Retailers and Brands That Innovated and Pivoted Early, Embracing Omnichannel AI to Power Their Customer Service Weathered the Storm Brought on by Covid-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has forever transformed the way we shop. Many businesses that were forced to close their physical doors have figured out how to pivot quickly into an automation first customer experience, while many others struggled and suffered major losses as a result.
- From April 1-20 of 2020, curbside pickup orders, or orders placed online and picked up at a physical store, increased by a whopping 208%.
- Retailers relied heavily on physical stores for fulfillment, with Target attributing 90% of its Q2 sales to store fulfillment.
- Meanwhile, the largest mall owner in the U.S., Simon Property Group, was forced to close all locations on March 18th. The company lost roughly half of its net income in Q2 of 2020.
There were clear wins for retailers that were able to switch gears, but it wasn’t always a totally seamless experience for customers. Communication was spotty and sometimes lacked answers to the most basic questions, like where to go for curbside pickup. And once retailers made improvements, there was yet another change to deal with: customers began coming back into stores.
While demand for services like contactless pickup is down since the start of the lock-down, it’s not going away.
Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) orders are still 275% higher than they were prior to the pandemic. And it makes sense: for months now, customers have been navigating store closures, increased online ordering, protracted shipping times, and product shortages. Shopper anxiety and stress will only increase as the holiday season approaches.
Retailers that have taken on the task in past crises have already achieved success. McKinsey & Company’s analysis of the 2008 financial downturn showed that leaders in customer experience had 3x higher shareholder returns than the average.
Competitive Retailers Will Double Down on Omnichannel AI Customer Service
This year, brands won’t be able to rely on the traditional massive influx of foot traffic to bolster their bottom lines. But that doesn’t mean that deal-hunters won’t be online in full force looking to score Black Friday and Cyber Monday bargains – and they have high expectations.
Over one-third of shoppers report that they are unlikely or not likely to visit a brick-and-mortar location if the retailer’s website doesn’t list store inventory.
Nearly half of shoppers believe that in-store employees should know about online-only items. And these consumers are shopping everywhere and anywhere: 50% of today’s shoppers use more than 4 touchpoints when making a purchase.
In order to keep up with shoppers, retailers must create an omnichannel customer service strategy that connects all customer touch-points seamlessly.
Every customer interaction should flow into one main hub, where data can be aggregated and run through artificial intelligence (AI) tools to inform and improve the customer experience.
Consider the dizzying array of options just for fulfillment.
A shopper can buy multiple items on one order, with some being shipped to their home and some shipped to the store. Maybe they want email notifications on the ship-to-home order and text messages for the ship-to-store order, to start. They can choose to walk in and pick up their items or request curbside pickup.
They might want to cancel only one item on the order and leave the rest. And they need separate status updates for a home shipment versus a store pickup.
It’s a complex process that requires an investment of time and resources to work seamlessly.
However, retailers who make that investment will also reap the returns. Google reports a 30% increase in lifetime customer value for omnichannel shoppers over those using a single channel.
For Today’s Shopper, Omnichannel Offers Convenience, Control, and Customization
Retailers can make the customer experience convenient by learning where shoppers already are, and making sure they are connected and ready. Are customers hanging around Instagram, Facebook, or maybe a specific review site?
Make sure your brand has an active presence on appropriate platforms. Do customers want to connect with your brand via mobile device, desktop computer, and in-person? Then all three options need to be readily available.
Offering customers more control empowers them to make things happen on their own terms.
Don’t want to opt-in for email communication for product updates and marketing messages? Then choose your favorite format for receiving updates – SMS, Facebook Messenger, or Alexa, for example. Have a return but don’t want to deal with an arduous returns process? Process your own return online.
By using an omnichannel strategy and layering on artificial intelligence (AI), retailers can also make great strides to customize each experience.
The wealth of data on customer interactions, conversations, and purchases can be used to make product recommendations that are unique per customer, rather than those blanket product recommendation messages. And learning from all customer interactions can create more efficiency with AI chatbots.
That means faster, easier answers for customer questions.
With an Improved Experience, Retailers Get Connected Customers, Time Savings, and Increased Sales
Retailers that offer a consistent, channel-agnostic experience across all customer touchpoints are sure to separate themselves from the pack. Our customers have demonstrated the results retailers can achieve with Linc’s customer experience (CX) automation platform.
Shoppers are a lot more connected to retailers who use an omnichannel customer service strategy.
Lamps Plus offers customers the ability to opt-in for messages on both Facebook Messenger and SMS, with an overall opt-in rate of almost 30%. One-third of PacSun customers opt-in for SMS messages for delivery updates.
By offering customers a multi-faceted approach to their brand, retailers also find that resources are freed up to be used on the most critical interactions.
Pura Vida has experienced a reduction in the number of inbound order inquiries. “Customers are not calling and emailing asking “where’s my order” because now they have the ability to do it themselves,” said Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida. And using an AI chatbot, PureFormulas found that only 6% of bot inquiries require agent interaction.
Most importantly, retailers achieve increases in sales as a result of moving to omnichannel.
Pura Vida reports a 4x ROI on their investment in omnichannel via Linc’s CX platform. By using omnichannel AI to generate product recommendations within a 24-hour purchase window, PacSun achieved a 2% increase in conversion.
Heading Into Holiday 2020, Omnichannel AI Customer Service Will Lead the Pack
We’re heading into the holiday season for a historic year. Increases in positive Covid cases will likely decrease in-store traffic. Shoppers may opt for at-home delivery wherever possible and experience shipping delays as orders surge.
This year’s holiday shoppers are expecting a fully omnichannel experience including easy-to-use contactless pick-up options and a seamless digital and in-store experience. If they get it, you’ve got a shot at earning their loyalty and future sales. Otherwise, it’s on to the next one.
Want to learn more how Linc’s CX automation platform can springboard your business to omnichannel success? Contact us today for a customized demo.