How retail brands handle the influx of customer support inquiries during another record-shattering back-to-school (BTS) season will make or break Q3 and beyond.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), BTS spending will match 2021’s record high of $37 billion. You may be thinking, it’s August, it’s too late, school is back in session. However, back-to-school isn’t in the books yet. In mid-July, 85 percent of back-to-school and college shoppers told NRF they still had at least half of their shopping left. Plus, the first day of school often isn’t until after Labor Day in regions like the Northeast and Pacific.
Moreover, there’s the holiday selling period to consider. Back-to-school is an opportunity to welcome new customers and solidify loyalty with repeat buyers ahead of November. Additionally, shoppers are buying gifts earlier to jump on deals and avoid stock-outs.
Inflation is forcing families to make tough choices and cut back elsewhere to buy school clothes and supplies. This has made experience in and around customer service moments even more crucial to building trust and loyalty.
Brands must ask themselves: How are we adding value and making customers’ lives easier? How are we optimizing CX strategy during sales events to create customers for life? How are we providing a seamless experience that boosts customer lifetime value (CLV) and profitability? Here’s a road map for using automation to create a customer-centric experience that leads to higher revenue, stops customer issues from even occurring, and improves margins.
Shout Value and Deals Loudly
Consumers told NRF one reason they’re not finished shopping for back-to-school yet is that they're waiting for the best deals. Makes sense, given the inflationary pressure and financial difficulties parents are challenged by today. Accordingly, retail brands should expect value to eclipse loyalty and convenience, and loudly promote discounts, promotions, and free and fast shipping.
While in-store shopping is picking up, online shopping is being prioritized by both K-12 and college shoppers. As a result, e-commerce sites should identify and present promos and deals on similar items to increase customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and reduce cart abandonment. Go a step further by providing clear explanations for why discount codes aren't working and offer alternative deals.
Similarly, consumers with goods sitting for days in their online carts may be waiting for competitors to roll back prices. Make sure these shoppers understand they’re getting the best deal and share how their loyalty today will be rewarded in the future.
Reduce Customers’ Anxiety
The second reason customers are delaying shopping is they don’t know yet what's needed. Retailers like Walmart are slashing prices to get rid of excess inventory, providing a dilemma for parents. Do they buy bargains today hoping they’ll cross most of the items off their kids’ back-to-school lists, or do they wait and potentially miss out on deals?
Furthermore, Deloitte’s Back-to-School survey revealed that more than half of respondents expect stock-outs and are prepared to shop at another retailer. Specifically, 60 percent will check stock availability before going to the store, and 77 percent will trade brands if their preferred brand is not in stock.
Our platform’s data shows consultative selling inquiries rose significantly during Black Friday last year. Look for this trend to continue as customers seek quick answers to make buying decisions at the 11th hour.
Harness automation to make it easy for customers to opt in to receive messages via text, email, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct, etc. Proactively communicate product availability, along with digital and in-person sales. Build customer confidence and trust by making this outreach as personalized as possible. Even provide product suggestions based on last year’s BTS purchases as well as what shoppers have been researching lately.
Ease and Convenience
The best brands know their customers and offer insight and tips they couldn’t get somewhere else. With back-to-school spending expected to match last year’s record high, support teams must be staffed appropriately to handle the higher volume of questions that will inevitably arise. Otherwise, customers will seek resolution and recommendations somewhere else and future business is lost.
With labor costs already on the rise, hiring more customer service agents is easier said than done. Plus, becoming an expert adviser takes time, training and experience.
CX automation built for retail helps brands meet this challenge by resolving at least 85 percent of customers’ most common inquiries. Working in tandem with automation, customer support agents then have more time to solve the most complex issues and build relationships.
Free, Easy Shipping and Returns
Data from more than 50 million transactions in Linc’s CX automation platform shows offering free returns increases average order value by 34 percent and skyrockets CLV by 79 percent. Examining beauty retail specifically, AOV for retailers providing free returns shipping is $41 higher than those that charge.
As I’ve touched on before, shoppers are most loyal and purchase more from brands that make shopping, delivery and returns as seamless as possible. They’ll reward these brands with greater loyalty and future purchases.
In the end, consumers ultimately want value affordability and convenience. The former is even more top-of-mind this BTS season as parents are confronted with higher prices.
Overcommunicate During the Customer Journey
Communication is key to managing customer expectations, and not just during back-to-school season. Did the brand deliver on its promises to customers? When things changed, were customers informed? Were steps during the purchase and fulfillment process confirmed along the way?
Consider these stats Forrester shared with me during a recent webinar about how to manage and meet post-pandemic customer expectations:
- 70 percent of customers are less likely to shop with a retailer again if an item is delayed and they’re kept in the dark; and
- 68 percent of consumers want MORE communication from retail brands about their deliveries during times of uncertainty or stress.
Proactive communication is a key ingredient in creating an optimum customer experience that builds loyalty and decreases the likelihood of inquiries from even occurring in the first place.
Anticipating peaks in shopper volume, successful brands provide the support required for customers to shop with confidence. CX automation that combines automation and self-service solutions makes this possible without breaking the bank.
The result? A win-win scenario for both brands and customers. Brands can deliver an ideal experience without big budget hikes. Customers receive easy, fast resolution on their terms.
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer.
Related story: 3 Ways to Future-Proof Your CX Strategy With Automation
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer. Linc Global has served over 15 percent of U.S. shoppers, creating a competitive advantage, reducing customer service costs, and turning service interactions into new engagement and revenue. Linc Global's clients include Carter’s, eBags, Stein Mart, Lamps Plus, JustFab.com, Tarte, Hugo Boss, Vineyard Vines, and P&G Shop.
With a passion and relentlessness for improving the customer experience, Fang brought together a seasoned team of technologists and product-minded people to empower brands with the ability to serve and engage shoppers and to drive profitable growth in the face of rising competition and customer expectations. With a Ph.D. in bioinformatics from NYU, Fang previously co-founded a business acquired by Amazon, and prior to that, she worked as a hedge fund manager.