Contact centre technology and feeling the love beyond Valentine’s Day

By Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru

Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest events in the retail calendar and with customer experience now the key competitive differentiator across the sector, retailers have been working hard to offer the best possible shopping experience. With high street shops now competing against data-driven online brands for customer loyalty, many are rolling out new in-store engagement tools to keep pace. From technical ‘magic’ mirrors that match you with your perfect lipstick, to less technical ‘personal touch’ wrapping services, retailers are looking everywhere for ways to engage with their customers. Increasingly, this means harnessing customer data to further personalise the in-store shopping experience. And while Valentine’s Day may have come-and-gone, retailers everywhere should be considering how they can use their customers’ data to ensure they remain loved-up all year round.

To keep the flame alive, a true omni-channel customer engagement approach is essential, particularly for those bricks-and-mortar stores competing online and on the high street. Retailers both on and offline can make momentous gains by adopting omni-channel best practice, and ‘connecting the dots’ between customer data-points and the consumer’s overall experience of the brand.

With the wider subscription economy now demanding that companies maintain long, attentive relationships with their customers, competing on price or convenience is all but redundant. Contact centre technology may not be the most romantic notion, but it can be an invaluable solution to ensuring customers continue to feel the love from retailers.


Matchmaking online and offline

Since the boom of online retail, there has been a misconception that retail organisations consist of two individually operating businesses: online and in-person. But, the reality is that the same customers exist in both scenarios, and often simultaneously. Whether the customer is on their device at home or walking around a physical retail space with a device to compare in-store deals with competitors, there is an urgent need to communicate effectively across all channels at all times.

It is highly likely that customers are interacting with brands, both physically and digitally, at the same time and it is important to engage with this. The primary concern should be to offer these customers the same connected experience, both online and offline, whenever, wherever. Matching the expectations of this new-age consumer demands that retailers deploy an omni-channel experience.

Online shopping is immensely powerful in its ability to collect, store and process data points on individual consumers. This advantage is hard to ignore, as it allows for complete personalisation of their shopping experience, and opens up more real-time direct and opportunistic communications with the customer. But, with the rise of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), we are approaching a future where physical stores can collect valuable data as customers enter, shop and leave. Gone are the days when retailers were limited to counting footfall. We all leave digital footprints, and by analysing our movements, it is possible to start honing in  on what communications will resonate with individuals as they move through the physical world.

In truth, beyond the clicks and views of a website, in-store shopping could be an even richer resource which will help develop deeper intelligence on the physical customer journey. So, will the pinnacle of the retail experience be born when these two worlds collide? Perhaps. But only with the right orchestration and only for those retailers that have already laid the foundations of best-practice omni-channel communications with their consumers.


The marriage of true omnichannel 

For many online retailers, the popular expectation for multiple channels of communication to be readily available may be overwhelming, and the next few years will be make-or-break for many. Utilising a cloud contact centre platform which offers the level of integration needed for a true omnichannel experience could mean the difference.

Omni-channel is frequently misused as a term to define various channels of communication that are managed in siloed compartments. Having multiple channels available in a business’ customer service model is great, but excellence only comes when performance is consistent across all of them – in other words, married together. In an ideal world, there should be no weak links that threaten to degrade the service – this is what makes the customer experience omni-channel, rather than multichannel.

Many retailers will have different systems controlling different departments. The truly omni-channel contact centre can bring together disparate information systems to create a full picture of the customer, helping organisations to provide a seamless journey.

For example, the system that logs stock in the warehouse can speak to the system that registers someone in store looking for a specific item, and with this seamless information sharing, the retailer can instantly communicate to the customer a personalised offer to order that item. This level of omni-channel integration not only makes internal communications and processes easier and more automated, but it benefits the customer and, ultimately, strengthens their relationship with the brand.


What’s in-store for retail engagement

It is already possible for the contact centre to become a truly omni-channel engagement hub that supports the future of an integrated online and offline retail experience. In fact, the contact centre industry’s implementation of the latest technology, such as AI and machine learning, is progressing at record speed, and making a huge impact on customer experience along the way.

It’s likely that the traditional Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems most retailers use (i.e. inviting callers to ‘press 1, press 2’)  will be replaced by much more sophisticated and effective Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems. NLP technology, which parses meaning from written or spoken language, enables businesses to provide end-to-end customer journeys that are characterised by impressive speed, efficiency and personalisation.

Live agents can deal with more complex or urgent inquiries by automating the handling of simple customer interactions. Empowering customers by routing them to an AI service, such as chatbots, accelerates their call resolution, reduces frustration and improves satisfaction. However, it is essential that AI systems can process this data effectively and direct customers and agents towards accurate information. This requires a base platform with the capability of uniting all relevant systems, such as internally in the warehouses and out on the shop floor, so that the AI can draw from multiple databases to formulate a response.

Across all sectors, the demand for ‘as-a-service’ omni-channel offerings is on the rise and utilising this is fast becoming vital for retailers, which need a comprehensive understanding of how to keep their customers loyal if they are to succeed in the new converged offline/online subscription economy. If retailers want to attract – and importantly, keep – customers they must learn how to nurture happy, long-term relationships with them across all channels of engagement both now and in the future.

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