Today’s retail customer is always shopping around – in store, online, on the phone. And in a 24/7 global marketplace where it’s becoming increasingly difficult for retailers to differentiate on price and product availability, more and more it’s becoming customer service and the customer experience that means the difference between buy, buy, buy and bye, bye, bye.
For customers, expectations are up. According to Microsoft’s Global Multichannel Customer Service Report:
• more than half (59%) of the 4,000 consumers surveyed have higher expectations for customer service today than they did a year ago.
• 97% say customer service is important to their choice of or loyalty to a brand.
• and 62% have stopped doing business with a brand this year due to a single poor customer service experience.
Yet, despite these increasing expectations, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, customer satisfaction is on the decline from a survey high set two years ago. Some attribute this to the economy, theorizing that brands were putting more focus on customer service then when consumers were spending less and every dollar meant more.
But now that consumer spending has rebounded, service is starting to fall back as a lesser focus instead of springing forward – a point of relaxation that could prove costly as PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Retailing 2020 report raises the stakes for the future of retail:
“By 2020, we believe the need for a unified consumer omnichannel experience will be complicated by the need for nearly perfect execution,” predicts PwC. “However, expert use of business intelligence tools, coupled with a profound understanding of shoppers’ needs and experiences in real time, may make omnichannel a realistic goal.”
Are We There Yet?
Where do customers think retailers are right now with their omnichannel goals? According to the TimeTrade State of Retail 2016 report, not very far. Only 26% of consumers feel that retailers today are providing a consistent customer experience across all channels (web, email, social media, call center, in-store, mobile and text).
And a historically strong service hub seems to be causing a major disconnect. Fifty-one percent (51%) of consumers said that the call center was the channel they felt was doing the poorest in terms of customer service compared to 26% in store, 23% social, 21% text, 20% web, 19% kiosk and 18% email. (According to the same report, only 5% of retail decision makers are making the call center a top priority in channel improvements. Social media was actually the top channel priority in this survey.)
So how can retailers go from where they are and how consumers perceive them today toward that 2020 vision of omnichannel consistency? Here are three areas of focus:
• Awareness: Not just collecting Voice of the Customer feedback, but reacting to it and acting upon it is key to retailers moving forward. Many brands are doing this today as a way to turn the corner and improve.
• Accessible knowledge for both agents and customers: Investment in a consistent knowledge source that can be used to deliver real-time knowledge both internally across agents and employees and externally to customers across channels, devices and locations is a must-have investment for an omnichannel future, not just for retail, but for all industries.
• Proactive, predictive, personalized insights and intelligence: Empowering customer service with the insights to acknowledge and react to trending issues and then proactively reach out to customers across channels with information could not only significantly increase customer satisfaction, but radically change and assist the call center by reducing historic volume, strain and frustration. Greater customer intelligence that is many times shared only between sales and marketing could also help service lead the way in more personalized engagement when it matters most for retention.
The same PwC report says “Retail brands in 2020, we believe, will have three key attributes: consistency, intensity and accuracy. Let’s bring service into the mainstream to help deliver on this 2020 omnichannel customer experience vision.