Taking your customer service experience from good to great

Returning an item to a shop only to be met by a perfunctory sales assistant has put off many consumers. Getting your customer service right is fundamental to getting repeat purchases, both in-store and online. The likes of John Lewis, Metro Bank and First Direct have built their whole brands on outstanding customer service.

The type and quality of the way retailers communicate to their consumers are key to ensuring they complete their purchases, according to recent research from Interactive Intelligence. Almost half of UK consumers will abandon their online basket if the retailer’s contact centre does not offer their preferred form of communication for queries or resolution of problems.

Interactive Intelligence found that an absence of preferred communication options will prompt nearly a third of UK consumers to abandon their online purchases and go elsewhere. For consumers, it’s the virtual equivalent to being ignored by a sales assistant. As a result of poor customer service online, there has been a resurgence in the high street, with many stores re-focusing on providing excellent face-to-face customer service to try to ensure they return.

Businesses should acknowledge that good service experience is just as important to consumers as getting the right product at the right price. The solution here is in part the adoption of more sophisticated technology – but it’s mostly about adopting a customer-centric mentality and setting your perspective and protocols to address common customer needs and concerns. For example, Amazon’s philosophy is to “start with the customer and work backwards” and this infiltrates everything they do.

Consumers nowadays are increasingly conscious in their understanding of online business processes and intolerant of what they see as poor treatment. The seasoned online consumer is used to retailers having insight into their buying or service history, and often welcomes suggested appropriate products. However, the common narrative suggests that consumers also do not like algorithms keeping tabs on their activities, so the retailer needs to strike the right balance in up-selling only at the right time.

To avoid consumers being put off, it’s vital the contact centre system is integrated with CRM and other back-end systems, which house critical customer data. This enables anyone within the business to have a customer’s personal information at their finger-tips to personalise interactions and quickly and effectively address any issues. Understanding your customer’s shopping habits is fundamental to business success according to Dave Paulding, Regional Director, Interactive Intelligence: “Our research shows just how important it is to ensure you understand a consumer’s needs and offer the communications channel that’s right for them. After all, best-in-class customer engagement has the potential to retain existing customers and boost your sales figures.”

A key finding in the Interactive Intelligence study is that speed is of the essence in effective online customer engagement. Nearly three quarters of UK consumers would simply abandon their basket if a customer service representative was too slow to respond to them. Post-millennial consumers increasingly expect businesses to predict and pre-empt difficulties, intervening in real-time to deal with problems and make them feel valued. Today’s consumer will not tolerate time spent trying to figure out how to bring a problem to a vendor’s attention, especially relatively simple processes such as returns.

The Interactive Intelligence study also found that nine in ten UK consumers have a preferred method of communicating with a vendor. While email emerged as the favourite of almost half of consumers, Dave Paulding warns that a one-channel-fits-all approach simply does not work today: “To maximise their market potential and grow a loyal customer base, retailers increasingly need to ensure they can offer a consistently high standard of communication across every channel, ensuring that every customer has a great experience.”

What today’s consumer ultimately wants is the anytime/anywhere convenience of swift, problem-free self-service, whether that’s returning an item to a shop or chasing up a late delivery via email. It is crucial to keep the consumer at the centre of your customer service culture.

The best way to achieve this is ultimately to engage with your customers, talk to them, survey them, ask them for feedback and suggestions. And before taking your system live, test it with a beta group to ensure it will actually achieve a great overall customer experience across every channel.