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Comment: Customer service and convenience - The greatest gift this Christmas

With Christmas spending expected to be down across the board this year, there is no doubt that customers will be choosing very carefully where they spend their money. By Mark Cooke


Comment: Customer service and convenience - The greatest gift this Christmas

With Christmas spending expected to be down across the board this year, there is no doubt that customers will be choosing very carefully where they spend their money. By Mark Cooke

Against this backdrop of recession and tight consumer spending, even retailers that have been slow to make the move to online are recognising its appeal and realising that e-commerce can serve as a lucrative and cost-effective way of reaching a large number of consumers.

The online business model ticks all the boxes by allowing a reduction in overheads, ease of scalability and optimal management of supply chain and logistics, as well as providing the opportunity for retailers to up-sell and link-sell. Yet many retailers view the opportunity to engage in face-to-face contact with customers as critical to the success of their festive campaigns and key to winning and retaining customers this Christmas.

In order to achieve this goal, retail and e-commerce consultancies are urging retailers to focus on the basics this Christmas, online as well as in-store, top of their recommendations being customer service. The message is simple and regardless of the route that the retailer chooses to lead a customer to the purchase point, what’s important to remember is that loyalty must be earned.

But in the online world, where shoppers are just a click away from spending their money elsewhere, providing a personalised service to the customer is deemed by many as more critical than it is on the shop floor. With online retailing, the stakes are considerably higher than with traditional high street outlets. Beyond the scare stories of online fraud and the terrifying prospect of gifts not being delivered until after Boxing Day, online retailing poses far longer-term risks to both a retailer’s brand and its relationship with its customers, if not done correctly.

In a battle to beat the fierce competition that comes with the sheer number of stores retailing online, there are a number of ways that retailers can ensure they are differentiating on much more than price. Making it possible for customers to communicate using the method that is right for them at any given time can help to convert a higher number of browsers into shoppers.

Integrating email queries into the traditional call centre function can speed up web orders, for example, and functions such as ‘Click to Talk’ give shoppers immediate access to an expert who can provide advice and talk through product specifications. The option of on-hand sales support will give customers the confidence to make a purchase there and then instead of using the site as a research tool.

Online shopping also allows retailers to adapt to shoppers’ spending habits more easily and support fluctuations in demand. As well as providing the ideal climate for up-selling, the online business model makes it possible for retailers to quickly scale up customer support during busy periods delivering great service to customers at the extended times that they want to shop. In the run up to Christmas, people will be using the internet to shop later into the evening and it’s not unheard of for people to even log on to purchase or exchange gifts on Christmas day.

Traditionally, this would not have been an option but online retailing has extended this service to the customer and retailers must be prepared to follow through on their customer service commitments to ensure consistency.

Retailers can ensure they are responding to fluctuations in consumer shopping habits by creating a unified call centre environment. By having agents available via a range of communications channels, customers can choose to communicate using their preferred method, whether it’s on the phone, on email, via videoconference and even on IM, and retailers can provide support for customers during critical high street downtime.

Today’s intelligent communications technologies enable customer service agents to work from home just as easily as they would from the call centre allowing them to work flexible hours at what might have once been considered as inconvenient times. In a world where convenience often presides over all else, having this service available could make the difference between a happy customer and one that will never return.

Poor customer service on the shop floor can lose sales and the same is true in the online world, where one negative experience alone can risk driving previously loyal customers into competitors’ hands. Simple and cost-effective measures are helping forward-thinking retailers to drive brand loyalty, enhance personalisation and safe-guard their customers’ spend during the online retail experience. The bottom line is that people expect customer service no matter how they shop and retailers must be willing and able to provide this.

Mark Cooke is Head of Retail at Avaya UK

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