This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Speak
A study by research firm Aberdeen shows that companies that excel in engaging customers across multiple channels – including web, mobile, social media and in-store – retain more than twice as many customers as companies without effective cross-channel customer care strategies. Meanwhile, a Retail Systems Research survey found that cross-channel shoppers were 38% more profitable than single-channel customers in 2012.
The reality today is that customers don’t think in channels when they shop and interact with a brand. A November 2013 report, The Omni-channel Customer Service Gap, by UK research agency Loudhouse showed that two-thirds of online shoppers globally made purchases in the first half of 2013 that involved multiple channels. Half also expected to be able to return goods or purchases through a different channel than the one they purchased from.
Omni-channel retailing is fast becoming the new norm, and providing a seamless and consistent brand experience is now critical to retailers’ success. According to the 11th Annual RIS/IHL Store Systems Study (January 2014), around two-thirds of retailers expect to increase their IT spend during 2014 and beyond to improve their ability to execute one brand experience across all media, focused on the customer and context.
Evidence shows that retailers that invest in all areas of the omni-channel experience – buying channels as well as post-sales service channels – are the ones that stand to benefit the most. “From a customer perspective, the sale is only part of the brand journey,” says the October 2013 Aberdeen report Omni-Channel Customer Care. “Good customer service is key to securing their return and goodwill, with speed of response (89%) and resolution (89%) ranking the most important aspects of the customer service experience.”
Loudhouse reports similar results. It has found that more than a third of consumers now expect to be able to contact the same customer service representative regardless of which channel they use, and nearly half expect to be able to return purchases through a different channel than the purchase channel. However, just 7% said that they are “extremely satisfied” that brands provide a seamless, integrated and consistent customer service experience across channels.
“Post-sales service can make or break a customer’s relationship with a retailer,” explains Fabio Chiodini, global products lead at Avanade. “It’s the retailer’s opportunity to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive outcome. By reacting quickly to the customer’s needs and acting fast to resolve any issues, retailers can engender long-term loyalty. And by ensuring that the context and experience from each channel carries over to the next touch points, retailers can guarantee consistent conversations and improved customer care.”
The pay-off for doing this well is undeniable. Aberdeen found that companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, compared with 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies. They also achieve 91% greater year-over-year increase in client retention rates and enjoy superior financial results in key measures, such as customer profitability and customer lifetime value.
The key to success is having connected customer insights. Top performers are much more likely than their peers to use customer data to ensure every interaction is personalised and dealt with contextually.
“Using interaction data to maintain the context of omni-channel interactions also helps businesses with crucial insights to tailor product and service offerings to address the specific needs of each client, ultimately leading to increases in customer profitability,” explains the Aberdeen Omni-Channel Customer Care report.
Of course, as Chiodini explains, while retailers understand the value of omni-channel service, many don’t know how to do it. “In fact, the technology to help retailers execute effective omni-channel customer service is available and it’s very accessible,” he says. “It can be deployed quickly and in a cost-effective manner, and there are companies like Accenture and Avanade that possess the expertise to guide companies through the implementation process and ensure they get the most from their investment.”
To meet retailers’ needs, Avanade has developed an omni-channel service platform that connects the entire customer experience cycle. Using a combination of technologies, including Microsoft Lync, Dynamics for Retail and Windows 8, the solution gives retailers the ability to monitor activity in social channels and respond in real time; capture customer activity to gain a single view of the customer across multiple channels; and easily interact and collaborate with the customer to resolve issues.
The following scenario, created by Avanade, demonstrates how retailers can take advantage of this platform to connect the entire customer experience cycle and turn a potentially negative situation into a positive outcome:
Megan has ordered a top from Oltiva and has it delivered to her home. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit – the sleeves are too long. Megan, a little frustrated, tweets about the top, saying: “Just got my top from #Oltiva – disappointed the sleeves are too long.”
