How to treat your best online customers like VIPs in real time

All customers are not the same and they are certainly not of equal value, in terms of the amount they‘re willing to spend and the likelihood of them making a purchase on your site. But then again all customers deserve the best possible experience whenever they interact with your brand online.

So how do you square that particular circle? Do you allocate the same resources and attention to low spenders as you do to higher value customers or do you work just a little bit harder to secure the business of those who are going to spend more?

Traditionally the answer to that question has been dictated by the web’s status as a self-service medium. Customers arrive, look around and either buy a product or else leave empty handed. In that respect, the experience – and the interaction with the brand – is more or less the same for everyone. Yes, you can to some extent tailor the experience by personalising the landing page but this has little or no impact on the resources you allocate to each customer.

The service game changer

But once you introduce an element of service to your site – for example by deploying live chat – the game changes. Chat is a hugely cost-effective means of serving customers by offering help and advice in real time when they are online and browsing your site.

However, cost-effective is not the same as cost-free. In order to serve customers through live chat you’ll have allocated resources in the form of a trained agent who can ‘talk your customers through’ their product decisions. Continue reading

Online shop assistants – myth or magic?

live engagementA new shop opens on your local high street and you step inside to take a look. At this stage the layout is unfamiliar so the products you’re interested in aren’t necessarily easy to find. The obvious next step is to ask one of the numerous assistants to direct you to the right section and once you’ve found what you’re looking for you’re happy to browse unaided. You might make a purchase or you might not.

Now let’s fast forward a few months or perhaps even a few years. Over time you have become a regular customer and you no longer need help finding your way around. Clearly then – from your perspective – assistants have become redundant.

Actually no. These days, the shop’s staff know you and you trust their judgement. In fact, you often seek their advice before making a purchase. On that first visit, the presence of staff on the floor was a necessary utility. Today, they genuinely enhance the experience. The quality of service they offer has become integral to the branding of the store itself. Continue reading

How to reduce online shopping returns (and keep customers happy)

live engagementThere’s probably no such thing as a truly happy return. When a customer orders a product – it might be a coat it might be a mobile phone – the hope and expectation is that it will be a ‘keeper’. And while it’s always reassuring to know that you can send an item back and receive either a replacement, an alternative or a refund, most customers would prefer not to have to. Sending a product back is hassle and, what’s more, the physical act of packaging up an item and returning it to base may well be prefaced by a number of calls to customer service. Meanwhile, from the merchant’s perspective, dealing with returned goods adds to the cost of doing business.

As internet selling has developed and morphed into multi and omni-channel strategies, smart retailers have been at pains to make the returns process as easy as possible for their customers. These days the customer might slip the item into a package that is already prepared and postage paid or take it down to the nearest bricks and mortar branch. Even more conveniently, many retailers now allow you to drop a product off for return at a local newsagent or post office.

But you can and should also take steps to reduce the number of returns, and live engagement can play an important part in helping you do just that.

Let’s think for a moment about the reasons why goods are returned. They include: Continue reading

3 ways you can add video to live chat to improve online customer service

verishow livepersonLive engagement with customers can take a number of forms. As things stand the most commonly used channel is chat, not least because it represents a hugely cost-effective means for online businesses to offer help and guidance to customers at the points on their journey when they need it most.

But businesses can also engage with customers in real time by deploying a range of audio/visual tools. By its nature, video engagement is sometimes more expensive to implement than chat or personalised content, but it does offer new ways to serve the customer and promote products and services and in the right context it can be highly effective.

So how – in practical terms – do you build video and audio visual engagement into a website? Well, the truth is there are a number of tools and strategies available, depending on your objectives and the resources available. They include:

1. Video Chat

Famously, a picture paints a thousand words and while a text-based chat session allows agents to advise and help customers, the scope for product demonstration is limited, and this is a particular constraint where ‘look and feel’ is an important part of the appeal. Continue reading

5 online shopping frustrations and how to solve them

live enagagementOne of the most commonly adopted strategies adopted by “challenger” brands and entrepreneurial companies is to look at an existing market and identify what is most frustrating to customers. And once they’ve done that, they launch into that market with a product, service or business methodology that addresses those frustrations. It’s a strategy that has, for example, characterised Richard Branson’s approach to a whole range of sectors.

But addressing customer frustration shouldn’t be the exclusive preserve of agile, entrepreneurial companies. All companies should be doing it. For the truth is that every little thing you do to make transacting online easier is something that sets you apart from your rivals.

So what frustrates online shoppers and how do you deal with those frustrations? Well I could write a small book on the subject but here are some of the front runners.

1. The reality of the customer experience doesn’t match the sales pitch.

Most of us have probably searched for products (or information on products) on Google or price comparison engines and clicked on a link only to find that the landing or home page doesn’t actually live up to the marketing promise. Or to put it another way, you arrive but in order to find what you want, you have to click through to one or more pages. Many customers simply give up at that point. Continue reading

Reducing website bounce rates with ‘keyword lift’

conversion rates‘Ad fatigue’ is one those unfortunate facts of life that online marketers have to live with. Serve up 1,000 display ads and maybe somewhere between one and ten people will be curious enough to click through. The rest – the overwhelming majority – will simply go about their business, probably more or less oblivious to the little rectangular display boxes that are constantly vying for their attention.

