The holiday shopping season is upon us, and its year-over-year transformation cannot be overstated. Twenty years ago, the ramp up to Black Friday looked vastly different than it does today — Cyber Monday didn’t even exist! — and that's entirely due to the ever-evolving technologies that are shaping our digital landscape and market demands.
For retailers, this means that digital transformation is no longer an option. If brands want to remain relevant and competitive far into the future, it's critical they hone the digital tools their customers crave, whether it's installing in-store self-serve kiosks, developing one-click ordering via their shopping app, or deploying voice-activated virtual assistants.
The good news is that brands are already shifting their holiday customer experience (CX) programs to align with the digitization of retail. More brands are transitioning to mobile platforms — last holiday season, smartphones sales generated $19.3 billion in revenue alone — and testing out chatbots for the first time. However, the successful adoption of such digitally forward CX strategies is entirely dependent upon the agents who are responsible for executing it. Customer service agents today must be both emotionally intelligent and digitally fluent in order to meet consumers’ demands for instant gratification and omnidigital service.
The trouble during the holidays, of course, is that retailers have a very limited window to get their seasonal hires up to speed on the latest CX tools they're deploying that year. However, digital tools that retailers use to recruit, hire and train seasonal staff are evolving alongside their consumer-facing technologies. In fact, the two are mutually beneficial, as the tools that agents need to perform their jobs successfully are also the tools that provide tangible value to a brand’s bottom line.
Here are some examples of the digital tools that brands should implement into their CX training programs this holiday season:
Mobile-ize for the Holidays
New research finds that, for the first time ever, more consumers planned to use smartphones (61 percent) to do their online holiday shopping than any other device — including laptops (54 percent) and desktop computers (46 percent) — during the month of November. This demonstrates a huge opportunity for physical retailers to leverage and capitalize on mobile, as 80 percent of shoppers use mobile phones in-store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternate store locations.
In order to help consumers navigate through a retailer’s mobile platforms, whether it’s a chatbot, social media site, shopping app or the brand’s online store, customer service agents must have the agility to seamlessly (and literally) guide shoppers across their screens. Providing CX agents with the devices customers use most (smartphones, laptops and tablets) to conduct their holiday shopping will allow them to provide an empathetic and firsthand perspective into the questions and concerns consumers face.
Bring the Holidays to Life With Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are proving to be indispensable components of retailers’ CX training programs. More consumers are depending on VR assistants to guide them through their purchases. Macy’s On Call, for example, was launched in response to the growing number of consumers using their smartphones while shopping in-store. This cognitive mobile web tool allows shoppers to ask questions via a mobile app in natural language (e.g., “Where's the men’s shoes department?”) and get relevant and personalized information as they navigate the physical store.
VR is also a critical component of the training experience for CX agents, especially if they're unfamiliar with the physical stores of the brands they're representing. Just as consumers are able to find their favorite brands and locate departments through tools like Macy’s On Call, offshore contact-center agents are also benefiting from walk-throughs of physical stores through the application of VR technology. By simulating these real-life experiences, brands are able to enrich the training process for CX agents, providing them with the knowledge they need to better assist customers and answer their questions regarding inventory and product location. Additionally, retailers can leverage VR to simulate the more challenging customer scenarios that agents will likely encounter during the hectic holiday shopping season.
Holiday Shopping Gone Social
Social browsing has seamlessly transformed into social shopping with the launch of social networks’ individual “Buy Now” buttons. These direct brand-to-customer engagements (e.g., via the new WhatsApp Business app) are appealing to the hearts of impulse buyers everywhere, but the instant gratification doesn’t stop once their order is placed. Consumers also require immediate feedback regarding their purchases, especially if they're expressing questions or concerns on social media.
Training agents to be savvy across social platforms is absolutely imperative if brands want to convert one-time buyers into loyal customers. And the fact is, automated technology can only do so much to help and engage with customers on social channels, especially if they're expressing frustration. Leveraging automation to capture and flag customer questions on social media is the first step in initiating a personalized engagement. Human agents are then able to identify specific emotions within a tweet or Facebook post, and respond appropriately.
The role of today’s customer service agent is evolving as rapidly as the digital tools consumers demand to optimize their shopping experiences. Agents must be able to seamlessly follow the customer journey from tweet to bot to live messaging chat and beyond. Therefore, delivering real-life training, through story arcs and simulations, has proven to be an essential component of any agent's toolbox, providing a window into shoppers’ unique needs and experiences.
Related story: A New Look at Customer Care: Hybrid Customer Service