Most retailers want to steep the any-channel customer journey with seamless service experiences, regardless of the touch point. But just how important is omnichannel customer service to the bottom line, and how are top performers approaching it?
Companies that adopt omnichannel customer care strategies, compared to firms that don’t, achieve 91% greater year-over-year increases in client retention rates, according to Aberdeen Group. These organizations also enjoy superior financial results in key measures such as customer profitability and lifetime value.
The Aberdeen report, titled: Omnichannel Customer Care, also indicated that Best-in-Class performers that engage customers seamlessly across multiple channels and modalities achieve an “8.5% average year-over-year improvement in first contact resolution rates” and a “7.5% average year-over-year improvement (decrease) in average cost per customer contact.”
These Best-in-Class firms experience “drastic improvements in increasing annual company revenue and reducing customers care costs,” the report noted, “measures regularly used by the C-suite to assess organizational performance.”
Centralized Data Brings Efficiencies To Omnichannel Strategies
One of the key differentiators that can set top performers apart is using customer data to maintain the context of prior cross-channel interactions across future ones, thus establishing a single brand image and experience.
“If you’re maintaining multiple data systems that deliver significantly different brand experiences in stores, from call centers or online, for example, consumers will have trouble identifying themselves as active cross-channel participants in your brand,” said Brion Reusche, Industry Principle, Retail, at Junction Solutions, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “On the other hand, with a centralized information hub providing one source of truth, retailers can deliver a consistent service experience, regardless of channel. After all, seamless omnichannel service is all about how the customer views it, not the retailer.”
Eckler’s, an automotive restoration parts and accessories retailer, is among the companies using the Junction Solutions platform, specifically “to streamline our systems to a unified multichannel platform [that will] help us attain a single, clear view of all our channels,” said Matt Jordan, CEO at Eckler’s. This single view will lead to “even higher levels of performance and service for our customers,” as well as more effective customer engagement and improved one-to-one marketing.
Retailers such as Eckler’s that pursue true omnichannel, single-brand experiences are recognizing that “without a central commerce hub, the cost of doing business in this multichannel world increases dramatically,” Reusche said. “Where omnichannel customer care used to differentiate, today it is a consumer expectation. Retailers not providing and promoting excellent multichannel customer care will not obtain the wallet share they’re targeting.”
Retailers Have A Long Way To Go To Achieve Customer Service Excellence
While most retailers acknowledge the need for superior omnichannel customer service, few are achieving it at high levels. Justsix out of 100 retailers benchmarked by the e-tailing group received an Annual Customer Service Excellence Award for 2013. Awards were based on results of the retail consultancy’s 16th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted during Q4 2013.
L.L. Bean and Sunglass Hut were among the six high achievers. Providing superior customer service “is absolutely critical in today’s complex retail environment, and can exist as a fantastic brand differentiator,” said Mac McKeever, a senior representative in the L.L. Bean Department of Public Affairs, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. Because L.L. Bean customer interactions take many forms, including in stores and on social media, chats, the web and phone, “it’s imperative that we ensure continuous and consistent customer service delivery across all channels and customer touch points. Retailers able to do this will differentiate themselves and develop greater customer affinity and loyalty over time.”
Fabio d’Angelantonio, President at Luxottica Retail Sun & Luxury, which includes the Sunglass Hut brand, also spoke to Retail TouchPoints about customer service excellence: “When you have more than 2,000 stores worldwide, stellar customer service is essential and has become a key differentiator of the Sunglass Hut experience. We want our customers to have the same consistent experience, whether in-store in New York, Sydney or London, or across the Sunglass Hut digital channels.” With a huge assortment of sunglass brands available, Sunglass Hut “has a great opportunity to get the most out of omnichannel to meet our customers’ needs: We’re constantly exploring new opportunities, how omnichannel can enhance customer relationships, and ways to infuse and simplify the category with new experiences.”
To deliver on the customer service imperative, retailers must consider each different communications touch point. “Consumers choose varying forms of communication when interacting with retailers,” according to the e-tailing group study. “Each communication channel has its strengths and shoppers choose accordingly.” For example, the 2013 report showed that while many consumers are willing to wait for email responses (provided in less than 21 hours), shoppers with a greater sense of urgency “don’t mind crawling through call center hoops” to receive a faster response (4.65 minutes). The average time for a chat response rose in 2013 (to 9.66 minutes), “due to a handful of retailers that took too long to launch the chat,” along with others who had inefficient customer service representatives manning those interactions.
“Service must be at the philosophical core of any successful retailer,” said Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. “A review of existing self-service experiences and continual monitoring of delivery, communication touch points and an emphasis on building a customer-centric shopping experience should top every retailer’s 2014 to-do list.”
Consumers Call For Big Changes To Service Techniques
Forward-thinking retailers are working to improve omnichannel customer care, according to an Aspect Software survey of 2,201 Americans who required customer service. The survey found that:
- 94% of respondents said customer service agents should be able to access consumers’ most up-to-date information, no matter the care channel;
- 91% want customer care agents to be more informed about current promotions, regardless of channel;
- 90% said they expect customer service consistency and continuity — such as picking up with a same-issue discussion where they last left off — but just 39% receive it;
- 89% are annoyed by the “repeating-myself” syndrome that plagues many care experiences;
- 80% said brands need to make big changes in how they provide customer service; and
- 47% said the information customer service has on them rarely helps resolve their issues.
“Access and utilization of customer data, regardless of channel,” the survey concluded, “is key to addressing the challenge of providing an omnichannel experience.”
The “O” Word
Leading retailers are setting the pace for others when it comes to customer service. Just as Walmart redefined the standard for efficient and effective operations in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Amazon.com has raised it over the past decade for customer service, according to Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR). “Retail Winners recognize stellar customer service as the single biggest determiner of success today. Most retailers are racing to deploy all their human, store and technology assets to improve customer service and re-engage disaffected consumers.”
In her comments to Retail TouchPoints, Rosenblum said she intentionally omitted the word “omnichannel” — which she refers to as the “O” word — “because customers don’t think about channels: They just think about the service they’re receiving.”
Marketers at Indochino, an eTailer of custom men’s suits, also avoid the “O” word: Staff members don’t use it because “our customers don’t care about ‘omnichannel’ — they just want a good experience,” said Kyle Vucko, Co-Founder and CEO at Indochino. “That means a seamless experience across the board, and that’s what we try to deliver.”
To help improve customer service, Indochino introduced the Traveling Tailor pop-up stores. This approach “creates face-to-face interactions with customers which allow us to learn more about them and from them, in order to improve our experience across channels,” Vucko said. “In fact, we have moved our focus from ‘channel strategy’ to ‘experience-first.’ This move has enabled us to create a seamless ecosystem that resonates with our customers because it’s based on their needs. ‘Experience-first,’ a concept we preach internally, represents one of the biggest customer service advances in the industry: The need to think like a customer.”
In today’s emphatically “O-word” environment, retailers must embrace customer care by fusing customer data systems to create one source of truth and a single-brand experience, with service at the core. Aggressive cross-channel retailers that modify and advance their customer service strategies — and drive decisions based on “customers,” not “channels” — can outpace their peers and attain Best-in-Class status.