Online customer service – planning for SPIKES in traffic

online customer serviceApril is traditionally a time not just for looking forward but also for taking stock of the financial year just gone and trying to factor the lessons learned into strategies that can be applied over the next twelve months or so.

And for retailers in particular, last year brought something new in the shape of ‘Black Friday.’ Following the US model, retailers offered pre-Christmas discounts for a day (or more likely a weekend) and the results were spectacular. Witness John Lewis who reported a 22% rise in Black Friday sales when compared with the year before.

But before we get too excited, it has to be pointed out that with the impact of a relatively new retail event, John Lewis was highlighting not only the opportunities but also the challenges of an increasingly complicated market.

Those complications include discount-driven sales on Black Friday itself coupled with changing consumer habits across the whole Christmas period. For instance, John Lewis saw its online sales rise 19% in the five weeks to December 27 – no surprises there, perhaps – and also a 56% rise in click-and-collect purchases, with consumers buying online and picking the goods up at a local store. Continue reading

Customer loyalty – 4 reasons why online customers buy again [and again]

customer loyaltyEvery new customer acquisition is a small but significant victory, but it’s a win that will become all the more sweet if that first-time buyer returns again and again. In an ultra-competitive trading environment where customer acquisition can be hugely expensive, establishing a base of loyal consumers is vital to long-term success.

Not every repeat purchaser is a loyal customer. They may choose you once because, say, your site offers the best price on a particular item and return on subsequent occasions for similar reasons. That’s certainly good news but that customer might also be searching through dozens of competitor sites before returning to you. And if they offer a better deal, you lose the business. In contrast, a loyal customer might also search for the best deal, but importantly your site will be the first port of call.

So what are the factors driving customer loyalty?

1. A single positive experience is key

Well when LivePerson carried out a consumer survey back in 2013, 84% of respondents said that a single positive experience could make them a lifetime customer.

But of course that raises a secondary question – namely what constitutes a positive experience in a trading environment characterised by self-service? To some degree, it’s the usability of the site and the ease with which customers can find what they’re looking for. Equally the experience is defined by the information on offer, either in terms of product specs or extras such as video content and customer reviews. Continue reading

How Leeds City Council is building meaningful connections with its customers

Leeds City Council live engagementThis is an era of high customer expectations. Whether we’re buying from a retailer, changing our insurance details or setting up a direct debit, we expect to be able to so on a 24/7 basis, usually through an online channel.

The public sector has also been quick to respond to these expectations and today much of the information we seek  from national and local government agencies is available online, along with a widening range of transactional tools.

But we are also living in an era of limited resources in national and local government. Just as in the commercial sphere, the websites that have become so important as service delivery channels must be developed and improved if they are to reach their full potential. Equally the self-service online offering must be underpinned by support systems to provide advice and help when required. But within the inevitable budgetary constraints, making improvements and providing the necessary support is a challenge.

Challenging but not impossible. By working with LivePerson, Leeds City Council has proved that it is possible to enhance the service provided to its citizen customers at no extra cost.

Serving a population of 751,500 people, Leeds City Council is the second largest metropolitan authority in the United Kingdom. Between 2012 and 2015 the council has been implementing a “Customer Access Strategy,” and within that broad initiative one of the key programmes is the development of digital communications channels, and in particular the council’s website. Continue reading

Why the sound of call-holding music is a customer service FAIL!

live engagementWe’ve probably all had the experience of calling a retailer, bank, government department or utility only to find ourselves on hold and listening to looped music while we wait for a customer service agent to pick up.

The music, be it Vivaldi or eighties jazz funk, is of course intended to provide a more palatable alternative to a long silence and perhaps offer just a little balm to soothe any impatience or frustration that might be building up. The song usually fades out at regular intervals to make way for a taped message reminder that the call is indeed ‘important to us’ despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Collectively we spend a huge amount of time on hold. For instance in a report published in 2013, the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee estimated that Britons spent a total of 76 centuries queuing on the phone lines of government agencies.  And when you look at the bigger picture, callers of all kinds spent 3.6 billion minutes – or 88 lifetimes – on hold, according to LivePerson research.

That represents not only a significant waste of life, it is also an enormous customer service fail on the part of organisations.  And perhaps more importantly, it’s also an unnecessary fail. There are better and more cost-effective alternatives to the telephone helpline. Continue reading

Why customer service 0800 numbers are heading for extinction

Image: Crystian Cruz/flickr ccThe telephone hotline. It’s almost as old as e-commerce itself and for a great many online businesses our old friend the 0800 number is the primary channel for one-to-one communication with customers.

But times change and so do the habits and preferences of consumers. For today’s smartphone-enabled customers, the voice call is just one of a number of communications options and a mounting body of evidence suggests that messaging is often the preferred option.

This has profound implications for online businesses. Put simply, if you’ve built a customer-engagement strategy that is based solely on 0800 numbers and call centres you could be swimming against the tide.

