The Omnichannel Demands of Today’s Consumers
As consumers partake in the busiest time of the year for shopping, retailers everywhere will be wondering how they can maximize their share of wallet. While the spending is still happening, the foundation is already in place that will determine how those buying decisions will be made over the next few weeks.
Consumers are increasingly shopping online, mainly because it’s more convenient and delivers a more personalized experience than coming to a store — i.e., finding parking, fighting crowds, not getting any service, not getting the products you came for, long wait times to check out. Delivering a great online experience is quite challenging, requiring a well-crafted website, with a good mobile footprint. But what’s often overlooked is the need to continually, and easily, provide seamless access to the contact center.
With today’s always-on mobile consumer, the contact center has never been more important or faced greater challenges for retailers. Aside from the traditional role of supporting inbound inquiries from customers, agents must also facilitate e-commerce transactions, support outbound customer engagement and deal with an ever-expanding flow of interactions via social media channels. Your customers are now engaging your contact center from a wide range of settings — inside your stores, from your competitors’ stores, on desktops, and on their smartphones — from anywhere in the world.
The customer now has unprecedented market power to do business on their terms, not yours. In the event an online transition becomes difficult, they expect quick access to an agent regardless of communication channel, as well as a quick resolution with a positive outcome. Now, wherever they are, they will be quick to “virtually” go elsewhere if their expectations aren’t met.
Most retailers are woefully unprepared for this rapidly changing environment, especially in the contact center, where both agent skill sets and technologies haven't kept pace with changing consumer expectations. For example, the Sprout Social Index shows that even as online requests to retailers rise, 83 percent of them won't be answered. In some cases, agents will be too focused on managed outbound marketing programs, while in others they lack the tools to respond effectively. Perhaps even more fundamental, agents haven't been properly trained to listen to customer inquiries in order to engage appropriately.
Another recent survey indicates that 68 percent of U.S. retailers aren't adequately prepared for the deluge of online orders coming for the holiday shopping season. A key reason why people shop online is the expectation of getting their purchases in hand quickly, and those expectations are shortening now from weeks to days, in some cases same-day. Futhermore, many online purchases end up being returned, and this survey found that 71 percent of retailers aren't well-equipped to handle what comes back. These are prime pain points in the consumer value chain, and present another pressing challenge for the contact center, the focus area of customer complaints.
Many of these issues can be addressed with a well-designed omnichannel contact center environment. With an omnichannel-enabled system, a retailer can handle customer transitions from self-service to live interactions, from agent to agent, and from a customer using multiple devices. The key is allowing customer context and data to flow seamlessly, independent of communication channel.
In my next post, I’ll probe further into what it means to be a true omnichannel-enabled retailer. The drivers for this are clear. Consumer technology is having a major impact on behavior, especially with a growing use of self-service and social media, not just for making purchases, but also for how customers get their problems solved. Contact centers have a central role to play, but are challenged with adapting fast enough to keep up with all of these changes.
There's a lot at stake here, as subpar customer service will have a major impact on where consumers do their shopping online.
John Cray is vice president of product management for Enghouse Interactive, a contact center and unified communications software company.