Talk doesn’t come cheap, and this is especially true in retail, where managing customer care costs across the ever-expanding landscape of communication is top of mind for retailers. While retailers will spend exponentially more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, taking care of an existing one is expensive. Recent research found that 55 percent of retailers are experiencing an increase in customer care costs. Pair this with the increasing pressure from retail disruptors and you see why the industry as a whole is looking for a winning formula for customer care.
AI and Customer Care Automation
At first glance, it seems as though social media might be the salvation. Research shows that solving customer care issues via social media incurs just one-sixth the price tag of customer call-center interactions. However, social media also requires human customer care representatives to be available to manage every interaction. Assuming your customers are fairly typical in their behavior, over 70 percent of their inquiries will be focused on questions such as when an order will ship, how they can make a return, or other queries that your FAQs answer today. This is where customer care automation can provide real-time assistance.
Customer care automation bridges traditionally siloed systems like customer service, social media management, logistics systems, e-commerce platforms and email marketing by using artificial intelligence (AI) to engage with customers across channels. Given that well over half of customers’ questions are standard queries, they’re well-suited to be handled by a chatbot or voice assistant instead of an employee paid to triage customer care interactions. This means that retailers can dramatically reduce customer care costs while increasing customer satisfaction by leveraging automation to handle routine inquiries and questions.
The business case for deploying customer care automation as the lowest-cost, high-volume solution to deliver an outstanding customer experience is a compelling one, especially when you consider the following factors:
Recent research from McKinsey shows that shoppers who begin and end their customer care journey on digital channels report a 19 percent higher satisfaction rate than those who rely exclusively on traditional channels. Early reports from chatbot sentiment analysis also show that customers are just as satisfied with their automated experience when compared to interacting with a human agent.
Customers choosing the social route typically default to raising their question on one of a brand’s public social channels, leaving it up to the individual customer care agent to migrate the conversation to a private venue such as direct message or email. Because chatbot engagements are already private and personalized, customers who may hesitate to post on a brand’s Facebook page or tweet at it now have a direct means to get a timely resolution to their questions through a one-to-one channel like Facebook Messenger.
Timely Customer Care
Frustrated with long holding times during calls, customers turn to social channels for a more immediate response, with over half of customers expecting a response within an hour. Chatbots and voice assistants not only clear this timeline, they far exceed it by providing a real-time resolution available when the customer wants it — and not restricted to traditional business hours. In the case of voice platforms like Google Assistant, which runs in the Google Home device and on Android phones, a customer can get an answer on the status of their delivery in 10 seconds, or arrange a return in less than half a minute, all without the overhead of consulting their phone or computer.
Fewer Human Errors and Delays
Humans have bad days. This variability leads to errors and delays, which ultimately translates to inconsistent customer care and diminishes customer confidence in your brand. Customer confidence is already fragile. Over 80 percent of customers report that they’ve stopped doing business with a company based on a single negative customer care experience. Well-trained chatbots and voice assistants don’t have bad days, and their interactions are consistent across every customer they deal with.
Customer Care Automation Delivers a Cost-Effective Competitive Advantage
A McKinsey survey of leading customer care executives found that 40 percent expect inbound customer care call volume to drop significantly over the next decade, perhaps even to zero. Increasingly, customers will choose digital self-service options to manage their engagements with a brand, and leading brands will use automation and process simplification to make it as easy and low touch as possible for shoppers to interact with them before, during and after a purchase.
Considering that improving customer experience is the top priority for over 70 percent of businesses, according to Forrester, quality of customer experience is the new metric on which retail brands are now competing. Failing to provide low-cost, seamless and consistent engagement can be the kiss of death for retailers, resulting in poor loyalty and low customer lifetime value. When it comes to reducing customer care costs and improving customer service, AI-powered customer care automation delivers the crucial competitive advantage retailers are looking for.
Luke Starbuck is the vice president of marketing at Linc, a company that connects brands and shoppers through automated customer service.