The Future of Retail is All About Always-On, Everywhere Support
The holidays are upon us, and retailers are readying themselves to pull out all the stops to get customers “through the door” — albeit virtually. If you’re like me, your inbox, text messages and social media feeds were flooded with offers for Cyber Month, Black Friday, and even Small Business Saturday. While we brace ourselves for a third wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., retailers are using this year’s peak shopping period as a way to test the waters for adapting new ways to serve and support their customers without relying on the usual in-store experience.
Specifically, businesses need to meet customers where they are today — on mobile devices and social media — not only to discover new products, but to provide customer service throughout the entire shopping experience, whenever they want it.
This omnichannel customer engagement strategy will be a key differentiator this holiday season. Companies of all sizes, from department stores and designer boutiques to fast-fashion and direct-to-consumer (D-to-C), can adopt the following principles to deliver the best shopping experience and establish long-term customer loyalty heading into 2021.
Support, Sell and Sashay Away
Gone are the days when customer support and sales teams were completely different departments. Today, they're increasingly working together (and even more now as they continue to provide support and service working remotely from home) to engage with consumers across the entire customer journey, from “Does this come in another color?” to “Where can I get a return shipping label?” This dynamic duo are closely collaborating to keep customers happy, and retailers are seeing the value in breaking down silos in order to bring this integrated approach to their e-commerce experience.
For example, hair care specialist Madison Reed has re-cast the in-store sales associate into the role of customer experience specialist. In doing so, employees can leverage their sales background to provide remote support to customers, with the goal being to maintain engagement and loyalty. At the end of the day, customers want to interact with people who can solve their problems — regardless of their specific department.
Socialize on Popular Apps
In anticipation of e-commerce sales increasing about 30 percent this holiday season, retailers are focusing on social media as a primary channel to support and sell to customers. This shift in strategy is in response to customers’ preference to interact with businesses via the messaging channels they're already using, given how easy and convenient they are. In fact, there was a 50 percent surge in usage over the first half of 2020.
To help manage their social commerce strategy, retailers can use modern messaging channels, such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram DMs, to immediately engage with customers, share information, and respond to questions. For example, D-to-C beauty subscription Birchbox uses Facebook Messenger to be in constant communication with customers on its various holiday gift set collections.
Self-Care With Self-Service
In addition to messaging with customers in real time, retailers can offer support through chatbots and self-service tools to answer commonly asked questions, all without needing to loop in a live agent. By instantly assisting customers and sharing answers, shoppers can seamlessly continue browsing and buying around the clock.
With the pivot to e-commerce, businesses that implement chatbots are set up to scale customer conversations across multiple channels. According to research from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), the most successful companies make use of automated methods of building and updating cross-channel customer profiles. For example, chatbots can positively impact support performance by either deflecting questions or requesting additional information when it needs to be escalated to the support team. Agents can lead the charge on setting up how these chatbots engage with customers — they can easily “click” to create specific topics and their respective answers without needing to write any code.
Chatbots can also point customers to a help center, which is a powerful tool that often goes overlooked. Brands that offer a fully-fledged FAQ page have a central place to house detailed information and can easily update it on an ongoing basis. By directing customers to a help center first, they can solve their problem faster, which frees up agents to focus on working with other customers who need more personalized assistance.
These omnichannel strategies are a necessity for retailers to convert browsers into buyers on tiny digital screens as they scroll from the comfort of their couches. Every customer touchpoint across websites, social media and mobile devices contribute to one experience, which retailers can create this holiday season and nurture into a loyal and lasting relationship for 2021.
Teresa Anania is vice president of customer experience at Zendesk, a service-first CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships.