One of the most important challenges that retailers have faced since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic is how e-commerce players can replicate the kind of in-store service normally provided by shop assistants.
Good service is one of the cornerstones of successful retail, and consumers often report a willingness to return to stores that have delivered a positive retail experience in the past. Conversations with store staff about what items might match with others or what products are new to market can contribute to higher sales volumes and bolster customer satisfaction levels, interactions that are notoriously difficult to replicate online. Get those interactions right, however, and you’re a good leap forward in the quest for better brand loyalty.
One of the most frustrating barriers to efficient online communications is that consumers use all kinds of devices to connect and have a range of preferences concerning how they engage in dialogue. To solve this problem, retailers aiming for consistency in their digital messaging are best off relying on an omnichannel solution to empower their customers to communicate, ask questions or provide feedback using the channel they’re most comfortable with – while allowing the shop owner or customer service team to respond to all the various enquiries from a unified interface rather than switching between different service providers.
“People can move on to another brand faster now than they ever could before,” points out Jonathan Walsh, GM APAC for omnichannel communications platform Esendex. “If they want an answer here and now, you’ve got a really short time to capture a consumer’s attention. We all know that if you’re on a suburban high street where there are lots of other shops, you can easily lose someone’s attention to another store in the proximity. When it comes to online retail, though, you can lose someone’s attention in seconds to the rest of the internet.”
Good retail experiences often come down to how well brands deliver support to the customer. In a bricks-and-mortar experience, if a store assistant sees someone who looks confused, they can go over to that person and ask if they need help – effecting a one-to-one relationship and being able to look someone in the eye and offer assistance. Online retailers don’t have such a benefit, so they need to be able to provide support to their customers across a channel that they’re comfortable with. In more cases than not, this is via the device that they have in their hand – and everybody has a mobile channel or a messaging app of choice. While some people love email, others prefer SMS and still others choose WhatsApp – meaning that exemplary online service allows the customer to “choose their own adventure” while having efficiencies in place so that customer service agents can offer personalised responses without getting lost or confused in having to manage multiple backends.
“There are really two levels of personalisation,” says Walsh. “There’s a level of personalisation relating to the channel that a customer wants to get support on, allowing them to choose what they’re comfortable with and getting those responses fast. Then there’s also the level of personalisation in the response, which you can achieve either through an AI system that can read queries coming in and provide personalised answers efficiently or via direct human response. An all-in-one system can coordinate those different levels to achieve an overall better experience for their customers.”
Part of opening trusted communications channels with brand consumers involves making an offer to engage, and this takes a balanced approach. Consumers have come to understand clearly that providing their contact details will result in them being marketed to, and brands need to abide by the age-old principle of needing to give something in order to get something. Brands that do succeed in initiating conversations with their customers on high-performing channels – SMS, for example, attracts a 95 per cent open rate, while SMS vouchers have a redemption rate 10 times higher than average – are well on the way to achieving better relationships with their clients and delivering quality retail experiences.
“People do get a little bit more guarded of their mobile phone number as opposed to their email,” says Walsh, so we recommend a two-stage process. If you do see the value in terms of what SMS or WhatsApp messaging can deliver your business in terms of getting straight to someone’s handset and cutting through the noise, then use email as an intermediate – because you’re more likely to get that – but then use email to ask for the customer’s mobile number so as to send out a special offer.
“It’s obviously different for every customer based on what you’re selling, what your relationships are with your customers and how you’ve communicated with them in the past,” he adds. “The important thing is to become invested in understanding what your customers are currently doing, what they want to be doing and to try and accompany them in moving forward in a way that’s not going to alienate your customer base.”
The Esendex Omnichannel solution for retail integrates SMS, WhatsApp and email. For more information, visit https://www.esendex.com.au/products/rich-messaging/omnichannel-chat/.