House of Fraser’s window into the future of omni-channel retailing

omnichannelRetail thrives on innovation, so it should perhaps be no surprise that department store group House of Fraser is planning to make the experience of “window shopping” just a little bit more high tech. 

Starting at Christmas this year, House of Fraser is hoping to create what it calls “shoppable windows.” In essence that means customers standing outside a store will be able to check out products in the various window displays and buy them online without going inside. The key is electronic beacons fitted to mannequins, which will connect customers to online catalogues. By setting up window displays in this way, the store chain says it will enable customers to make purchases after hours or on holidays when shops are closed. Equally important, the aim is also to encourage customers to buy online. At present about 70% don’t.

Initiatives such as these demonstrate the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel retailing.

Different Worlds

In the multi-channel world, customers are simply given a choice of purchase and browsing options. They can buy in-store, online, or perhaps over the phone, depending on what is most convenient. The retailer – or indeed any kind of merchant or service provider – simply offers the various channels without necessarily seeing them as part of a joined up strategy.    Continue reading

Ryanair and the profitability of good customer service online

customer service onllineAnyone seeking evidence of how a commitment to customer service can not only please customers but also boost the bottom line should look no further than Ryanair. Yes, that’s right, Ryanair.

Now even Ryanair’s most fervent supporters would have to concede that until recently the airline had something of an image problem on the customer service front. The company’s response was an ‘always getting better’ programme to improve service.

And the result?  Well the company’s latest full year statement showed a 66% rise in profits to €867m (£613m), attributed to the impact of the ‘always getting better’ plan (and falling fuel prices). The moral? Customers not only appreciate good service, they respond to it by buying more from the business in question and defecting to competitors less.

So what might a similar ‘always getting better’ programme look like for a web business, or indeed an omni-channel operation with a strong focus on digital?

Make it easier to reach out

Well the first thing a web customer will pick up on is the quality of the online experience. To a very great extent it’s defined by the design and usability of the site, along with the range of products on offer. For busy customers the overriding questions will be; does this site have what I want to buy and does it make it easy for me to find what I’m looking for and progress to the check out? Continue reading

Why mobile is becoming an integral part of marketing and CRM strategies

live engagement mobileThe world is set to pass another digital milestone in 2016. According to eMarketer the number smartphones connected to the internet is set to rise above 2 billion for the first time, representing around a quarter of the world’s population. Meanwhile, here in the UK, eMarketer is expecting smartphone penetration to rise to 46 million in 2016.

And arguably we are entering the era of the “mobile first” customer. Yes, we all have access to laptops and PCs but for many of us the simplest and most convenient way to get online is to reach into our pockets or bags and pull out our Apple, Android or Windows phones. And because it’s so convenient, we want to be able to do everything on our phones that we can do on a PC, from buying airline tickets to checking our bank account details.

For marketers and relationship managers, this changes the game. Mobile can no longer be seen as an adjunct to a digital business, it must be put right at the heart of marketing and CRM strategies.

But what does this mean in practice? How is the migration to mobile affecting marketing and CRM trends? Continue reading

How to deliver online customer service in real time on mobile

Real time messagingHeadline statistics rarely tell the whole story. Witness the figures on smartphone penetration. According to a report from BI Intelligence, smartphone penetration in the UK is set to rise to around 80% in 2015 from 77% a year earlier. Elsewhere in Europe, uptake is a little lower in France, Germany, Spain and Italy but the trend is still rapidly upwards.   

No surprises there then. All digital businesses are aware of the growing importance of smartphones and also tablets. Equally online merchants know buying patterns are shifting as m-commerce revenues inexorably rise. And that awareness has led to action in the form of customer apps and mobile optimised websites.

But let’s look beyond the headline stats. Mobile devices are not simply enabling consumers to buy online at any time, any place and anywhere. They are also changing the way we all communicate with each other and the way we relate to brands.

But what does that mean in practice?    Continue reading

Customer loyalty – 4 key steps for online brands

live engagement via chatSome customers don’t stick around. They arrive at your site, browse through the products on offer, make a purchase and then they’re gone. You don’t see them again and the relationship effectively ends when the goods are delivered and the recipient accepts them. It’s a very short customer life cycle.

