With Black Friday arriving a month ahead of Christmas, and with retail industry analysts saying that UK consumers are expected to spend £2.5bn online, Santa Claus is looking closely at the trends and planning ahead to ensure that he can meet customer demand during the December festive season. Black Friday is in effect an American import, and it marks the end of the Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States, while acting as a huge retail sales opportunity for retailers.
Some trend analysis of the Black Friday sales may in some respects give him a clue about what will be the most popular gifts of the Christmas 2018 festive season, and thus allowing him to stock up with whatever people are likely to request as presents. For better forecasting he’s even invested in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to help him to manage his organisation’s big data, and with Rudolf the Reindeer complaining about his work levels he’s also looking at using self-driving vehicles such as autonomous sleighs to help him to manage his worldwide distribution network.
Gone are the days when Santa, who’s also known as Father Christmas to some people, just received letters from the world’s boys and girls. Digital technology has also transformed the way people make contact with him to implore him to make their dreams come true. Today, he has to think about, mobile, email, telephone, live chat and chatbots. So, technology is vital to his ability to deliver better customer service – and this includes allowing parents and children to use chatbots as a self-service option.
All of this has led him over the last year to put a digital transformation programme in place, to ensure that parents and children can ‘speak’ to his Customer Elf Representatives to meet their requests and resolve any issues that arise with their orders as customers. He hopes that the programme will also enable him to more efficiently and effectively measure is organisation’s ability to meet customer expectations – including his ability to deliver what everyone wants for Christmas.
Live chat volumes
Gemma Baker, Marketing Executive at live chat solutions provider Click4Assistance, claims that live chat attracts “a higher volume of new enquiries than the other contact methods we use, but overall it’s only responsible for 24 per cent of our new enquiries.” Email is still responsible for handling 21 per cent of customer queries, followed by website-based forms at 18 per cent and phone calls at 14 per cent. Live chat is growing in importance, and that trend is expected to continue.
Amy Scott, Director of Sedulous Consulting, adds: “There are a number of reasons that live chat is preferred over face-to-face or even telephone contact. With face-to face contact it is largely due to the time pressures of peoples’ lives, which is one of the reasons we have seen an explosion in online shopping and the meltdown of the high street.”
Live chat can also be integrated with AI to allow his busy elves to meet and log their requests, as well as to respond more quickly and to resolve their queries. He’s invested in these technologies because he’s realised that people want 24/7 access to his organisation, and he likes the fact that it prevents customers from being stuck in a call queue for absolutely ages.
Customers, Santa says, want to ask questions, “to solve issues and feel that their expectations have been quickly fulfilled.” This entails having the capability with the assistance of technology to increase first-time issue resolutions. He also has the ability to offer video chat room meetings or telephone calls to resolve the more sensitive issues that require more time and carefully personalised attention.
Martin Hill-Wilson, Founder of Brainfood Consulting, adds that more than 60 per cent of inbound customer demand is dealt with via live assistance, whether that’s voice or text. Yet he thinks that in the future this could shrink to just 25 per cent, with the remainder being absorbed by self-service, proactive service and demand elimination. So, the number of ‘live advisors’ will shrink, and the speed of this occurrence very much depends on the decisions made by each organisation.
Self-service with chatbots
Chatbots are another example how Santa is using artificial intelligence and machine learning. They permit parents and children - his principal customers - to ask questions; find information; and to resolve simple issues without having to call or speak to Customer Elf Representatives via phone. It’s not that he doesn’t value customer contact; he does, and so chatbots are but one channel for customer contact as part of an omnichannel experience. They can help to make responding to customer queries more efficient, saving customers and his organisations time as well as money.
Chatbots can, for example, direct parents and children to particular webpages that provide the products, services or information they’re looking for. More complex issues can be addressed with the assistance of a live chat Customer Elf Representative, who may either find any resolution or transfer the chat to a more senior and experienced colleague with a minimal amount of delay in comparison to traditional telephone-based customer services.
Scott has found that: “Customer behaviours and expectations are constantly changing, and they often expect organisations to respond straight away to their needs. This can clearly be seen in the way people use of social media to get an immediate response from organisations. This is why many people prefer live chat over the phone”. Yet for older customers, such as grandparents, Santa still maintains a number of telephone-based Customer Elf Representatives because not everyone likes or sometimes know how to communicate digitally.
Santa’s live chat and chatbot tips
Santa has therefore asked Baker, Scott and Hill-Wilson for their advice about how to implement live chat to achieve better customer service this Christmas. From his discussions the following top 7 tips have emerged:
- Know your customers, their demographics and technology-usage preferences;
- Fully understand what an AI chatbot and live is capable of, without this your company could plan for an instance that is not possible.
- Have a strategy in place of what exactly your company expects from live chat chatbot, while considering their purpose. For example, will chatbots be used to pre-qualify customers before transferring them to a human operator; or will they be used simply to answer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and then transfer to someone when they don’t have an answer.
- Test it before placing chatbots within a live environment involving real customers, and test it thoroughly ensure it responds as expected.
- Also ensure that your Customer Service Representatives are well trained, and that they can talk to customers with empathy whenever it is needed, as well as with a positive and welcoming attitude.
- Avoid ‘chat hockey’ and don’t tell an enquirer – a customer - there’s no one available to help and to try again later. This is more likely to cause customer frustration than offering a call-back whereby a representative would contact them.
- Constant monitoring - ensure your staff – and not just those in customer service, as well as your chatbots are meeting expectations and identify areas for improvement.
With the festive season starting earlier each year, Santa’s last tip is for everyone to have a very happy Christmas and New Year in 2019. He also says there is still some time for you to talk to his Customer Elf Representatives, to send your children’s Christmas list to him, or to make product enquiries, and as the number of fireplaces are decreasing year-on-year, he wants to remind you all to let him know how he can legally get into your houses to leave his gifts by the bedside of your good children.
Graham Jarvis, freelance business and technology journalist, Click4Assistance
Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya