With delivery established this Christmas as one of the key battlegrounds for brands and retailers, handling customer service issues around delivery is becoming key to keeping customers happy. One leading technology supplier recently told me on the down low that he had had a number of leading retailers complaining to him that the biggest problem they had this Christmas was the huge volume of calls to call and customer service centres from customers wanting to know where their product was.
The issue for many retailers in the eCommerce age is that with an array of logistics suppliers helping them achieve the levels of almost instant delivery that consumers now demand is making it hard to keep tabs on where things are – which makes handling customer services around delivery really tricky and, more importantly, inefficient and costly.
So, what are the things that retailers can put in place to deliver the levels of customer service demanded by eCommerce customers? Here are a few top tips.
Keep track at all times
Knowing where goods are in the process from inventory, through ordering and on for delivery is the central nervous system of any eCommerce business and, when it comes to delivery customer service, it is the vital information that will let you help the customer quickly and efficiently.
So how do you do it? Firstly, you need to either use tools that let you do this yourself, or get a third party like Parcelhub to manage it for you. The key thing is to integrate into the platforms that you use to sell, the marketplaces you may be trading through, and the back-ends of the logistics providers that you are using. The more data you have at your fingertips, the easier it’s going to be to help with customer queries about their orders.
From a DIY perspective, your best bet is to use software as a service (SaaS) from a company with logistics management form, which you can then plug into your own eCommerce platforms. You have to make sure, however, that it works with all your platforms and can seamlessly take the right data from them – often in different formats – yet still spit out cohesive information about where goods are in the chain.
Similarly, with a third party doing it for you, they have to be able to integrate with your systems and read the data. They also have to have well trained and dedicated customer service staff to handle the calls you may get.
And all this gets a lot more complicated when you look at undelivered deliveries and returns. Tracking things going out is one thing, but when they can’t be dropped off or when you have someone picking something up, management of the process becomes even more tricky.
Manage third parties
The problem is that each carrier has its own way of doing things, its own tracking patterns and its own data formats. Any system that you use to track where your goods are has to be able to understand all this and churn it out as a single view for the customer services agents.
Systems such as Parcelhub’s SMART Notifications platform do just that. It takes each service by carrier and maps them against a ‘Type’ and ‘Sub Type’ to allow the system to identify and proactively pick up not only problem scans, but also sequences of scan events that may result in a parcel being returned.
This is just part of the process of managing third parties that is crucial to delivering great delivery customer service.
Make it core to your business
With 75% of organisations citing improved customer experience as a key objective and the job role of ‘Chief Customer Experience Officer’ creeping into many organisations today, it is clear that the experience and subsequent engagement of customers has to become more of a priority in the boardroom.
When looking to transform the customer experience strategy across an organisation, it requires the involvement and buy-in of much more than simply the marketing department as it did in the ‘old days’ As we have seen it involves the whole company and its third party suppliers and logistics suppliers.
To make real change and reap the valuable rewards on offer the board, starting with the CEO, must ensure this is a focus that runs through the ethos of the entire company.
With so much on offer today to create a unique and engaging customer experience strategy, a good place to start is by becoming a much more customer-focussed company and ensuring that any new strategy is being driven from the top.
With immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) becoming more mainstream and offering a far less intrusive way of reaching consumers, this could be a good place to start. And once embraced and executed effectively, the ROI can be seen almost immediately with this technology – music to the ears of any boardroom.
From a consumer point of view, being able to contact the retailer or carrier to find out about their delivery, arrange a re-delivery, sort a return, or to report a problem is the key issue. And for the eCommerce retailer or logistics provider, that means channels.
Back in the day, they’d pick up the phone and prepare to hold until they could speak to someone. Not these days. Today, consumers are used to being instantly sated and sated through the channel of their choice.
Offering an 0800 number is no longer sufficient. According to figures from Aspect Software, interactions with customer service via legacy channels like email and phone have fallen in the US by 7% in the last two years. Today you need to offer them ways to contact you at the very minimum by phone, SMS and email. More likely they are going to want live chat, Instant Messaging such as WhatsApp and even video – and they are going to want to be dealt with within two minutes, maximum.
Adding in a range of contact channels is the domain of your contact centre manager – or that of your third party’s contact centre – but it is crucial that this level of functionality is available to consumers. Integrating it all with the management of third party data from your other services suppliers, such as logistics, is becoming a massive challenge for all retailers. You can throw money at it and employ increasing numbers of both IT staff and customer service agents, however, other technologies are there to make this a lot easier going forward.
One of the reasons why phone has started to drop off as a customer contact channel is that people don’t want to talk to anyone so much anymore. According to Business Insider, consumers have slowly stopped contact with customer services through talking to a live agent by 10% in the past two years. And 59% of consumers would rather go through additional channels to contact customer service than have to use their voice to communicate.
Instead, consumers are warming up to interacting with customer services through automated channels. At least 49% of all consumers contact customer service using nonhuman interaction such as chatbots and intelligent assistants, at least one a week. For millennials, the share is 66%. A third of all consumers and 52% of millennials would like to see all of their customer service needs serviced through automated channels.
The waning efficacy of traditional channels is important, because poor customer service is hurting consumer retention. There’s a significant and growing proportion of consumers who have stopped doing business with a company due to bad customer service. 54% of consumers stopped doing business with a company due to bad service in 2017, versus 49% in 2016. However, good customer service will pay off in the long run. 68% of consumers reported increased activity with companies due to good customer service.
Emerging channels for customer service, such chatbots in messaging platforms, will help to drive customer satisfaction and improve retention. In 2017, consumers who contacted customer service via emerging channels — including text-based intelligent assistants, live chat, messaging apps, and home-based smart speakers with voice assistants — had significantly better customer service experiences than they did in 2016. As the technology powering these emerging channels progresses, and as natural language processing improves, customer service experiences on these channels will likely grow.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
What becomes clear when you look at the consumer demands around customer service and delivery is that there are a lot of somewhat disparate technologies all needed to make the process seamless – and managing all of that is hard: too many spinning plates.
That is why business process automation, CRM systems, marketing engines and more are all starting to add artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to how they function. AI essentially allows your systems to learn what they need to do to carry out what you want them to as efficiently as possible. It is sort of automation on steroids.
With Forrester predicting that 85% of customer service calls will be answered by a machine by 2020 with no human interference, it is essential that eCommerce businesses – and all those in the supply chain, especially those third parties that touch consumers too – invest in AI and apply it to what they are doing in customer services.
Applied properly, AI will be able to manage the links between all the disparate data sets from the operation management systems (OMS), the logistics input from delivery companies and more, understand the formats that data arrives in and work out how best to act on it. It will also push that data to the chat bots, manage how they work and make them react to customer queries in a seamless and human fashion – and as efficiently as possible.
And that is the name of the game: efficiency. My friend who told me about retailers complaining that modern delivery demands at Christmas had lit up their call centre like, well, a Christmas tree, wasn’t stressed that retailers couldn’t answer the questions about where deliveries had got to, more that it was taking too long. It was inefficient.
Applying best practice – and looking at AI and chatbots to help – is going to be central to making this better at Christmas 2018.
About Parcelhub – The bespoke parcel shipping solution.
Parcelhub is a multi-carrier shipping and eCommerce customer services solution. Flexible and scalable, it integrates seamlessly with order management systems, providing hundreds of multichannel retailers, global brands and wholesalers with one access point to many of the largest UK and international parcel carriers.
Multi-channel eCommerce platforms are easily integrated and dedicated proactive parcel management comes as standard.
Distributing more than 6 million parcels on its own carrier contracts every year, Parcelhub’s free multi-carrier shipping software grants hundreds of national and global businesses access to ‘pooled volume’ discounted rates from its carefully selected range of carrier partners, including: Yodel, Hermes, DPD, UK Mail, DHL, Whistl, UPS, DX, Parcelforce, CollectPlus, SkyNet, ArrowXL, Interpost, Panther Logistics, Direct Link and Palletforce.