There’s little doubt that consumers want online shopping experiences that are fast, frictionless and convenient but, despite all the eCommerce bells and whistles, shoppers still crave the elegance and simplicity of human conversation in their buying journeys.
And as the retail industry approaches a tipping point – with retailers preparing to invest in conversational commerce tools and solutions that drive conversions – Stuart Gordon, UK Country Manager at iAdvize, looks at three ways retailers can optimise their existing conversational capital to close the customer experience gap and drive sales.
Optimising conversational capital across channels
Our recent research of over 50 senior UK retail leaders demonstrates that retailers have very clear plans for the future roles of both the store and store associate – and how they can help build human conversations into digital customer experiences, and vice versa.
Over the next two years, almost two thirds of retailers plan to invest in live messaging capabilities to bring human interaction into online buying journeys in a bid to infuse their digital sales channels with the rich experience and expertise that store associates put into action on the shop floor every day.
Meanwhile, 40% told us they plan to use store associates to engage in digital conversational commerce in-store over the same time period. This is something market leader, John Lewis, is already renowned for – the retailer reportedly invests heavily in educating, training and empowering their staff to converse and nurture sales in-store. However, this human capital, which accounts for the biggest industry overhead, now needs to be used online as well to ensure ROI is delivered across channels.
Other retailers, such as Heal’s, have also found value in leveraging conversational capital across its sales channels, as David Kohn, Director of eCommerce at the upmarket furniture retailer explained: “Rather than putting technology into the stores, we’ve brought people from the stores into our technology experience and we do this via a really interesting distributor live chat, handled by our store associates. We’re bringing the store and the people back into the technology and the results show that there’s nothing like person-to-person interaction… for a brand like us where there’s such an emotional connection with the products, people are turning up in-store for inspiration that you simply can’t get on the website.”
Better conversions mean blended conversations
Modern consumers want to shop without limits, switching between channels as they go. They don’t recognise the boundaries between retailers’ sales channels, and they don’t want to be confined by them. Along this path to purchase they want to be recognised by the retailer, access their full inventory, enjoy personalised experiences and have access to a full range of fulfilment and returns options — and as part of one sales conversation.
Data-driven eCommerce may be best placed to achieve this, but the experience needs to be constant across all channels including physical stores – and the need for blended conversations that reflect this interchangeable online and offline sales journey are increasingly being recognised by retailers.
84% of retailers we spoke to as part of our latest research said there was a greater need to integrate support for in-store and online queries, while a further 92% said the industry needs to join the dots between customer service touch points so that customer queries are answered quickly and seamlessly – and without eroding customer intent.
Retailers also realise that store staff need greater access to quality customer, stock and order insights if they are going to contribute to this blended customer journey and help close the customer experience gap. Our research shows nearly two thirds (65%) of retail leaders want to equip store assistants with a single view of stock across in-store and online inventory.
Meanwhile, more than half (58%) of retail leaders want to ‘digitise’ store staff, giving them access to online capabilities (such as online ordering, click-and-collect and personalisation), while a similar figure (51%) are considering giving staff a 360-degree view of the customer in-store and online.
Delivering joined-up conversations
Consumers want blended conversations across customer touch points and sales channels, but they also want them to be seamlessly joined up, avoiding complexity, repetition and confusion.
Nearly half of UK shoppers (46%) told us they don’t mind interacting with a retailer across different communication platforms – switching from chatbot to live chat with a customer service advisor and independent expert, for example – however, 21% would only be happy to do so if the information was seamlessly passed between channels to effectively answer their query. This demonstrates the importance of joining the conversational dots and avoiding a ‘Chinese whispers’ approach to customer interaction.
The most effective way of delivering joined-up conversations is to adopt a single integrated platform which can host, monitor and manage all customer conversations and the data they generate. When a holistic conversational commerce solution is used, the value of customer interactions ceases to be merely the sum of their parts. Instead data can be used to enrich and drive sales conversations wherever the customer chooses to engage.