The holidays are behind us. The November and December rush leaves most companies exhausted and in a turbulent cycle of catch-up after the hectic time from Black Friday through Christmas. Before you know it, spring will be here and planning for the 2022 holiday season will kick off. You might not have taken more than a moment to consider what worked and what was missing during the most recent holiday shopping season.
Were you one of the companies that wasn’t prepared for the surge of orders and customer questions? Are you wondering how to make your life easier in 2022 — when total e-commerce sales will top $1 trillion — so you can not only sell more products but better service your customers? I’ve outlined four critical things retailers need to get started on early in 2022 so they can be better prepared for the holiday surge. Trust me, the next holiday season will be here faster than you realize.
1. Automate now (and use texts).
If you were besieged with questions about holiday orders, you know it’s simply impossible for a human to answer every question and provide basic information like order status and delivery timeline to every customer. If you tried doing that yourself, chances are you might have struggled to get packages out the door.
Automate now, and focus on the platform most customers prefer for notifications: SMS/texts. Automation helps take care of the basic “blocking and tackling” of e-commerce and can handle the bulk of inquiries merchants receive. For example, most customers want to know when an order ships. Many companies send order status notifications via email, but these emails often go unread for days or disappear into a spam folder. A text message informing a customer that their package is on the way will eliminate those questions. The largest vendors are already doing this for each order. A big reason Amazon.com is the e-commerce leader is because it has a bulletproof system for handling questions and problems that vex most e-commerce companies. Customers that opt in receive texts when placing an Amazon order, when it ships, and again when it arrives. There's also an automated process for returns. Customers can even track where an item is on a delivery route.
2. Embrace real-time conversations.
Posting tips or suggestions for getting help on an order doesn’t cut it. Your customers want to talk to you. Make online shopping as easy as shopping in-store with a helpful assistant. Customers should be able to easily ask you questions like, “Help me find a gift for my father” or “Show me good options for women’s running shoes.” If consumers are using Google search, they probably will end up shopping elsewhere.
The first objection to making it easier for a customer to get help is often that the customer service team is already overwhelmed and can’t handle any more inquiries. But more help doesn’t have to mean more support load. Use conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to automate standard processes like returns so that agents can instead provide assistance to shoppers and drive more revenue.
3. Reach out.
Newsflash: your customers want to hear from you. They just want to be asked for permission first. Recent studies show that roughly 75 percent of customers are open to hearing from companies via text/SMS about special offers. The average adult now texts almost 23 hours a week. Texting has replaced phone calls or emails for many people. Make it easy for customers to opt in to receive a text message if they left something in a shopping cart or to send them a coupon to complete their order. At the same, follow the rules. The most important of those is to make it easy for customers to opt out. Don’t abuse a customer's trust.
4. Make checkout painless.
Customers should be able to complete an order in a text conversation. Give them the option of checking out and paying within a text conversation. Technologies like Apple Pay for iOS and Google Pay for Android will automatically supply credit card info, making it easier to pay in a mobile conversation than returning to the website and entering credit card details.
The moves you make now will determine if your next holiday season is successful. Give your customers a reason to shop with you for everyday purchases and holiday orders. It will pay off. In fact, millennials say a key reason they're loyal to a brand is their experience and customer service. Merchants that set themselves up to give customers the experience they want are the ones that make the holidays the best part of the year.
Mike Myer is the founder and CEO of Quiq, a conversational AI and business messaging platform.
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Mike Myer is the founder and CEO of Quiq. Before founding Quiq, Mike was Chief Product Officer & VP of Engineering at Dataminr, a startup that analyzes all of the world’s tweets in real-time and detects breaking information ahead of any other source. Mike has deep expertise in customer service software, having previously built the RightNow Customer Experience solution used by many of the world’s largest consumer brands to deliver exceptional interactions.