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

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

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