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Why now is the time to communicate with 100% of customers
by Mark Smith

The rise of online does however bring one or two challenges. On the face of it retailers can cut costs, reduce staff numbers, and automate so called ‘dark stores’ to speed the delivery of the goods we want. But the use of the web to buy also brings to the consumer the ability to price match, to seek out independent review sites (like the wonderful Reevoo) and to generally track down the very best bargain, by price, reliability and delivery cost. Come on, admit it, how many times have you popped into the ‘never knowingly undersold’ collective – examined the white good and then whipped out your iPhone and found something remarkably similar online for 25% less?

So the equation is: ecommerce = good for consumer + mixed result for the retailer.

And this is where the problem – or the solution waiting to be found – lies: higher volumes for the e-winners, but at lower margins mean that the amount of people you have to make your customer really, really happy is reduced. And yet in a consumer-savvy world it’s inevitable that when there is a paper-thin difference between one e-tailer and the next, it’s customer service that wins the race.

So how do you balance the desire for brilliance in customer service versus being very careful not to erode your margins?

Well I believe the answer is staring us in the face. The brilliant thing about the online buying experience is the ‘omni-channel’ aspect – the fact that you can surf on your phone, tablet, laptop, TV, games console, watch, glasses, retinal implants (ok so the last one isn’t here yet, but I bet some bright young thing is on the case somewhere!) means any spare moment you have – wherever in the world you may be, you can find and buy exactly the thing you want. Now all of this is pretty much automated, there are even companies out there that track the movement of your cursor on a page, so even if you haven’t clicked on a product – Big Brother knows you nearly did, and can seamlessly present that very same product, even on another website you visit, to get you to buy.

Mostly we’re all comfortable with this, after all the benefit for us is a bargain, delivered where and when we want. The trouble is that it’s often where it all goes wrong.

So the solution is? Well that’s obvious, once the consumer has made the all-important purchase decision your omni-channel brilliance needs to be reapplied to fulfilment. In just the same way that the device used to order varies by circumstance and location, so does the communication channel necessary for letting your customer know what’s going to happen next. Your strategy for this might be e-mail, app, SMS, mobile optimised website, tweet, instant messenger or WhatsApp. The list goes on. Trouble is you can’t rely on just one or two channels, an e-mail can be lost, downloading an app is a pain, texting to a switched off mobile won’t work, websites go down, and instant messenger can get swamped in other noise.

What you should do is:

· Plan for a reply – dialogue not monologue;

· Be channel agnostic; and

· Move across channels if no response is forthcoming.

This is actually rather complex, but it’s crucial to make sure that customer communication flows as well – and as seamlessly – as the online experience that preceded it. From the customer side it’s incredibly intuitive – ‘Hi Mrs Jones, we’ll be with you next Thursday at 2pm to fit the washing machine, is that okay, say ‘yes’ or ‘no’’ or ‘Hi Mr Smith, did our engineer leave you with the instructions for the new TV, reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This might be a phone call, a text, or a tweet – whichever channel the customer prefers – but the key here is to learn. Learn the best time to ask questions, escalate the unhappy customer fast and deal with them, make sure that the feeds of data are shared securely and in real-time across the fulfilment chain (the fact that you use a sub-contractor for delivery or installation or repair is of no concern to the customer, just make sure everyone is informed).

Each customer interaction teaches us something – best time, best day, best channel, best wording, best voice type, and it’s this learning that makes us better. Businesses like Virgin Media, Sky, Wickes, Asda, and British Gas are leading the way and making huge strides in this area, but it’s about time the rest of the industry makes sure the brilliance of e-purchase is mirrored in the brilliance of ecommunication.

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