Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, online sales surged, as many stores closed and consumers turned to online retail options to get what they needed. This meant that many retailers had to begin exploring or quickly scale up existing eCommerce channels, ensuring they had the means to quickly fulfill customer orders. Along with the increased online orders came increased customer service inquiries – everything from pre-purchase questions to post-purchase “Where Is My Order” (WISMO) calls.
The “new normal” for customer service teams in eCommerce is that every day they are dealing with Black Friday levels of customer inquiries, according to data from more than 1.6 million customer conversations tracked by Ada. Customer conversations exploded as high as 43% above Black Friday volume, and have maintained Black Friday levels of activity through early July.
We interviewed Ruth Zive, Head of Marketing at the market leader in Automated Customer Service (ACX), Ada Support. We wanted to understand how retailers can maintain customer satisfaction levels throughout and beyond coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
Tell us a little bit about you and your role at Ada Support.
I’m Head of Marketing at Ada Support. Ada provides AI-powered solutions for customer support, and we’re heralding our automation-first strategy as the way forward for CX teams, especially at this uncertain time. As our Head of Marketing, I set the strategy for the business development reps, demand generation, product marketing and brand departments.
How do you see retail support operations changing as customer expectations continue to increase?
Even before COVID, there was a shift happening, where customers expected always-on, 24/7 support – it’s the instant gratification era. Now, it’s clear that COVID has made a long-term impact on the way retail customers engage with businesses. eCommerce is seeing record numbers – Ada’s internal data shows that during COVID, eComm clients have seen even more volume than their usual Black Friday spikes. So expect retail support to continue to face increased demand, increased pressure, and likely to be stretched for resources if there isn’t an automated solution to take some of the pressure off.
What do your retail clients do to create a consistent last mile experience?
Communication is crucial to a successful last mile experience. Our clients leverage digital self-service tools, letting retail customers ask questions and leveraging integrations with backend systems (like Convey!) to check order statuses at their own pace, without the assistance of a live agent. Not only does this put the ball in the customer’s court, but this also provides support teams with more time to spend on high-value problems, instead of answering WISMO (“where is my order”) questions all-day.
With all of the supply chain disruption related to COVID-19, what’s the number one challenge that retailers should be aware of? Do you have any advice to combat this challenge?
When a process breaks down or gets more complex, customers want to know about it. From a digital perspective, CX leaders should be proactive in keeping customers up-to-date on any disruption to business as usual. Automating proactive messages, having web messaging to address these issues, and having a 24/7 support resource for customers goes a long way in keeping them informed and retaining their loyalty.
It’s also important to protect your live agents’ bandwidth. Disruption can cause a spike in requests for live agent interactions. But if the volume of live agent handoffs are above your CX team’s capacity, and they likely will be, then shift your escalation strategy. Anticipate and prioritize which problems require a human touch, and which can be automated. Don’t burn out your agents when you have the tools to handle things digitally.
What should retailers do to prepare for eventual re-opening?
Overcommunication is key for eventual re-opening. Retailers should arm their chatbot and digital channels with content about new policies, compliance with bylaws, the flow of people within the store, sanitizer availability, and any other information that can help customers feel comfortable going back to brick-and-mortar. Understand that this means finding your older COVID-related messaging – hopefully, it’s indexed or tagged within your bot – and phasing it out or updating it as the situation evolves.
What should retailers do now to prepare for the upcoming influx of shipment inquiries from their customers (ex. around Black Friday)?
Retailers should think long-term here. The old strategy, where there’s one plan for Black Friday and another plan for the rest of the year, won’t work going forward. Many retailers have seen record-breaking volumes since March, so CX leaders should think about how to build a resilient, long-term support strategy that adapts to this level of inquiries without breaking the budget.
An important distinction here is that these past few months’ inquiries have been largely business as usual. Special events like Black Friday involve different strategies and messaging on sales, promotions, timelines, etc. Retailers must arm their digital channels, chatbots, and live agents with this new messaging. As retailers run marketing campaigns around Black Friday, they can introduce their chatbot as a “digital concierge” to prime customers to interact online when agents are likely to be tied up. Prepare for the return to normal, too; have a strategy in place to shift back to support-style messaging when the special event/ Black Friday ends.
What things have changed that you think will stick around once this is all behind us?
We’re getting used to living our lives online, and we’re not lowering our standards for digital versions of in-person experiences. Going forward, expect to see businesses creating world-class digital experiences, from website to support to social. Demand for empathic, digital self-service tools will only increase, and retailers will need to differentiate themselves by providing exceptional experiences across these channels.
From a strategy perspective, we’re seeing retailers embrace proactive messaging. This is fueled by a sense that support capacity won’t increase, and inquiries will; therefore, it’s essential to get ahead of potential issues. Prevent unnecessary tickets by offering self-serve support and proactive messaging tailored to the webpage the customer is on or the actions they’re taking. This lets the customer solve their issue independently and returns time to your support team to spend on high-value problems.
Do you have any additional advice to share?
Another thing worth considering is that the work-from-home, remote employment paradigm, especially in sales and customer support, will almost certainly persist for a while, if not forever. A digital-first strategy that makes it easy for your human resources to address the needs of customers is going to make that sustainable and scalable for the long term.
Something that’s taken many clients by surprise is the need to rethink which issues require a human touch. In the past, retailers dealt with widespread issues (ex. one-time delays) sporadically and would have an all-hands-on-deck approach until the issue was resolved. Now, we’re seeing widespread issues (ex. a global pandemic) that affect a critical mass of customers and last indefinitely. Retailers are responding to this uncertainty by redefining what issues need escalations and what can be resolved through automation.
Ada is the market leader in Automated Customer Service (ACX). As the only chatbot platform purpose-built to support an automation-first customer service strategy, Ada’s AI-powered platform is designed to deliver the scale and impact that transforms customer support from a cost center to profit center. Headquartered in Toronto, Ada enables hundreds of customers around the world to meet the needs of today’s customers with thoughtful personalized interactions proven to enhance long-term value and boost the bottom line. Learn more at ada.support.
This ‘Ask Me Anything’ piece is the fourth blog in our partner series on supply chain resilience during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Check out our first interview with Happy Returns, or check out the following pieces to learn more about supply chain disruption during this time:
- Our Parcel Network Pulse Dashboard pulls together our data of over 3 billion shipping events to help retailers identify where eCommerce fulfillment disruptions are happening.
- Watch our webinar, ‘The New Normal: Preparing Your Team For Peak Surges And Disruptions‘ to learn more about how you can diversify your network going into peak season.