The Messaging Revolution

Here in the UK most households retain a landline – only 15% are mobile according to Ofcom – but that statistic disguises a sea change in usage. The Ofcom market report for 2013 notes a 3.9% decline in overall voice call minutes and although this mainly reflects lower fixed line usage, the number of mobile voice connections also fell in 2013 along with the number of texts. Instead, smartphone users are turning to alternatives such as instant messaging and e-mail. Continue reading

How to predict online customer behaviour in 2015

live engageThe broad principles of proactive live engagement are simple. The merchant tracks the customer journey through an e-commerce website and (by deploying analytics software) identifies points at which the consumer is exhibiting signs of frustration or confusion. These are the points at which your customer needs help, which is most frequently delivered via an invitation to chat in real time to an agent.

So far so good but there are some complicating factors. Live engagement (in particular via chat) is a hugely cost-effective means to interact directly with the customer, providing advice and assistance when required. But it does require the allocation of resources in the form of chat agents and their salaries have to be paid. As such it’s hugely important that chat invitations are targeted carefully to ensure the best possible use of your agents’ time and, ultimately, the optimal return on investment.

In practice that often means prioritising particular customers. For instance, you may wish to focus on high spenders with a view to upsell and cross sell opportunities. Equally you might be aiming to reduce shopping cart abandonment on goods above a certain value by identifying customers who are serious about buying but also likely to have momentary doubts and go elsewhere. Each merchant will have its own priorities and targets. Continue reading

Why customer service for the ‘digital first’ generation is a game changer

ecommerceInternet and mobile usage transcends generational divides. Get on board a train and looking around the chances are you’ll see people in their fifties and sixties checking e-mails or twitter accounts just as enthusiastically as their younger counterparts. Equally, spend time as a fly on the wall in an average household and you’ll probably find that every member of the family from seven to seventy spends a fair amount of time online.

Not much of a generational divide then. But there are some differences and perhaps the greatest fault line lies between those who cannot remember a world that wasn’t digital and those who can. Or to put it another way, the ‘digital natives’ and the ‘digital migrants.’

And the natives also tend to be ‘digital firsts’ in that their preference is to transact online unless it proves impossible to do so. So in addition to downloading music, booking flights or buying books, they would also prefer to carry out complex transactions such as buying or researching life insurance or renewing driving licences online. Meanwhile the digital migrants often make a choice between the digital and analogue channels. For some classes of transaction they prefer to go online, for others, they would rather visit a bricks and mortar branch or ring a call centre. They are digital but not necessarily ‘digital first.’ Continue reading

Why men are from Mars when it comes to shopping online

live engagement

The idea that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” has probably been over-explored in recent times but according to a recent article in the online edition of Internet Retailing, gender makes a real difference when it comes to online shopping patterns.

In a nutshell, the article by Oliver Tezcan – founder of TheIdleMan.com – suggests that in the fashion sector at least, women will often order five or six items, try them on and then happily send back the ones they don’t want. Men, on the other hand, simply want to make the right choice first time. What the average male shopper really wants to avoid is going to the trouble of returning an unwanted item.

It’s an interesting article, not least because it provides a timely reminder that not all consumers are the same. And if men differ from women in the way they shop online, then you could equally conclude that those in their teens will take a different approach to those in their twenties and thirties who will in turn display consumption habits and patterns that are distinct from customers in their fifties and sixties. Continue reading

Retailers in punch-up for Black Friday mobile customers

live engagementBlack Friday has been and gone and here in the UK at least it has left its mark.  Adopted from the US practice of cutting prices for a limited period to drive pre-Christmas sales, the event not only attracted droves of shoppers to high streets and shopping malls, it has also sparked a furious debate on TV and in the press as journalists and commentators mulled over footage showing what might be described as extremely “competitive” consumption.

But away from the scrums and skirmishes around cut-price TVs there was another side to Black Friday. This was also an online event that saw many retailers cutting their internet prices as well.

And evidence from the US suggests that e-commerce was a big winner, with sales up more than 20% from the year before. In fact, according to the Custora E-Commerce Pulse tracker, it was the biggest day ever for online commerce in the US, with sales amounting to $40bn. Clearly, a bargain is a bargain regardless of whether it is bought offline or from the comfort of an armchair or sofa.

And trend spotters might also notice something else in the US figures. Mobile shopping from tablets and handsets represented 30% of the total compared to 22% on Black Friday a year earlier in 2013. Continue reading

The four habits of highly effective chat agents

live engagementOn the face of it, it’s a simple enough proposition. A customer indicates by his or her behaviour that assistance is required. An agent serves a chat invitation and the customer clicks through. The agent provides help or advice and once the problem has been resolved the customer is then more likely to make a purchase.

And in a nutshell that’s the purpose of live engagement via chat. By providing help when it’s needed you not only offer enhanced service (increasing CSAT scores in the process) but you also drive sales or generate leads.

Now that’s obviously a good thing, but if chat is to be deployed on your site to maximum advantage, the X factor is the quality of your sales agents. After all, they are your frontline staff and, as such, help shape the customer’s perception of your brand. And, of course, if your goal is to raise sales, the outcome of your chat strategy will be dependent on the agent’s ability not just to answer questions but also to steer the customer towards a purchase decision. What all this means is that good training is essential.

But what does that mean in practice? What are the key factors that drive success in the chat environment? Continue reading

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