online customer service capability can make all the difference and take this holiday season from ho-hum to hooray.


Robert Williams is CEO ofConversive, Inc.


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