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Once upon a time, having attentive store associates and a responsive call center was enough to earn a business top marks for retail customer service. But with the rise of eCommerce, the concept of customer service — and, indeed, the retail customer experience as a whole — has evolved beyond the usual signifiers and now encompasses a wide variety of actions and touchpoints. Given these conditions, retailers need to take a more innovative approach to customer service in order to secure long-term loyalty; we’re here to show you how.
The Importance of Great Retail Customer Service
For retailers, delivering best-in-class customer service is every bit as essential to generating a profit and securing long-term loyalty as selling a high-quality product.
In many cases, customers are more lenient towards brands that provide timely service and demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond to solve their problems. And that isn’t just conjecture: According to a survey from Zendesk, 74% of consumers say that they’re willing to forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service; 81% of consumers also say that a positive service experience increases the likelihood that they’ll make another purchase from that brand in the future.
Retail customers also have high expectations: Microsoft reports that 55% of customers expect better service year-over-year. And consistently meeting or exceeding those expectations could make all the difference with customers who are trying to decide between multiple brands — according to that same report, 90% of global consumers feel that customer service is either “somewhat” or “very” important to their choice of brand.
But what separates good retail customer service from exceptional retail customer service? Research from Statista shows that the leading causes of retail customer service frustration are a lack of effectiveness (27%), a lack of speed (12%), and a lack of accuracy (10%), which tells us that good customer service is timely, efficient, and reliable. But that’s just good customer service — in order to deliver exceptional customer service, and a memorable overall retail customer experience, brands should follow the tips featured in our next section.
10 Ways to Enhance the Retail Customer Experience
To go from good to exceptional, try implementing these retail customer experience best practices:
- Make it easy for customers to find the information they need. Your customers shouldn’t have to scour the internet to find out what your return policy is, what online payment methods you support, or where your brick-and-mortar stores are located.
Building out dedicated pages on your website with pertinent information — or, better yet, empowering self-service by using chatbots to answer frequently asked questions — can make it easier for customers to find the information they’re looking for. It also has the added value of reducing the number of low-level requests your retail customer service team has to sort through, which can lower costs and enhance productivity.
- Let customers decide how they prefer to engage. In a world of seemingly infinite options, customers don’t want to be constrained — and that extends to retail customer service. From which touchpoints consumers prefer to interact with to whether they prefer self-service or to speak to a live representative, it’s important that brands acknowledge the full range of potential retail customer experiences and present their audience with a variety of engagement options.
- Create connected journeys. Brands dedicate a lot of time and energy to designing seamless, omnichannel retail customer experiences, often looking at things from a sales-centric viewpoint — but the process doesn’t stop there. Customer service and support needs to be just as seamless across all channels. After all, each retail customer service journey is distinct and can span multiple touchpoints, both digital and physical.
For example, a customer might see if they can solve an issue on their own by chatting with a virtual agent, later submit a support request through an online portal, explain the nature of the problem they’re facing over the phone to a live agent, and monitor the status of their open support ticket via text/SMS message updates. Each of these touchpoints must be set up in such a way that they seamlessly flow into one another and enable the customer to easily pick up where they last left off without having to repeatedly restate or re-explain their issue.
- Tailor every interaction to the individual. No customer wants to feel like just another face lost in a sea of many, and sometimes just greeting someone by name can make a world of difference.
Retailers can utilize customer data platforms (CDPs) to collect data and build detailed customer profiles that document everything from their preferred contact method to what demographic they belong to. A CDP is also a smart way to document which products customers already own and their service history, which gives live agents access to contextual information and enables them to personalize their engagement with the individual customer.
- Provide stronger security without adding unnecessary complexity. Depending on the nature of the interaction or the company’s security policy, customers may be asked to validate their identity as part of the support process, often by providing account information, answering security questions, and/or using a one-time PIN, password, or token.
The issue with these methods of verification is that they add another step to the support process — and, in some cases, an additional layer of complexity — making it more time-consuming and frustrating for customers. These authentication methods can also be easily exploited and spoofed, putting customers at risk.
To provide a high level of security without compromising the quality of customers’ service experience, retailers should look to invest in biometric security solutions that utilize advanced technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and interactive voice response (IVR).
- Offer convenient purchasing and pickup options. For consumers, there are few things more frustrating than making the effort to go to a brand’s brick-and-mortar location, only to find out that the product they’re looking for isn’t in stock. Even if a customer is able to find what they’re looking for, there’s still the matter of navigating the store and waiting in long checkout lines.
Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) and other related fulfillment models — such as Buy Online, Pickup at Curbside (BOPAC) and Reserve Online, Pickup in Store (ROPIS) — resolve these issues by combining the convenience of online shopping with the immediacy of in-person fulfillment.
As its name implies, with BOPIS, customers place an order online and retrieve their purchase from the retailer’s nearest brick-and-mortar location once they’re notified that it’s ready for pickup. In some cases, customers can even schedule pickup based on their availability for added convenience. BOPIS, BOPAC, ROPIS, and other related fulfillment models also allow customers to save on shipping costs, while enabling retailers to better manage their inventory and lure shoppers to their stores. By adding hybrid options to their fulfillment strategy, brands can offer the kind of flexibility that will take their retail customer experience to the next level.
- Monitor retail customer service performance. “You can’t measure what you don’t monitor,” “You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and so on… Although the saying commonly attributed to Peter Drucker has become muddled with repetition, the basic sentiment behind it remains clear: Data is essential to any continuous improvement effort. And in order to generate that data, retailers need to know which success metrics to monitor.
