The four pillars of expert customer service in fashion retail

According to the Business of Fashion report, fashion retailers face three main challenges in 2018.

First, they’re facing economic challenges caused by global competition and the increase in adoptions of new technology.

Second, they’re operating in a world where customers are constantly connected and expect a seamless service across all channels. But providing a convenient service, with high-quality and on-trend products at a reasonable price is no longer enough. Customers prefer to shop at retailers that have values which align with their own.

Third, they’re dealing with the challenges of digitisation and big data. They’re working out how they can use this technology to improve in-store experiences to compete with online-only rivals.

Fashion retailers need to adapt to changes in consumer behaviour and prepare their businesses to meet future demands. They can do this by focusing on the four pillars of customer service in retail.

Pillar 1: Use automation to support efficient customer care

Gnatta’s research found that up to 35% of fashion retail customer queries were return and refund questions. Retailers can use automation to answer simple questions (such as “where is my order?”) to take the pressure off customer service teams.

When you consider that up to a third of customer service agents could be repeating the same canned response frequently during their shifts, it’s clear that automation can have a significant impact on the speed and quality of service customers receive.

For example, Aerie by American Eagle Outfitters developed a bot for Kik messenger. It uses a THIS or THAT choice to help customers find the styles they wanted. The chatbot proved popular, acquiring over twice the combined average number of users that the brand’s social media channels added every month.

By providing an automated customer service option, retailers allow customers an extra option on the type of service they receive, and they leave customer service specialists free to focus on areas where they can have the most impact (such as proactive and personalised customer care).

Pillar 2: Adopt an omnichannel strategy to reduce customer effort

There’s no “right channel” for customer care. Our research has shown that people use a variety of channels to contact customer service (and often use multiple channels for the same query).

When a customer talks to customer service on Facebook, phone, and then email, they don’t want to repeat their query and explain themselves to multiple people. (This is only likely to become a bigger problem as more customers incorporate new technology, like Amazon’s Alexa, into their shopping habits.) Fashion retailers need to adapt to this and work with a platform that presents customer service teams with all available data.

The UK is one of the most mature markets for omnichannel, with a high level of consumer demand for an omnichannel experience. As such, UK customers can be more sensitive to disruptions in their journey to purchase.

Customer effort will be a significant area of competition between brands in the coming years. Retailers need to focus on what they can do to reduce customer effort now – by finding a platform that is flexible enough to incorporate data from future communication channels – or they risk appearing dated.

Pillar 3: Focus on reducing response and resolution times to improve brand perception

Customers have come to expect speedy response and resolution times as a part of a basic level of service. For example, to get the “very responsive” badge on Facebook, brands need to reply to 90% of queries within 15 minutes. Retailers need to be responsive 24/7/365 as customers will want to contact the retailer when it’s convenient for them; they don’t want to wait for standard office hours. It’s vital that retailers make it easy for customers to get their queries resolved promptly.

Retailers can use automated services to help resolve customer problems quickly. In its July 2018 report, the Institute of Customer Service found that, when asked how businesses could improve, most customers wanted them to “make it easier to contact the right person to help me” (25.4%), with 16.9% saying that the speed of response and resolution was the number one way an organisation could improve.

Fashion retail is an increasingly competitive sector and those retailers who have focused on reducing their response times will have an advantage over their competitors when it comes to brand perception. Automation is one way that retailers can improve response times – getting the right customer engagement platform in place is another.

Pillar 4: The power of showcasing social proof

It’s important to understand the overall perception of the business. While the retailer may have high star ratings for its latest range, a potential customer may be put off from buying if all they find online are negative reviews of the delivery contractor or people complaining about an inability to resolve their problems.

Retailers can’t (and usually shouldn’t) try to silence criticism. By responding to complaints politely and resolving them quickly and publicly, the retailer shows customers that they listen, understand, and will act on feedback. This can leave people with a favourable impression of the retailer, even when they’ve had a negative experience at first.

However, for this to work, the retailer needs to have the technology in place to track customer engagement quickly and accurately, allowing customer service specialists (and the automated systems that support them) to access the data they need when they need it.

While fashion retailers face considerable challenges over the next few years, they can combat many of these issues by founding the business on a customer-centric ethos. Integrate technology that supports the delivery of superior customer care and free customer service specialists to focus on creating positive experiences for customers that they want to share with friends and family.

By Jack Barmby at Gnatta, who help retailers to deliver universal customer engagement through the use of specialised software.

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