In the past few months, we’ve heard the bell toll for several large retailers that are shuttering storefronts due to competitive pressures and less-than-favorable financial performances. The combination of these forces makes it critical for retailers to focus on building customer relationships — changing the one-time transactional buyer into a long-term brand advocate. While companies recognize the importance of great customer service, recent research from Vanson Bourne finds that retailers are struggling to provide a level of personalized customer experience that will truly result in the change.
Of the 4,500 consumers surveyed, just over half (58 percent) said that customer service was excellent or very good. Yet when asked a similar question, 88 percent of business leader respondents rated their company’s customer experience as very good, with 80 percent thinking that customers would say the same. It begs the question: Why the disconnect, and how can retailers bridge that gap to ensure greater growth and future success?
Finding the Right Touchpoint
Customer engagement happens at the time of purchase, issuing returns or responding to service issues. And as consumers ourselves, we know that we're more likely to complain about a product or service rather than take the time to provide positive feedback. The faster a retailer can resolve and manage customer inquiries is critical to how customers rate their experience. It only takes one negative experience for a customer to move to a competitor — taking their friends and family with them.
Email (40 percent) and phone (46 percent) remain the top methods for customers to engage with businesses; however, the survey also found that online chats (20 percent) are becoming a favorite among consumers. This aligns directly with how business leaders responded, as they forecast online chats with a human and/or a chatbot will be a preferred method in the next several years. The reason is that while email and phone are familiar, they don’t often lead to quick resolutions and may require multiple transfers to other agents. In fact, only 49 percent of customer problems are solved on the first interaction. Not only is this inefficient for business operations, but this stops retailers from delivering the type of customer experience that builds long-term loyalty.
Building Loyalty Through Technology
The survey shows that retailers are already planning on improving customer engagement (68 percent); streamlining the customer resolution inquiry process (61 percent); providing greater personalized experiences (43 percent); and improving their internal team’s satisfaction (43 percent). How are they going to get all that done? Well, 70 percent of the customers surveyed say that businesses should be using technology solutions to reduce the time it takes to resolve an issue. Artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a way to help companies meet these goals.
And while customers prefer to interact with a customer service agent, 74 percent reported that they could see benefits from using an AI-driven chatbot as it can provide quicker resolution to an issue. However, consumers also worry that bots could end up providing a less personalized interaction. The good news is that modern chatbots don’t make customers choose between speed and personalization. AI can quickly gather data on customer behaviors, needs and purchase/search patterns to deliver real-time, tailored recommendations directly to the customer or to the live agents to help them quickly close out a query.
Much of the hesitation around interacting with chatbots is about the unknown. To get consumers on board, retailers need to be transparent about their use of chatbots and provide a seamless and straightforward way to bring live agents into the discussion as needed. The more customers interact with bots (and know it), the more comfortable they will become.
Customers deserve personalized, speedy service when they have an issue arise. By implementing chatbot technologies in conjunction with live agent support for more complicated problems, retailers are in the best position to enhance the customer experience. Furthermore, AI-powered technologies will only change customer service for the better — a fact that 54 percent of consumers and 76 percent of business survey respondents agree on. Only by going “above and beyond” will retailers be able to build the long-term brand loyalty that will drive their business in years to come.
Ryan J. Lester, director of customer engagement technologies at LogMeIn, and his team own the strategic development and implementation for the go-to-market plan for AI, chatbot and virtual assistant products at LogMeIn.