Customer service is gaining importance for retail leaders. The department that’s often outsourced and overlooked can deliver big wins in the new customer-first ecommerce world. It’s time to integrate your customer service strategy into your overall marketing strategy and treat it as a core pillar of the business.
This is a big ask for retail leaders to consider. Fortunately, the new ways of doing ecommerce business have influenced the tools and strategies necessary to keep up with these dynamic changes. You can make the shift to a marketing-run customer service (CS) operation more smoothly by harnessing two powerful tools that you already have at your disposal: artificial intelligence (AI) and the human touch.
A hybrid approach that efficiently combines both tactics will help your organization implement a better marketing-focused CS program and help your business attract and retain more customers. Here’s how to get started in two easy steps.
Step 1: Start with AI
When a retail company starts growing, one of their biggest challenges is keeping up with demand. Attracting more customers and increasing sales is only part of the goal. It’s essential to keep those customers engaged with your company during their entire trip through the sales funnel. A potential life-long customer can easily slip through the cracks if they’re overlooked, misunderstood or ignored during any portion of the shopping journey.
Scaling Top-Notch Customer Service
It’s a challenge to staff up a well-trained customer service team and arm them with the answers to customers’ questions. AI and machine learning (ML) can handle the volume of increased activity of any growth cycle.
Chatbots and other AI-driven solutions aren’t perfect, but they are low-risk, high-reward ways for your customers to reach out with their questions. Not all inquiries are angry customers disputing a charge or demanding a refund. The AI-driven front door can be a welcoming place to nurture your top of funnel prospects.
Think of AI and ML as icebreaker facilitators that can help you keep customers engaged. It’s the first step in developing the essential customer relationship. The key is to automate responses in a way that actually helps customers. In some cases, an AI engine could replace human customer service agents to answer simple questions.
AI alone isn’t enough, however. It’s a key step toward building a better customer service process, but automated responses can’t solve complex problems. The second step of creating a successful customer service program is leveraging people resources.
Step 2: The human element
Customer service agents – both live and automated – are a gold mine of information about an ecommerce company’s customers. That’s why it’s a mistake to relegate them to second-class status within the company.
The customer service team knows where problems come up in the purchasing process, because that’s when the customers call, email or text. If you can capture and analyze that information, then feed it back into your ecommerce team’s prioritization process, you can improve the customer experience and reduce the calls coming in for your customer support team.
Your marketing leaders need to be fully engaged with the work the customer support team does, while paying close attention to the quality of interactions it provides. Customers can get frustrated when they contact a service agent that has no knowledge of their order or understanding of their history with the company.
It’s difficult to expect a third-party service agent to build that knowledge when they’re so far removed from the day-to-day story of your ecommerce business and the relationships you’re trying to build with customers. When you are deeply immersed in your customer service teams and processes, it’s easier to bring each customer’s story to the conversation every time a service agent picks up a chat request.
You can also encourage your customers to speak on your behalf by establishing a forum or other virtual community for customers to chat about your products and services. They’re likely talking about their experiences shopping with you anyway, so why not give them a chance to communicate in a central location that can help build your brand?
The forum can do anything: provide peer-to-peer support for using the company’s products, share practical information about how clothes fit or advice on how to get the most out of a new appliance. Online reviews of products and services already play this role for some companies. Establishing a peer-to-peer community where your service agents can chime in with suggestions or respond to support requests takes this one step further, and can help grow your brand through increased positive interactions.
AI can handle the front lines of customer service inquiries. People-powered tactics can cover the more complex questions while building up a community feel around your brand. Combine the two strategies to form an integrated customer service strategy to get the most out of an internal customer service team.
Combine tactics to maximize customer experience
Humans and machines can work together to build a better customer experience. One can back up the other, or enhance the best qualities of one another. AI and ML aren’t perfect, so the human touch can help course correct as needed. User-generated content isn’t always reliable, so use technology to moderate content.
A hybrid approach can tackle common problems in ecommerce customer service. Customers expect fast answers and faster delivery of the goods they order. AI can handle the immediate response to buy time for your customer service team to research the problem and offer a nuanced answer that AI and ML can’t (yet) process.
Customer service agents will be the first to notice where the customer journey breaks down. Integrating customer service with support systems, case management and ticketing can yield big dividends.
It’s important to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to using AI and human-powered internal customer service resources. Use each as it makes sense for your company. Don’t be afraid to modify and redefine along the way.
Adapt to customers’ changing needs
A hybrid solution requires creative thinking. Simplr is a good example. It’s an on-demand, 24/7 customer service solution that uses artificial intelligence to quickly scan a client company’s ticketing system and correspondence with customers for frequent questions and answers. It then feeds that information to a human workforce. Simplr provides the service on demand, making it ideal for handling order spikes.
One of Simplr’s clients held a Kickstarter campaign to drive sales that succeeded beyond their expectations. Soon customers’ orders were delayed because the company couldn’t keep up with demand, and their customer service department was overwhelmed with inquiries.
“They had over 6,000 emails in their inbox from people wanting to know where their product was,” says Julia Luce, Simplr’s head of marketing. Simplr’s service scanned all the company’s written interactions with its customers – the ticketing system, chat transcripts, emails – to build macros using the historical analysis of those interactions. Simplr’s service then suggested answers to the company’s human customer service agents to use in their chat and email communications. This allowed the company to focus on production and fulfilling the orders.
When AI and human-powered customer service approaches work together, your brand can flourish. Happy customers will be glad to tell your story in their own words. Consistent positive interactions lay the groundwork for customers to become advocates.
Better customer service leads to better retail outcomes
Transparency and open lines of communication can help customers make better decisions and companies improve their products when necessary. Your customers lead your ecommerce success: whether it be through buying products or sharing their perception of your brand.
Here are some ways a combination of AI and human-powered customer service can build your brand:
- Make your staff more efficient. Ensure that customer service staffers are armed with tactics to help them overcome increased workloads. Some organizations separate their customers into tiers based on how much they buy. This can mean giving priority service to loyal customers.
- Create job satisfaction. Make sure your customer service agents feel valued and are given opportunities to grow in their jobs. Satisfied agents lead, ultimately, to more satisfied customers.
- Win more business. Consumers do much of their discovery and shopping on digital devices in the omnichannel era. Humans are retail ambassadors now more than ever. The modern shopping experience means that when a customer or prospect reaches out to a customer service representative, it is because they truly need help, advice or reassurance.
Customer service can support more than just consumer sentiment. A strong customer support process can benefit all aspects of your ecommerce company.
CS is good for the entire ecommerce company
Marketing ultimately owns the customer support function and the related business intelligence and customer experience that customer support yields. When support is deprioritized, it can become disconnected from other systems. All incoming inquiries will end up with your customer service team — quite possibly as the only time your customers will interact with a human being during their shopping experience.
“Customer service is your face to the customer and part of your brand,” says Stefan Nandzik, Signifyd’s vice president of corporate communications. “There is a huge upside: If you get this right, you will have a fan base and not just loyal customers.”
It’s easy to see how customer service fits into brand strategy. The marketing team is responsible for the brand. Our latest ebook “How to Meet Your Company’s Growth While Turning Customer Service from a Cost Center into an Asset” contains advice to help you find the processes that work for your business and learn how to maximize AI and human-powered resources to create an outstanding customer service process. Your customers will thank you.
photo courtesy of iStockPhoto