Offering a frictionless customer journey is a primary goal for most retailers. Traditionally, this means developing a brand presence that is consistent and engaging across social media, web, mobile, and brick-and mortar touchpoints. Many brands (looking at you, Sephora!) have integrated these touchpoints for personalized on and off-line interactions that speak to one another and create a cohesive interaction history across channels, resulting in seamless retail customer service.
In customer service, however, omnichannel approaches that worked well for the marketing and pre-sale stage will often break down. Customers who learned to expect data-driven personalization and continuity in their experience suddenly find themselves unable to reach live support on many of the channels they’d previously engaged with, and are forced to wait on hold for long periods of time just to ask a simple question.
Likewise, agents are often siloed from one another based on channel (e.g. digital agents vs. phone agents), which leads to a frustrating and laborious resolution process when customers switch from channel to channel.
This phenomenon has many retailers in a catch-22: on the one hand, giving customers a seamless experience is a foremost consideration; on the other hand, staffing for 24/7 customer service availability on every channel with no hold times can be astronomically pricey and prohibitive to scale.
Meet the New Integrated Approach for Retail Customer Service
Agents, customers, and business stakeholders all want the same thing from customer service: simple, effective support on the most convenient channel, at the moment they need it.
In the digital age, achieving this means integrating the most popular channels on the front and back end for quick resolution. This is what we call connected conversations. It’s the ability to have a single conversation on the customers’ time via whichever channel(s) they choose, without requiring extensive catch-up for agents.
In practice, brands who want to offer a seamless customer journey — from pre-sale to post-sale — will want to prioritize the following strategies for retail customer service:
1. Phone-to-Messaging Integration
Phone, the most legacy customer service channel, can be an unpleasant experience. Customers can associate calling customer service with long hold times, frustrating IVR, dropped calls, and being transferred from agent to agent. It’s also really expensive to staff.
That being said, there are always use cases where other channels (messaging, email, etc.) are insufficient for handling a request, and it’s necessary to speak with an agent over the phone.
Integrating phone and messaging offers a solution to this conundrum, in two primary ways:
- Deflecting to messaging during peak times
During holiday seasons and other peak times, brands can leverage IVR to deflect calls to messaging — a more convenient channel for consumers and one that allows for a greater degree of automation on the agent side. When this happens, any information collected via the phone call can be automatically entered into a ticket’s details, so that the agent who ends up messaging with the customer has all the context needed to offer a resolution
Important: talking to an agent via messaging may not even be necessary though — keep in mind that many incoming retail issues can be resolved through messaging-based bots! See this infographic to learn more.
- Messaging-to-phone escalation when necessary
As mentioned above, sometimes customers just need to speak with an agent. When this happens, they should be able to move seamlessly from messaging to phone by pressing a call button embedded in the messaging thread. This call button should bring them directly to an agent — not an IVR — in the department related to the customer’s issue. Agents should already have information about the ticket from the messaging interaction, which will enable them to quickly get started on resolving the issue.
The key to a connected phone and messaging experience is a unified agent dashboard that isn’t siloed from one channel to the next.
2. Cross Platform Continuity
Just as customers should be able to move seamlessly between phone and messaging, they should also be able to move from mobile, to desktop, to in-app messaging, over time and without losing the continuity of their conversation with your brand. There are two ways to achieve this:
- App-to-web continuity
Your agents and customers alike should be able to pick up a conversation where they left off, without asking or being asked for the same information all over again just because the conversation was picked up at a later time or on a new device. As with the phone and messaging integration, agents need a cross-channel dashboard that gives snapshot histories of all communication, so that they can pick up where the last agent left off.
- Conversation histories
Similarly, customers should be able to refer to and view past conversations even if they momentarily leave the conversation. Currently, many versions of live chat in particular will erase the conversation as soon as the customer exits out of the window or is inactive for a period of time. This can be incredibly frustrating for customers who are used to having access to conversation history across devices (think of iMessage, FB Messenger, Slack, etc.).
The Best of Both Worlds: Give Both Agents and Customers A Seamless Retail Customer Service Experience
The best retail customer service gives customers the same level of access and ease of use that they’ve come to expect from pre-sale experiences.
As you invest in new channels, keep in mind that Helpshift customers are seeing up to 70 percent of issues being automated in some capacity. This leaves a mere 30 percent of all tickets that need an agent’s time from the beginning. By leveraging automation that can work alongside agents across channels, you can give your customers the cohesive conversation that they’ve come to expect from your brand.