Some of the leading performance metrics for the retail customer service space include:
- Customer satisfaction (CSAT) score
- Employee satisfaction (ESAT) score
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Average conversion rate
- Customer effort score (CES)
- First response time (FRT)
- Average handle time (AHT)
- First contact resolution (FCR)
- Average resolution time (ART)
- Overall resolution rate
- Customer churn rate (CHR)
- Customer retention rate (CRR)
- Top topics
- Solicit feedback from your customers. The key to successfully executing this best practice is to not only solicit feedback from customers but to actually listen to it.
In recent years, the practice of asking customers to fill out a survey about their experience has become so commonplace as to feel perfunctory, leading many shoppers to wonder whether retailers even bother to read their results. Under these conditions, it’s little wonder that customers are unwilling to offer detailed feedback, operating under the assumption that it isn’t worth their time or effort.
This is, perhaps, the one time that the customer isn’t right: As any retailer knows, high-quality customer feedback — both positive and negative — provides fuel for continuous improvement programs, and some of the greatest product offerings originate with customer ideas.
To incentivize that level of feedback — and enhance the retail customer experience on the whole — brands need to demonstrate that they’re actively listening and actually care about what their audience has to say. There are many thoughtful ways to do so, including replying directly to customer comments, sending thank-you notes or gifts as a token of appreciation, and featuring customers in upcoming campaigns.
Another way to incentivize customers to provide feedback and product ratings is to make the process as easy as possible. Customers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to share their thoughts or write an essay every time they want to leave feedback. With that in mind, retailers should make sure customer surveys are short and to the point, only ask questions that align with actual goals, and send feedback requests directly to customers — via their preferred channel — so they don’t have to hunt for forms online.
- Offer innovative rewards for customer loyalty. Loyalty rewards programs may be nothing new, but they are effective: According to a Yotpo survey, 83% of shoppers say that belonging to a loyalty program influences their decision to buy from a brand. McKinsey also reports that top-performing loyalty programs can boost revenue from customers who redeem points by 15% to 25% annually, by increasing either their purchase frequency, their basket size, or both.
To inject new life into existing loyalty programs, retailers should look to reward their customers with innovative offerings, such as early access to sales and new products, tickets to exclusive events, limited-edition items, referral discounts, and charitable donations. The more memorable a brand’s rewards program — and the more it speaks to who its customers are — the more likely it is to boost sales and enhance the overall retail customer experience.
- Develop a standardized process for handling unhappy customers. Despite retailers’ best efforts to deliver high-quality products and thoughtful service, some customers are bound to be dissatisfied. But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and every unhappy customer is just another opportunity for a retailer to prove their worth.
As noted earlier in this article, customers are more likely to forgive a brand for a mistake — and perhaps even shop with them again in the future — if that brand provides excellent service. To ensure that disgruntled shoppers reliably receive that high level of service — and to make the lives of their retail customer service representatives a little easier — companies need to develop a standardized process for handling complaints.
From speaking in a calm, even tone and actively listening to and validating a customer’s grievances, there are several measures representatives can take to defuse tension in the moment. Developing a script for difficult interactions that incorporates these measures removes the burden from representatives so that they can focus on problem-solving rather than carefully choosing their words.
It’s just as important that those representatives have clearly defined next steps once they’ve successfully resolved the issue, such as following up with the customer a few days later to see if there’s anything else they can do, sending a thank you note or small gift from the company to thank them for their patience, or asking them for feedback. The final stage of this standardized process should be all about continuous improvement and figuring out what the company can take away from the experience to prevent a repeat situation.
4 Real-World Examples of Great Retail Customer Service
For evidence of exceptional service in action, look no further than these brands:
- Chewy: Chewy consistently earns high marks from customers for its broad selection of pet products, wholesale pricing, and rapid delivery, but where the online retailer really shines is customer service. From sending hand-written notes to customers with their first order to a recent news story about how the company sent one grieving pet parent flowers after the death of her dog, Chewy goes the extra mile to make every customer service interaction feel personal.
- Everlane: A household name in the sustainability community, Everlane aims to fight fast fashion with ethically sourced and produced clothing. While the direct-to-consumer brand’s radically transparent approach to production, pricing, and quality has garnered significant attention and built trust with its customer base, its commitment to retail customer service has earned it a loyal following.
Everlane recently received the top ranking in the “Online Retailers: Clothing — Apparel” category of Newsweek’s annual America’s Best Customer Service survey, scoring points for the quality of its customer communications, its service team’s professional competency, the range of services it offers, its customer-centric focus, and the accessibility of its services.
- Nordstrom: For many years, rumor had it that Nordstrom’s employee handbook was just a single line long and read: “Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”
Although the truth is, naturally, a little less exciting, the luxury retailer’s reputation for empowering employees cemented it in customer service history — and it’s continuously worked to retain that standing. From staffing in-store personal stylists to assist shoppers to actually walking customers over to the items they’re looking for rather than just pointing them in the right direction, Nordstrom goes the extra mile to deliver exceptional retail customer service.
- Zappos: This online shoe retailer has been able to amass a loyal following thanks to its 365-day return policy — with free, two-way shipping. By offering its customers greater flexibility, Zappos makes it easy for them to place orders with confidence, without having to worry if things don’t work out.
Another noteworthy entry into the company’s customer service guidebook: At the height of the pandemic, Zappos launched a “Customer Service for Anything” hotline — which is exactly what it sounds like — which introduced an element of empathy and human connection at a time when people needed it most.
Hitachi Solutions specializes in helping retailers leverage the full power of the Microsoft ecosystem to deliver exceptional, customer-centric service. Contact us today to speak to a specialist and discover how you can take your retail customer experience to the next level.