Sally, an Oltiva social media manager, gets an immediate alert about the tweet. From a visual representation, she can see that Megan's tweet is negative and that she has a lot of followers, so Sally knows she needs to respond as quickly as possible. Through the customer relationship management (CRM) system she is working on, Sally immediately pulls up all the relevant information she has about the customer, including previous purchases, preferred purchase methods and any other key communications the customer has had with the retailer. This allows Sally to better understand the situation and respond appropriately to Megan. Within two minutes, Sally tweets a reply to Megan via the CRM system and offers her a free alteration service, directing her to the Oltiva website where a customer service agent can help Megan schedule an appointment via a live chat session.
Megan goes straight to the website and clicks for a live chat session. She is able to see real-time availability of Oltiva’s agents and knows that she only has to wait 30 seconds to speak to somebody. While she is waiting, Oltiva – using the information it already has about her – provides some customised suggestions on her screen for other products on sale that she might like to purchase.
In the meantime, Sam, the customer service agent, is notified that Megan would like a live chat session. Through the system, which is based on Microsoft Lync, he is able to review her profile and can see the Twitter conversation that has just happened. He also has direct access to a number of back-end line of business applications like scheduling and collaboration tools. All this allows him to respond to Megan quickly and provide exactly what she needs. At the same time, she doesn’t have to go through the process of explaining the situation over again.
Sam starts the live chat and asks Megan when she would like to book an alteration appointment. He also asks her to share her location so that he can book her in at the nearest store.
Megan shares her location and can immediately see all nearby stores. She feels reassured as she knows exactly what information she is sharing and she also feels part of the decision making process. Sam brings up the schedule of the alteration specialists by using the calendar that is linked into the system and Megan is able to choose the option that best suits her.
Megan has been served by Dave before and would like him to deal with her alteration. The agent checks Dave’s diary and proposes an appointment based on his availability. Megan confirms she is happy with that time, so Sam sends her an invite and she adds the appointment to her own calendar. At the same time, an automatic notification is sent to the store to book the appointment in. Dave is also notified so that he can greet Megan personally when she comes into the store.
Before the live chat session ends, Sam is able to use the information he has about Megan to improve the experience further and make her feel like the valued customer she is. He can see that Megan’s birthday is coming up, so he closes the conversation by offering her a discount voucher for her birthday.
Dave, who is equipped with a Windows 8 smartphone receives a notification that Megan is due to come in for her alteration appointment. The device provides a customised, profile-based view that not only allows him to keep track of tasks that he needs to carry out in store, but also allows him to view customer profiles so that he can make product recommendations to customers he knows he’ll be dealing with. Not only does this mean that he will be able to provide Megan with a personalised experience that will help to reaffirm her trust in the brand, but it also allows him to take advantage of any cross-sell/upsell opportunities to get the most value from his interaction with her.
“This scenario demonstrates that regardless of the channel the customer is interacting with the retailer through, she is getting the consistent, personalised service that she expects,” says Chiodini. “By having a single view of the customer, each channel representative is able to understand what the problem is, quickly respond to her and then proactively solve the issue. When we talk about omni-channel we talk so much about tying together multiple channels, but it also relies on having customer information presented equally across all service channels.”
What this scenario also demonstrates is that each channel is just as important as the other and, that although an interaction with a customer may originate in one channel, it can easily be transitioned to another channel, such as the store – which is becoming more important for today’s consumers. Accenture Research recently surveyed 15,000 consumers across 20 countries to rank their shopping experiences across channels. It found significant signs of a “swing back to stores” – while almost half of all respondents indicated that they plan to purchase more online in the future, 28% said they also would be shopping more in store. The February 2014 report, The Secrets of Seamless Retailing Success,also found that 91% of consumers found it easier to complete a purchase in store than either online (57%) or by mobile (36%).
“This has far and wide implications for the design of sales and service processes,” says Chiodini. “It indicates that a consumer may want to start the process for resolving an issue online but ultimately complete the process in store. So, it is critical that retailers position the store as an integral part of the omni-channel service experience. Every channel matters and they must be seamlessly connected to enable a compelling and value-added service experience.”
To find out more, please visit the Avanade website
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