In a world where response and resolution times are coming under increased scrutiny, we’re seeing more retailers look for effective ways to provide rapid customer service while maintaining a quality customer experience. We’re seeing a move from focusing on customer experience, to customer convenience.
According to cloud computing company Salesforce, while 73% of UK customers were influenced by personalised customer care, 81% were more influenced by receiving an immediate response when they contacted a business. People expect a high standard of customer care as a given, but it’s by maintaining a business driven by customer convenience, that retailers set themselves apart.
Rather than using artificial intelligence – which needs to learn on the job – retailers are better off using enhanced automated solutions – like bots – to take the friction and frustration out of customer transactions and communication. Enhanced automation uses natural language understanding to deal efficiently with routine customer queries that frees up the customer service team to deliver more meaningful experiences than simply answering ‘where is my order’ queries.
Social media and messaging apps have changed customer’s expectations of a fast response from brands. Instant messaging is expected to be just that, and it’s shifting expectations across other channels, too. Customer expectations of response times on social media are more in-line with live chat.
That’s being shaped in part by the channels themselves. Any retailer wanting to be recognised as a ‘fast responder’ on Facebook Messenger has to reply to 90% of customer posts within 15 minutes. While some may be willing to wait 24 hours for a response to an email, most will expect a far faster response – and they’ll move to a different channel to get it.
How automation is helping retailers meet this challenge
An expectation of faster resolution is in turn leading to the rise in use of bots to answer at least the first few questions from a customer, triaging the query and directing it to the right person. Ironically, that’s also leading to even higher service expectations from customers: they have come to expect an almost real-time response – and a rapid resolution – from retailers.
By adding automated tools and bots to their customer service provision, retailers can syphon off simple queries in their entirety to bots. For example, our research into customer interactions for a major fashion retailer found more than 50% of customer interactions were for routine queries, such as ‘Where is my order?’, or were to enquire about returns and refunds. The truth is, most of these questions could be answered by bots quicker and more easily than by a human, which would improve customer experience, rather than detract from it.
For example, a customer who wants to know where their parcel is may be less interested in a conversation than they are a quick update about the location of their order. This contrasts with those with more complex queries, who will value the human intelligence required to solve problems. By using a bot to serve the first kind of customer, the second will find it easier to get through to the customer service team and the agent will be able to spend more time resolving the issue. Win-win.
The human element is still vital and cloud computing firm Oracle said, “a bot is essentially a robust, interactive FAQ – but a live chat option allows the customer service team to do what they do best”. More than that, Juniper Research predicts that bots will save the retail, eCommerce, banking and healthcare sectors a combined total of $8bn (£5.7bn) by 2022.
Looking to the future
The next 12 months will see more retailers adding bots and automation into their customer service mix. Those retailers who have already started experimenting bots are starting to see results: proving automation can improve the customer experience.
Gartner predicts that 85% of customer interactions will be managed by artificial intelligence by 2020. Customer convenience is going to become an essential part of the service that retailers provide. We’ve already started to see a clear service level divide between retailers that use automation, and those who have yet to implement it. For retailers that want to continue to thrive, it won’t be a question of if they use automation, but when.
Jack Barmby is the Founder and CEO of Gnatta, who help retailers to deliver universal customer engagement through the use of specialised software.