But others go the distance. The relationship begins in much the same place as that one-off customer. Perhaps he or she finds out about your site through a search engine or an online ad and they drop by to check out what you have to offer. That leads to the first purchase, but this time it doesn’t stop there. Thanks to a combination of good prices and fast efficient delivery, the customer is inclined to buy from you again, maybe not next week or next month but at some time in the not too distant future. And what you have is the beginnings of a long-term relationship.

It’s a relationship that continues to develop. Over time, your site becomes the first port of call when the customer wants to buy a certain type of product. In other words, rather than checking out a handful of competitor sites, your increasingly loyal customer comes straight to you – the business is yours to win or lose.      Continue reading

Why the UK’s ‘favourite’ holding music should be binned

online customer serviceGood news, of sorts, for lovers of Mozart. More than 200 years after his death, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus not only tops the classical charts on a regular basis but is also heard by millions of callers on local government helplines.

According to a Press Association report, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Symphony Number 40 are particularly popular with local authorities seeking to provide council tax payers with a “soothing” aural backdrop as they await attention. And Mozart certainly isn’t the only game in town. Handel and Debussy are also popular with with councils, who have clearly decided that classical is best when it comes to managing the frustrations of callers stuck on hold.

Most of us are probably all too familiar with helpline holding music, which ranges from classical to jazz and even extends to indie-rock and contemporary chart sounds. What we get depends on the organisation and its brand positioning.

And up to a point the music serves its purpose. It’s there to make the experience of sitting in a queue just a little bit more bearable and it has to be said that spending five or ten minutes in the company of Mozart or Miles Davis is probably better than listening to a dead line over the same period. Continue reading

Is this pretty Japanese robot the future of customer service?

online customer serviceTokyo’s Mitsukoshi department store has a new face on its customer service team and she’s everything that a high profile retailer could possibly ask for in an employee. Neatly turned out and friendly, Aiko Chihara is also tireless in carrying out her designated task of keeping customers informed about the store and its events. What’s more, she is always polite, never grumbles and is unlikely to ask for a holiday or pay rise.

Created by electronics giant Toshiba, Chihira is, in fact, a “lifelike,” humanoid robot. She has a realistic face, has a range of gestures and she mimics human movement. Powered by sophisticated technology she’s already taken on a range of customer-facing roles, including meeting and greeting at the store’s entrance and acting as a guide on the seventh floor.

Given that retail tends to thrive on novelty, then Chihira must surely be a customer magnet. After all, who could resist the opportunity to visit Mitsokushi and interact with a life-size humanoid.

So is this just the start of a customer service revolution?  Over the next few years, robots are going to be playing an increasingly large role in our lives. If the technology pundits are correct, we’ll be seeing more of them at home and in every type of workplace, carrying out tasks that are currently the province of humans. And as voice recognition and artificial intelligence technologies advance, these robots will be able to interact with us in an increasingly sophisticated way. Continue reading

5 reasons why customers should bill brands for poor customer service

Whether hanging on a phone line listening to an endless loop of Vivaldi or standing in a long queue, most of us dislike waiting for service. And what starts with minor irritation can quickly escalate towards frustration and even anger as we count up the wasted seconds and minutes.

But just occasionally consumers seek redress. In January of this year a mother from Stoke Gifford in England invoiced her local bus company for £103 to make up for time spent waiting for late or cancelled vehicles. Wind the clock back to 2009 and some of you may remember an IT programmer who invoiced 50 companies at £25.50 an hour for time spent in queues. Some of them even paid.

So should we all be invoicing brands for the time we spend waiting for service. Well, there are some very good reasons why perhaps we should. Continue reading

Online customer service – 7 future predictions (including death of the phone)

online customer serviceThe online marketplace is changing. Consumers brought up in a “digital first” era expect to do everything online. Omni-channel retail is a reality. Mobile devices are accounting for more transactions. And in this environment, customer service is also changing. This is how we see the future.

1. The unstoppable rise of messaging

Messaging  will become established  as the most popular customer service channel for PC and handset users.

Witness a 2013 survey by Econsultancy. The research organisation asked 2,000 consumers about their experience of customer service. When asked about ‘chat’ 73% of those that had used it said they were satisfied with the experience. This compared with just 61% for e-mail and 44% for phone.

Chat is a relatively  new channel and at the time of the Econsultancy report only 24% of consumers had tried it. However, those that did much preferred it to e-mail and helplines. It is set to be the channel of the future. Continue reading

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

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