The sadly ongoing COVID-19 pandemic appears likely to dampen but fortunately not enough to extinguish the holiday spirit.
While the pall of this deadly virus means yet another season where the joyfully chaotic shopping of gifts in stores, malls, and markets will have to occur online or behind masks, retailers and their contact centers can take steps to improve the customer experience (CX).
To find out what these are, we asked Dennis Reno, Senior Vice President and Head of CX at Cyara, for his insights.
Q. What are the key CX issues facing retailers in this year’s holiday shopping season?
Consumers are incredibly frustrated by quarantines, the uncertainty caused by a mid-pandemic economy, and now product shortages and supply chain issues that are impacting the availability of goods around the world.
Prior to the pandemic much of that feel-good sensation came from in-store experiences. But this holiday season most people are researching, engaging, and consuming products and services digitally.
In addition, many contact center agents are still working remotely due to the pandemic. Yet they are often hindered by the restrictions of their at-home environment, such as limited Wi-Fi bandwidth and hardware access.
The combination of these factors—online purchasing and minimum agent availability—means that there will inevitably be an increase in customer service issues.
But if businesses can show that they understand and empathize with their customers this holiday season they will be rewarded with brand loyalty.
How a product or service makes a customer feel determines their level of loyalty (or lack thereof). People love instant gratification, and they are wired to want things that make them feel good.
Q. What lessons from the 2020 season should retailers apply in 2021?
Despite the limitations of remote agents, contact centers have become a convenient resource for customers to turn to when they encounter issues in the digital age: when most people order their products online through sites like Amazon, Instagram, and Facebook.
However, more than half (54%) of consumers report at least one negative CX in a month. These negative experiences can stem from technical issues with phone lines, chatbots, or from agents who aren’t able to fully resolve the customers’ problems.
For these reasons it’s more important than ever for companies to invest in improving their CX processes on the back end to avoid technical glitches and offer self-service options to alleviate agents from taking all inquiries.
Times of crisis are moments of truth for consumers when it comes to how organizations treat their customers.
When a customer lets you know that they are unhappy, it’s a great opportunity for you to turn them into a brand evangelist by providing helpful, timely responses and showing (not telling) them that you will resolve their issue as soon as possible.
Q. There have been reports of labor shortages. Have you seen them in the contact centers and if so, how are retailers responding?
With increased contact center traffic and not enough agents, retailers are stretched thin in their contact centers.
Retailers should harness the power of automation wherever possible to save time and resources identifying and addressing CX issues.
To help overcome the labor shortage, a best practice is to leverage chatbots or phone keypad options to screen inquiries and to route customers who need further assistance to the right agents so they can get the most appropriate support.
A best practice is to leverage chatbots or phone keypad options to screen inquiries and to route customers who need further assistance to the right agents so they can get the most appropriate support.
These methods can alleviate the organization’s contact centers because chatbots, in addition to handling social media and email queries, can shift customer support traffic away from live phone conversations, thereby freeing up agents’ time for tasks that require more skill or human interaction.
Automation also includes using an automated testing platform to continuously monitor channels in case new technical issues occur and to quickly alert IT and give customer support teams time to respond to the problems: before they negatively affect thousands of customers.
In addition, automation technology allows companies to closely monitor business processes and collect data to fine-tune workflows moving forward and further improve CX.
Q. Have you seen any changes in how consumers pay for their holiday purchases?
In 2020, consumers used credit cards more than cash, and some even plan to open a credit account just for holiday spending, according to Experian. This holiday season, purchases will mostly be made online, or by credit card with a remote agent: adding to the phone traffic that contact centers will experience.
Over the last year we’ve also seen a significant rise in consumers and businesses adopting contactless payment-only policies to avoid contact that could spread COVID-19.
While contactless payments are a convenient way for customers, retailers, and banks to conduct seamless and socially distanced transactions, it’s more challenging for older demographics to adopt this technology, so CX teams need to be cognizant of that.
Once set up, however, contactless systems are relatively maintenance-free, which can provide a better CX and a smoother experience for employees as well.
Q. Handling returns for virtual shopping—sending items back as compared to returning them to the stores---can be problematic. What best practices have you seen arise in response?
Many retailers are still working to create a consistent experience across online/virtual and bricks-and-mortar channels, and returns management is no exception. By offering easy online returns, as well, as in-store returns for online purchases, retailers can get foot traffic in the door, which can lead to more sales opportunities once the returns have been processed.
However, such an omnichannel approach to returns requires a cohesive back-end technology system that connects customer data between all the different channels and sources. Without the right technology infrastructure these systems won’t be updated in real-time, and mix-ups and errors will happen in the returns process.
This is why storing data in the cloud and migrating contact centers to the cloud is so important today. By moving operations to the cloud, retailers can decrease the number of lost orders and get a holistic picture of orders and returns to avoid common issues associated with remote returns management.
Q. Looking ahead into 2022 what do you expect to see change in retail CX/customer service?
The retail industry is definitely moving toward an automated “virtual first” structure for customer support interactions.
Today, 56% of people prefer to contact a brand via messaging apps or online chat rather than by phone. Self-service channels are ideal for providing customers with immediate answers to frequent questions.
Therefore, it’s critical to offer customers an omnichannel approach to the CX where they can choose which channel is the most convenient, while preserving access to contact center agents for more complex customer queries that require personal attention.