The Digital Worker is Changing the Way Retailers Interact With Their Customers
If retailers have learned anything in the massive upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s this: customer service is more important than ever.
Since the institution of lock-downs, the biggest change in behavior is that customers are going online more rather than into brick-and-mortar stores.
E-commerce may have been a nice-to-have option before the outbreak. Now it’s the primary (or only) option for many consumers who patronized physical stores in the past.
Total e-commerce sales in the U.S. jumped from roughly $160B to $230B in the first two quarters of 2020. That’s an increase of roughly 4% in e-commerce sales as a percent of total sales, which may not seem like much until you compare it to the previous years’ growth – a fraction of 1%.
With the jump in online commerce, we’ve seen a plethora of new services flooding the market to support the customer experience. Contact-less payments, in-app ordering, curbside pickup, and live chat/chatbot support are all on the rise. Consumers who have adopted these new services don’t expect to stop any time soon, either.
- In order to maintain and increase sales in the coming years, retailers must invest in the most efficient ways to serve customers where they are – which is online, for the most part.
One Key Component of Online Customer Service is the Use of Chatbots.
Chatbots specifically have seen drastic increases in usage, with almost 90 percent of customers using self-support tools between March and May of 2020. But how effective are those tools currently?
Recall back to the beginning of the pandemic, when the shift was happening. Stay-at-home orders were issued and suddenly everyone was at home.
At the same time, online orders skyrocketed. E-commerce platform BigCommerce reported an increase of 100% or more in online sales for 4 of its 9 top categories, when compared to the same week a year prior.
Increased orders equated to higher customer service inquiries and shipping delays.
Stay-at-home orders moved vital customer service staff to work at home, which, in many cases required lengthy setup and reduced capacity. Warehouse staff were unavailable due to daycare closures.
Rather than pick up the phone, customers increasingly used live chat and chatbots to get their questions answered.
Customer relationship management (CRM) Salesforce reported a 426% increase in weekly chatbot sessions for April 2020.
However, all the operational and logistical challenges created by the pandemic affected the customer experience as well. Customers reported long waiting times, and at times were even informed by retailers of significant delays.
Customer service employees definitely felt the strain.
According to an April 2020 survey by Kustomer, Inc., Almost 80% of respondents said their organization was significantly affected by covid.
Nearly half said wait times were longer; over two-thirds reported a lack of resources required to do their jobs. Over time, retailers adjusted to the surge in orders.
Linc Digital Worker Supports Strained Retailers During Covid
New technology saved the day in many cases, as retailers like the Gap brought in robots to process warehouse orders.
One of the biggest winners was one of our clients who used one of our digital workers combined with the chatbots to maintain and enhance the customer experience.
Being a large children’s clothing retailer, like all businesses, faced new challenges overnight due to the pandemic.
Their stores closed immediately with stay-at-home orders, contact centers were unstaffed, and shipping and fulfillment were disrupted.
Customer service hold times averaged around 2 ½ hours.
After implementing Linc’s automated chat functionality, the brand was able to perform order support and return processing all within their chatbot.
That meant no phone or live agent interaction with customers. The retailer rolled out the function in a couple of weeks and was able to achieve the following:
- A 90% deflection of customer inquiries;
- A 80% increase in cost savings;
- And, a 30% bump in repurchase frequency.
Companies in all sectors jumped on the bandwagon. Travel companies used chatbots to manage thousands of requests regarding flight cancellations and refunds. State and local municipalities used chatbots to provide information to residents regarding covid testing, prevention, and treatment.
However, there are key differences in the types of chatbots a company could use.
One is a simplistic chatbot that uses a set of deterministic rules to chat with customers and answer questions.
The other is a chatbot that’s supported behind the scenes by digital workers – automated software processes that can help solve key customer problems.
Chatbots + Digital Workers = The Next Evolution of Customer Service
Make no mistake: the addition of even simple chatbots to a company’s arsenal of customer service tools will still help. Offloading even a percentage of customer questions to an automated bot rather than a human lowers costs and increases efficiency.
The next step is to equip chatbots to perform interactions that would normally require a human.
Take the following screenshots for an example;
Levi Strauss & Company offers Indigo the chatbot on its website.
Through Indigo, customers can find specific products, check inventory, process returns, and check the status of existing orders.
In the following conversation, a customer comes to Levi’s website looking for 501’s for his sister. Supported by digital workers, the chatbot understands that “501” is a style of jeans and “sister” is feminine.
It also knows from long-term memory that 501’s come in shorts and jeans, so it asks the customers which he prefers.
The customer requests shorts which the bot displays, and then further asks for shorts in the white color.
Now this is just one example of thousands of scenarios that can be programmed and scaled on a use case basis.
Imagine for a moment if retailers had this functionality at the start of the pandemic?
Many of the same logistical issues would have occurred, like moving office workers to a remote setting, scarce inventory, and warehouse workers in short supply.
However, customers would still be able to solve problems without the input of a human.
For those interactions, the impact of the pandemic would be lessened and customer satisfaction may remain the same.
The Future of Retail Customer Service is Now.
For retailers who want to compete in the new marketplace, the time to implement innovations that drive efficiency is now. The next big shift could be right around the corner, and retailers need to be equipped to provide a superior customer experience no matter the market conditions.
Linc’s customer experience (CX) platform offers a diverse set of tools to help drive efficiency, customer satisfaction, and increased sales.
Our digital workers are tailored specifically to retail use cases, making them better equipped to get your brand up-and-running quickly.
Contact us for a customized demo – we’ll walk you through our platform and how it can support your unique business needs.