For SMBs, it’s All About Customer Care and Tech Advances
Small and midsize retailers, including startups, recognize that to play with the Goliaths, providing exemplary online customer care can be the deciding factor. Increasingly, what’s helping them are new technologies that redefine customer service by enhancing shoppers’ choices while improving efficiency and flexibility.
For these retailers, online sales are increasingly critical. It all reflects the trend of customers helping themselves. Forrester Research found that in 2014, self-service was the most popular customer service channel. That preference continued in 2015, and shows little sign of letup.
So what types of technologies are SMBs and startups using — or should be considering? Many reflect cutting-edge trends in how businesses consume technology and interact with their customers.
Consider the Cloud
Cloud computing is a key area for state-of-the-art tech advances because it helps improve efficiencies and frees up time and resources to focus on innovation, which is especially key to a startup’s business model.
One vital breakthrough is the use of speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR). Using this technology decreases the volume of interactions requiring live representatives, and can even replace an operator, which particularly benefits SMBs and startups. When delivered via the cloud, the application can be up and running quickly without much up-front cost or a lot of IT expertise.
The cloud’s “pay as you go” subscription model also lets SMBs deliver top levels of service without purchasing a complete voice-enabled IVR system, something that most simply couldn’t afford otherwise. With it, SMBs can handle the basic routing form of self-service (push “1,” push “2,” etc.). And to handle transactions, they can use speech recognition.
What’s interesting is that customers now drive the speech-enabled IVR concept more than SMBs. It’s viewed now as a critical component of customer satisfaction, which means that businesses have to devote more time to ensure the self-service technologies work.
For example, instead of customers having to put be on hold to get an answer to a question that can be easily answered with an automated response, speech-enabled IVR can allow SMBs to proactively provide information quickly and efficiently. Customers view self-service as reducing the effort required to do business, which has been shown to directly improve customer loyalty.
As shopping volumes climb, there are other cloud advancements assisting small and midsize retailers, letting them personalize a customer’s experience in entirely new ways.
‘Best’ Agent Routing
One way involves using customer-choice routing technology to connect a customer with the best agent, instead of merely the next agent. The “best” agent could be someone the customer worked with before or offers specialized knowledge the customer is looking to tap into. This can be accomplished via a web offering that makes in-depth agent profiles available to customers to let them “shop” for the best match.
Other customer service technologies available in the cloud include advanced functionality for omnichannel routing, outbound dialing, workforce optimization and integration of customer relationship management software. Outbound technologies can let customers know when their delivery will be delayed. Amazon.com, for example, is able to send an email to notify a customer of a late delivery.
A new area of IVR is emerging that extends to a visual medium across new touchpoints available on a website or mobile app. This visual IVR lets callers click or touch their way through the conventional IVR system when they call a contact center. They don’t have to listen to each option or struggle with voice recognition. Visual IVR in the cloud is also very affordable.
Some other self-service innovations promise to make a difference, too. One such innovation is the ability to deliver text prompts to customers via their mobile device. Hotwire, for instance, already offers the ability for consumers to receive a text from its website. The travel website could do even more by simply changing the text message to reflect what it knows about the customer, or to share new marketing campaigns and seasonal offers.
Don’t Forget Live Chat
Online shoppers are noticing one other innovation pop up frequently: live chat boxes. Such conversations replace a traditional phone call, and the technology has become much more sophisticated. Shoppers — even older ones who often dislike new technology — are growing comfortable with live chat. A recent Forrester report shows that almost one-third of baby boomers ages 57 and up are using live chat.
The benefits and ease of use with live chat systems are proving invaluable to SMBs. In fact, studies show that live chat can resolve customer issues seven times faster than email. That boosts productivity and decreases costs. In addition, customer service representatives can use pre-defined responses and automatic triggers to save time during chats. Representatives can also chat among each other to share knowledge and transfer customers to specialists who can handle particular concerns.
Thanks to continued tech breakthroughs, the Davids of the retail world are providing a similar level of service as the giants — and often, even better.
Brian Spraetz is the director of solutions marketing at Interactive Intelligence, a provider of software communications solutions to enterprises, contact centers and other organizations.