Humanize your Customer Service – with Technology

Lindsey Mazza

In our technology-driven global economy, the race is on for retailers to find new ways to become more central in their customers’ lives. 

This requires rethinking every touchpoint across the retailer-consumer relationship, now more than ever before, from the very first interaction through the nurturing of brand evangelists. The challenge is simply this: to transform even run-of-the-mill interactions into signature moments that delight, surprise and engage.

Meeting the challenge, however, is anything but simple. Leading retailers are harnessing the power of technology to humanize their brands and build service models that stand up and deliver in today’s turbulent business environment.

The ‘Customer Service’ Problem

Traditionally, customer service follows a fairly standard philosophy. When a customer has a problem, the sales associate or call center representative offers a discount, coupon or store credit. While this might temporarily mollify an angry customer, it misses a crucial opportunity to “wow” the customer. 

What does “wow” is a consistently outstanding customer experience. In fact, 81% of customers say they are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. And although 75% of companies believe they are customer-centric, only 30% of customers feel this is true.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for retailers to differentiate themselves through the experiences they deliver. Indeed, customer experience is quickly becoming the new customer service.

Unlike customer service, customer experience involves the entire culture of the organization. Customers engage with brands in many ways, and the entirety of these experiences is what impacts brand loyalty. Consider, for example, a customer seeking to make a return. Even though the sales associate may provide exemplary service, if the return policy listed on the retailer’s website is hard to find and confusing, the overall relationship still suffers.

Such a broadly defined customer experience brings enormous implications for retailers. From this perspective, customer service is no longer solely the responsibility of front-line store sales associates and call center staff. Instead, everyone in the organization becomes responsible for creating these signature moments, from C-suite executives to the people with direct consumer interaction. 

Ultimately, a great customer experience creates a sense of community, continuity and belonging. It’s like that moment when you walk into your favorite coffee shop – where you know the wi-fi signal is strong, the chairs are comfortable, and the barista greets you with, “Good morning! Let me guess: flat white and a cinnamon scone?” Other coffee shops might try to lure you away with great coupons and huge discounts, but you keep coming back to the place you know you are welcomed and valued.

Improving the Customer Experience Through Technology

Fortunately, retailers have multiple tools at their fingertips to generate these superior customer experiences.

High-Touch Technology

First and foremost, technology now makes it possible to create touchpoints where there were none before. Consider how chatbots, mobile apps, Alexa skills, Facebook Messenger and other online tools have transformed the ability for companies to reach their customers in the moments their customers need them most. Nordstrom, for example, uses chatbots to deliver personalized shopping recommendations, while Zurich uses chatbots to help customers file insurance claims.

More importantly, customers increasingly appreciate the smart use of this technology – with 71% saying they’re satisfied with their smartphone voice assistant (such as Siri) and 62% saying they’re satisfied with the chat assistants they find on a company’s website.

“Phygital” Retail Spaces

Innovative companies are combining the best of physical and digital shopping experiences into a single, spectacular immersion. Nike provides a tremendous example with their bold new venue the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.

From the moment customers walk into the store, they begin interacting with the technology around them – such as the cameras and sensors set up around an in-store basketball court where the customer is recorded from multiple angles, and tech-enabled treadmills that analyze the customer’s gait during a run so that in-store assistants can provide more personalized recommendations. Customers can access all of this data online or via the Nike app, and Nike uses this data to further tailor the experience for the customer the next time they visit the store.

AI and Machine Learning

Data is indeed king when it comes to providing ultra-personalized customer service – but the key lies in leveraging data to make smarter decisions. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enable retailers to translate raw data into powerful insights on consumer behavior and shopping habits, which in turn can be used to predict future purchases.

A notable example here is the retailer Uniqlo’s creative U Mood kiosks in Australia. The customer puts on a specialized headset equipped with sensors designed to “measure” the customer’s mood – so that an in-store associate can recommend a t-shirt design that perfectly fits what the customer might like.

Omnichannel Reach

With retailers looking to provide impact at more touchpoints, they’re more easily able to meet their customers’ needs via any channel, in any environment. A customer who wants to know a store’s hours can engage with a chatbot on the website, contact the store via Facebook Messenger, or ask their digital voice assistant – whatever is easiest and most convenient for the customer at that moment in time. 

By providing more avenues for customers to connect with their brand, retailers can keep more customers happy.

Ultimately, these trends, technologies and tools all work together to a single purpose: meeting the challenge of delivering the most amazing experiences possible, to build lifelong relationships with the customers who matter most. Retailers who succeed in thinking beyond the checkout find themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to deliver delightful, engaging and on-brand experiences across all potential points of contact – resulting in a true family of loyal customers who stick around, tell their friends, and keep on shopping.

Lindsey Mazza, Principal, Capgemini, leads the Global Consumer Products and Retail Supply Chain Domain 

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