Retail sales over the past year have declined 21.6 percent, with recent months piling on additional unprecedented challenges. Not only are consumers embracing e-commerce, but how they seek out support is also changing. Even though these trends started to emerge before the global pandemic, they're now playing out on an accelerated timeline and putting retailers under an increasing amount of pressure.
If you’re now wondering how your business can keep up with customer behavior that feels like it changes faster than your best-sellers fly off the shelves, here are three key considerations to keep top of mind in order to future-proof your businesses.
Live Chat is Becoming the Channel of Choice
Customers are clearly tired of hearing “your call is important to us” only to be kept on hold for what feels like an eternity. In conducting regular data analysis to understand changes in customer behavior, we found that with phone lines swamped and wait times on the rise, customers have flocked to alternative channels for live support. Since late February, our data shows that retail companies have resolved 25 percent more tickets via chat, while phone ticket resolutions are down 24 percent.
It’s also no surprise that millennials and Gen Z increasingly prefer social media and in-app messaging, given they already use these channels on a daily basis to keep in touch with friends and family. However, consumers across broader demographics are also now adopting live chat for more immediate, effective and direct conversation with brands.
Although the e-commerce-only trend was emerging well before we started to order stay-at-home-wear from the comfort of our couches, most retail businesses are now solely serving their customer base online. For example, menswear retailer Indochino temporarily closed its physical showrooms to focus on e-commerce. When it experienced an influx in customer inquiries, the retailer quickly decided to prioritize chat, alongside email, as its main communication channels.
Customers Want Immediate Resolutions
According to Gartner, having relevant and quick self-service solutions increases customer satisfaction by up to 12 percent. Fortunately, technology and automation are increasingly enabling retail customers to immediately find what they need in the form of artificial intelligence-powered knowledge bases.
This is becoming more important than ever. Over the past few weeks, customers increasingly want to help themselves when it suits them, with self-service views up more than 70 percent. In addition, of the retailers that have seen more than a 10 percent increase in ticket volume, knowledge base views have seen a 35 percent spike. In many cases, the uptick in visits to a company’s online help center actually outpaced its growth in support tickets. It’s a win-win situation — the customer gets the information he or she needs, and in turn agents can focus on more complex issues.
Chatbots, Fueled by AI, Reduce Wait Times
As chatbots become more sophisticated with both scripted and self-learning AI tools, they can respond to customer queries effectively in real time and in a way that mimics an online conversation with an agent (while still being transparent, of course).
Additional data from our latest Benchmark Snapshot reveals that AI resolutions have more than doubled since late February. For example, Dollar Shave Club uses chatbots alongside other live channels — such as chat and Facebook Messenger — to provide quicker resolutions. The company uses its chatbot to resolve approximately 10 percent of its customer interactions, and has created a task force that advances the chatbot’s self-learning capabilities.
The future direction of CX and support within the retail industry is clear — it’s conversational and self-driven. It’s essential that retailers take advantage of these trends to meet their customers where they already are, whether it’s through live chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or native messaging and deep knowledge bases.
The stakes have never been higher, but with technologies like self-service and AI to help scale these newer channels and focus on customer needs, retailers will steer the course through this rapidly evolving time and come out the other end with stronger customer relationships.
Caitlin Keohane is vice president of strategy and operations at Zendesk, a service-first CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships.
Caitlin Keohane is vice president of strategy and operations at Zendesk, a service-first CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships. She is focused on driving alignment, operational excellence, and process efficiency as the company continues to scale and grow its customer experience functions globally. Caitlin has been with Zendesk for more than eight years, holding roles as the general manager of Zendesk Chat and most recently, the vice president of sales and customer experience for Zendesk Sell. Prior to Zendesk, Caitlin held various roles across sales, account management, renewals, and customer success at Marketo and ServiceSource. She has an abundance of institutional knowledge and a passion for developing scalable approaches to support customers as they move through their journeys with Zendesk.