You can of course take steps to push up the average click-through rate – either discreetly by making the ads more relevant and contextual, or rather more overtly by using techniques such as re-targeting.

But let’s step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture. As an online merchant, your goal is to sell more products. In order to do that you have to bring people to the site, so you spend a large chunk of your marketing budget on ads and experiment with techniques to boost the number of people who click through.

And ultimately if you have a conversion rate of, say, 1%  - increasing the click-through rate will feed through to higher sales.

However, that’s not the only strategy at your disposal. Once the display ads and affiliate sites have done their job of bringing people to your home or landing page, you can also boost sales by taking internal steps to boost the conversion rate itself. Continue reading

5 ways to optimise your live chat service

live engagementWhy do customers return again and again to certain websites and not to others?

The reasons vary. In some cases, it’s the strength of the brand both online and offline that holds the attraction. For instance, a consumer who enjoys the experience of shopping in a John Lewis store on the high street will probably be predisposed to using the online store as well.  In other cases a company’s online brand is so overwhelmingly strong that consumers see the site as a first port of call for a range of products – Amazon probably falls into this category.

But in many cases what brings the customers back again and again is, purely and simply, a good experience. Products are easy to find. Prices are keen. Delivery is reliable. And to this list I would stress the importance of providing self-serve customers with support when they need help in choosing a product or when they encounter a problem with the site. This can be provided via phone or e-mail but I would argue that live engagement – usually through chat – is the most effective way to support customers in real time while they are still on site. And the presence of an adviser, who is just a click away, genuinely enhances the experience.

But live chat is also part of the experience. When a customer clicks on a chat button, page furniture and the quality of conversation with the agent is essentially part of the brand.  And it’s important to deliver the right experience.  Here are some tips: Continue reading

How to humanise customer service online using multiple data sources

digital engagementThe sheer volume of unstructured data that companies generate directly and indirectly on a day-to-day basis represents something of a doubled edged sword.

On the one hand the information on hand provides a huge opportunity to know and understand customers better and, therefore, sell and serve more effectively. But on the other hand, unstructured data has traditionally been notoriously difficult to analyse. As such, turning it into actionable business intelligence is also difficult. For instance, think of the thousands of e-mails that a large company’s sales or customer service operation typically receives every week. In it there will be feedback on prices, the usability of the website, opinions on competitors and a huge amount of information on customer buying preferences. The trouble is that no two e-mails are the same. The data collected is not only random (to some extent) but also hidden within text. The question is, how do you extract what you need? It’s a major challenge.

But it’s one that should be addressed. Think for a moment of the wealth of data sources and what they offer. Continue reading

How live chat is helping councils deliver the promise of ‘digital by default’

live engagementWe live in an age where organisations of all kinds are striving to deliver “more for less.”

There are two basic drivers, of course. On the one hand, businesses are acutely aware of just how price-sensitive their customers are and in order to remain competitive the imperative is to cut or at least keep a tight rein on costs. Often this will mean putting strict limits on staffing.

But customers are not only price-sensitive – they also expect superior levels of service which has traditionally meant higher rather than lower costs.

Companies of all kinds have been able to square that particular circle by putting much more emphasis on online channels. By encouraging digital adoption on the part of their customers they have been able to offer the convenience of transacting at any time, any place and any device while also benefitting from the cost reductions associated with automated processes and self-serve.

The Public Sector

But it’s not just the private sector that sees “digital” as the means to offer more or less. Here in the UK the public sector is engaged in a dynamic programme of improving its digital interaction with citizens and taxpayers. Continue reading

E-commerce is 20 yrs old, loves mobile and wants to chat with you right now!

live engagementE-commerce as we know it today is a mere twenty years old, but in the last two decades internet retail has been in a state of perpetual revolution, driven by the constant fight for competitive advantage.

At first glance it might seem that very little has changed. It’s open to discussion, but the industry consensus suggests that the first secure online purchase took place in 1994 when a pioneering music fan bought the CD 10 by Sting via NetMarket. Amazon launched in the same year. That was in the US. Britain had to wait another year for the sale of a book from WH Smith’s online store on the largely-forgotten Compuserve platform.

After that things began to look very familiar. Amazingly eBay was up and running by 1995 and by the end of the decade, we had personalisation and at least some major retailers getting to grips with the realities and practicalities of multi-channel retail. And truth to tell, on a superficial level, today’s retail websites don’t look that different from their counterparts in the 1990s or early noughties.

But behind the scenes a huge amount has happened. Initially sceptical high street retailers morphed into multi-channel players offering seamless services. Since then we’ve seen the emergence of the omni-channel universe characterised by customers browsing in the high street, checking prices on a smart phone and ordering via a tablet from the bus or in front of the TV. And all too often, the final order is placed with another retailer. This is a truly challenging environment. Continue reading

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