With retailers struggling on the High Street, while e-commerce ramps up, the role of the contact centres is likely to become increasingly important for sales, marketing and customer service. This means that online customer service tools will play a key part in capturing customer footfall online, improving customer experience and in creating loyal and profitable customers.
However, does this mean the High Street now needs to move completely online, or does it still have a role to play? Over quite a few years now many customers, for certain types of purchases, have often visited a store before making a purchase online to gain access to better prices, or to gain more convenience.
Gemma Baker, Marketing Executive at live chat solutions provider Click4Assistance, thinks that the majority of the high street is indeed moving online. “However, there are still some very powerful players left as mostly physical stores - Take Primark as an example, have an online presence that advertises their latest collections”, she says.
She adds: “Nevertheless, the only way for consumers to purchase the items is to go to one of their shops. When you hear of high street shops closing a few stores or going into liquidation, Primark is not one at risk.” In her view consumers still enjoy the High Street experience, but much depends on its condition and ability to attract physical footfall.
Amy Scott, Service Design, Customer Experience and User Experience Consultant at Sedulous, elaborates: “With sales on the High Street in decline, it’s about maximising any contact that a customer may have with you online and working hard to convert these contacts to sales. So anything that stops shopping carts being abandoned, and anything that makes it easier and more pleasant for customers to interact with you is vital. So having AI’s & Chatbots to help is a really good thing.”
“Despite predictions the High Street will still exist, it’s just that it form will change. Physical stores will still have a place for creating customer loyalty because it is the connection between people that makes all the difference. Having a great shared shopping experience with a friend; partner; parent or child can’t really be done online as it can in a shop. And if these experiences are well designed and executed they will build a much higher degree of customer loyalty than an online experience alone.”
High Street aesthetics
“Take a look at Southend-on-Sea based in the South East, once it was a blossoming seaside town, now with shops closing left, right and centre, it’s hard for surviving shops to attract customers to their store when it is more convenient and a pleasanter experience to shop online than to visit the dwindling area”, Baker comments.
In contrast she finds that Ashby de la Zouch, “located within The Midlands, is a market town that has hardly any shops closed within its High Street, and so it is thriving with consumers as the aesthetic draws them to the town.” She therefore suggests that there is still a place for the High Street, so long at local councils oversee its growth, and develop their high streets to their fullest potential.
Contact centre focus
Meanwhile, with shop closures there are more retail transactions occurring online. Consumers are therefore increasingly finding that they can no longer return to a shop to speak with someone if they have an issue with a product, or with a service they’ve purchased online. The subsequent outcome of this trend is that contact centres are the central point of customer contact, and therefore they have a key role in providing customer service.
For this reason, Baker argues: “A successful contact centre should have an omnichannel approach where consumers can select whether they wish to enquiry via live chat, telephone, email or chatbot etc.” The challenge for 2019, from her perspective, is for businesses and customer-focused organisations generally to “deploy what consumers actually need and not get lost in what they think they want”. She warns that there is no point in deploying the latest technological fad for the sake of it. Therefore there has to be a real business case for automating customer service processes.
PwC’s report, ‘Experience is everything: Here’s how to get it right’ (on page 12) nevertheless says: "New technology tools are tantalising and sometimes necessary, but the human touch remains enormously important. Today, 64 per cent of U.S. consumers and 59 per cent of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. 71 per cent of Americans would rather interact with a human than a chatbot or some other automated process. “
A diagram in the report, illustrated on the same page, suggests that in the UK the percentage of people who say “I’ll want to interact with a real person more as technology improves” amounts to 78 per cent.
“I think companies will be strengthening their omnichannel strategies ensuring all pieces of the puzzles are in place, even if this includes adding live chat or a chatbot into this”, she explains before commenting: “I think we will also see businesses automating more processes to streamline their operations.”
She adds: “The way consumers shop, and their expectations have massively changed. If one, or two companies are able to make something happen, such as same day delivery, they will presume that other organisations can do the same.”
It’s therefore important to consider the top five trends that may lead to the creation of a competitive edge in 2019 – be it through better products and services, or through developing a better customer experience from the point of sale to the effectiveness of customer service functions within contact centres to resolve customer issues and to answer their queries.
“Trends are important when formulating this year’s strategies, so that businesses can be proactive to deliver what consumers want and expect, rather than falling behind”, she advises. So, what are those top 5 trends for customer service improvement in 2019? Baker thinks they are the following:
- Chatbots and artificial intelligence will be increasingly deployed and used to improve customer service. One of the benefits of chatbots is that they can be deployed to help customers to answer basic and repetitive queries by offering a self-service option.
More complex issues and sensitive queries can be transferred to a human live chat customer service agent. A Call Centre Helper panel of experts nevertheless warns that AI may not live up to the current hype surrounding it.
“A recent ContactBabel report indicates that even in 2021, telephone and email together are expected to account for 81.5 per cent of all contact centre inbound interactions”, the panel claims in their article, ‘23 Contact Centre Predictions for 2019’.
For this reason, they conclude that “despite the onward march of the robots, older, more traditional types of interaction technology still dominate in the contact centre today.” They expect this trend to continue for some years to come too.
- Automated customer identification will become more prevalent
Going through security questions with customers takes up valuable time for representatives when they could be advising the enquirer. Having automated customer identification before an individual initiates a chat or call, a company can help increase staff productivity as they can focus on the enquiry straight away, which improves operations.
Another type of marketing automation is to identify customers who are interested in a specific product or service or have purchased in the past. This allows content to be tailored to their buying behaviour, improving conversion rates and sales.
- Interaction analytics: Analysing the data that comes from previous interactions, allows organisations to have a better understanding of their customers to increase customer satisfaction along with becoming more efficient and profitable. Companies can leverage this information to improve customer experience, identify agent training needs, improve operational performance, and to qualify leads etc.
- Voice Interactions: One of our primary ways of communicating with one another - friends, family, colleagues, organisations etc. is using our voice. As the digital age continues its not just only other humans we are communicating with via our voice. Technology directed by our voices is surrounding us every day, digital assistants in our homes such as
Alexa, voice command in our cars, and speech to text on our smart devices and pcs all listen for our next instruction. This will only grow in 2019 based on the foundation that is already strongly present in our lives.
- Digital Transformation will extend to back-office operations: To improve operational costs as well as the quality of customer service, organisations will look more closely at the front-office too, claims the Call Centre Helper panel. If contact centres integrate these two, they will be able drive operational efficiency and reduce their operational costs in 2019.
The panel says will be achieved by focus on the building an “an organisational core where automation, reporting, analytics, workflow, real-time analysis and integration with other systems will change the way work gets completed.”
Scott at Sedulous adds: “For contact centres the move towards AI & chatbots to handle simple contacts that don’t add any real value to customers, means that their agents will now be much more focused on the complex contacts where involving a human adds real value. These are the types of customer contacts that are difficult and can be fraught with emotion. This will mean different types of recruitment profiles and training required to deal with this new reality.”
Pairing with data
Baker advises organisations to also research what industry leaders are saying. However, she says, “this needs to be paired with the own data they collect from their customers, and if the results are contradicting the industry leader, they should go with the evidence that’s in front of the contact centre to continue to develop and grow based on their own evidential customer trends.” They will then be able to achieve customer service improvements; that is so long as they make customer service improvement an ongoing process to gain a competitive advantage and loyal customers.
Graham Jarvis, Freelance Business and Technology Journalist, Click4Assistance
Image Credit: WNDJ / Pixabay