Investing in the customer experience must always include a service component. While strong merchandising sets the tone, service is long remembered by shoppers building loyal customer bases over time. There are many aspects of customer service but ensuring success means retailers are accessible, efficient in their execution and strong communicators where timing is of the essence. Putting all three of these elements in play will put one in a strong position to score with shoppers. To understand the current state of each, research findings from the e-tailing group’s Mystery Shopping results of 100 retailers (EG100) will be referenced.
In a world where customers want and expect to access retailers from every available device, comprehensive and clear information should form the foundation for strong customer service. Today access starts with finding information via self-service tools where FAQs are now present on 83% of the EG100 where the ability to search these databases has increased to 26 sites from 20 in 2013. Customer service hours are less frequently found onsite this year (77% vs. 83%), making it difficult for shoppers to conveniently get in touch with retailers.
With customers shifting among channels, a universal list of product/favorites, optimally accessible in any channel, is now more frequently available (82% vs. 73%) with even more offering the ability to move an item from their cart to a saved list for future purchasing available on 65% of sites versus 54% in 2013. Once orders are placed, providing a customer service phone number on the order confirmation sees slight improvement (81% vs. 77%) but should be universally available in all communication.
Fast is the mantra of the omnichannel shopper where any roadblocks can result in abandonment, a lost sale and potentially a missed customer. 98% of retailers are wisely prepopulating customer profiles in their shopping carts to save shoppers time. One click checkout, of particular importance to mobile shoppers, has its foundation on the website, where half of the retailers now facilitate such a checkout, up from 43% in 2013. Choice plays into efficiency as well where payment options such as PayPal see increased deployment (68% vs. 62%) though mobile growth will likely mean greater payment competition in the near future.
As logistics pressure mounts with pressure from Amazon to Zappos, retailers are responding as the number of business days to receive the product, based on a choice of ground shipping, improved to 3.42 days, up from 3.80 in the prior year. The return factor should never be underestimated as more retailers (66% vs. 60%) have moved to a single return policy while online returns processing is available on 38% of sites up from 27% in 2013. The always preferred prepaid label is an added convenience and is provided on 64% of sites versus 59% in the prior year.
Engaging with retailers for service is now more readily available so the burden is on the retailer to create a culture where associates are knowledgeable about products, adept at handling customers and efficient in their ability to deliver the right answer expeditiously. Retailers are making choices about which touchpoints to make available and the response times noted below influence the decisions consumers will ultimately make. For those in a hurry, call centers still solve problems the fastest at 6 minutes while chat, a favorite of multi-taskers falls in to the 10-11 minute range. There are tradeoffs for every channel and the customer has the luxury of making choices that work for them.
Remember, service when executed well is the gold standard shoppers are seeking. We encourage every organization to continually evaluate their own performances based on pre-established standards. As the world moves more into omni-channel scenarios, creating cultures where service is fostered and a customer first mentality will be mandatory to a stable and thriving business.