SOCAP International

If We Can’t Read Minds, We Should at Least Read the Data

Customers want what they want, when they want it. Here’s how to deliver on that.

In the future, all customer service calls will be handled telepathically.

Well, probably not, but who knows how customers will want to communicate in the coming years. Who would have guessed back in 2005 that customer service would be conducted on something called Twitter? We know that the rapid pace of digital innovation could shepherd in completely new channels of communication. And, the contact center of the future will be charged with keeping up with those communication methods.

In addition to its daily evaluation of customer service performance, StellaService conducts periodic consumer surveys to better understand the customer service expectations of online shoppers. When asked about their preferred method of contact for customer support, 90 percent of respondents chose either phone or email—46 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Live chat (6 percent) bested Facebook (4 percent) and Twitter (1 percent) combined. While not the most preferred now, there seems to be momentum for live chat, a channel that could be more prevalent in the future. Millenials in particular, who grew up communicating through online chat programs, could adopt this channel as a favorite.

When asked why they choose a particular channel, respondents to the survey said:

  • Phone: prefer to speak to a human (61 percent)
  • Email: more convenient (81 percent)
  • Chat: faster answers (50 percent)
  • Social: believe a public post is more likely to get answered (43 percent)

So, how are retailers performing against these expectations?

When asked about their preferred method of contact for customer support, 90% of respondents chose either phone or email.

Issue Resolution

Our company measures issue resolution, which is defined as an interaction with a company that does not require another contact, and data shows that issue resolution via email for apparel, shoes and accessories companies lags behind phone support by 26 percent. Remember that 44 percent of consumers want issues handled via email, largely because they want convenience. Data shows that those consumers are 26 percent less likely to have a problem solved than if they had picked up the phone.

Getting it right the first time is important to consumers: 62 percent of respondents said they will shop elsewhere if a retailer does not resolve the issue on first contact.

And, there’s something about that connected conversation via phone, and even chat, that can lead to better outcomes for customer support. Will consumers want more real-time, one-on-one service?

Video Chat

BaubleBar.com is an example of a company hoping to make the most of those one-on-one interactions. The jewelry and accessories seller has been experimenting with video chat.

Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar.com’s director of customer experience, says video chat helps greatly with some of the challenges of selling jewelry online. Seeing the jewelry worn by members of the team helps give the product scale. It’s a better way to show the length of a necklace or the bulk of a bracelet. Women want to know what to expect when they have that BaubleBar. com box delivered. And, they like having a shopping buddy.

“It’s like sitting with your girlfriends and chitchatting and shopping for jewelry,” says Alexander-Hurst. “You pick a time, pick a style. It becomes an event you’re attending. And, we can build an appointment around a customer’s needs.”

Shoppers can schedule 30-minute appointments, although Alexander-Hurst said it has been difficult keeping those appointments from lasting longer. In addition, she says the video chats have appealed to a wide range of customers—from college-age to over 60. And, it’s driving sales. “We immediately saw a lift,” Alexander- Hurst says. “Jewelry works well for [video] chat. It’s an easy demo.” Others, such as beauty brand Prescriptives, Inc., are also finding value in video chat.

62% of respondents said they will shop elsewhere if a retailer does not resolve the issue on first contact.

Speed

In the future, contact centers will need to be fast— no surprise there. Our consumer survey found that 64 percent of respondents expect to be connected to a live agent in less than one minute. In fact, 25 percent want to be connected to a live agent in less than 30 seconds. However data shows that 44 percent of apparel, shoes and accessories companies require more than one minute to connect customers to a live agent.

Nearly half of the category is not meeting the expectations of more than half of consumers. But, we also know that 56 percent of retailers are connecting consumers to a live agent in under a minute. It’s certainly an achievable metric that’s important to customers.

Consumers also express a desire to avoid automated recordings in favor of speaking to a human. In fact, 78 percent of respondents said they would rather be connected directly with an agent and then transferred, rather than being forced to make IVR selections.

Respondents were 19 percent less likely to abandon a call if they were transferred to a live agent versus being placed on hold.

For email, most shoppers will wait up to 24 hours for an answer. Still, 26 percent expect a reply within eight hours. Our study found that if the email is not answered in a satisfactory amount of time, 27 percent of customers said they will email again, while 66 percent said they would pick up the phone and call the retailer.

The findings suggest that an email response within a business day could decrease call volume. And data shows 48 percent of apparel, shoes and accessories retailers fail to reply to emails within eight hours.

For the contact center of the future, this type of data will be crucial for finding efficiencies that not only provide a better experience for the customer, but drive down operational costs.

The Cloud and Mobile

We also expect an even stronger movement toward the contact center in the cloud. We all know that contact centers can be expensive to maintain and difficult to scale. However, there are now services that help companies set up cloud-based contact centers, which cost less than traditional systems and have no specific hardware requirements. These systems allow for more of the workforce to be distributed and more processes to be automated.

There are also benefits such as geo-routing—dynamically sending callers to the contact center nearest them. In some cases, retailers will try to match calls with a customer service agent from the same area.

Mobile is also an undeniable shift that must be factored into the contact center of the future. Consumers now have sophisticated communication devices with them at all times. Initiatives like SMS alerts, package delivery or return authorization are already in practice, but we expect the customer service experience to evolve from new features enabled by mobile devices.

Agents and customers can easily trade photos and videos to troubleshoot a question, or geo-location could enable a buy online, pick up in store scenario. There’s clearly a trend to more business being conducted via mobile, and we expect there will be some exciting developments for customer service on mobile platforms.

Still, regardless of the technology that will dazzle and delight, the contact center of the future will still subscribe to an old-fashioned recipe for service.

Be fast. Be friendly. Be helpful. You don’t have to telepathic to know that.

Leiser_Jordy_headshotJordy Leiser is co-founder and CEO of StellaService, which measures and rates the customer service performance of online retailers. Previously, he worked in investment banking at JPMorgan, where he spent two years working on transactions for consumer retail brands. Leiser has appeared on CNBC and NPR and has been quoted in a range of publications from The Wall Street Journal to Forbes to WWD.