The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Member Blog: Customer service – without the complaints

By Howard Williams, Marketing Director at Parker Software

In the golden age of high street retail, one of the most common complaints from customers concerned disruptive in-store sales representatives. The phrase, “Would you like any help?” carried a sense of dread that a heavy sales pitch would follow. The rise of ecommerce and online retail mostly circumnavigates this. However, there is also the risk that effective customer service would be undermined without face-to-face interactions. Howard Williams, marketing director of digital engagement specialist Parker Software, explores how retailers can maintain strong relationships with their customers in the digital age – without being intrusive.

Online shopping is on the rise. A recent report from Ecommerce Europe has shown that ecommerce turnover in the UK was €157.1bn in 2015, demonstrating a rate of growth of 11%. This equates to an average spend of €3,625 per shopper – almost €200 higher than the previous year.

As more and more customers turn to the world wide web to do their purchasing, it is important that businesses are able to stay ahead of the curve to make the most of the rapidly expanding market. This means finding new ways to engage customers and ensure return business, something many companies struggle with in a post high street world.

The secret to success is in realising that ecommerce isn’t too different from the in store retail experience. Even the customer service and sales representatives have a part to play – albeit one that is less intrusive than accosting customers who simply wish to browse.

The availability of live chat software, for example, allows customers to converse with staff at a time that is convenient for them. By building valuable relationships without the risk of intruding on a customer’s browsing experience, businesses can harbour a positive public brand perception.

Of course, retailers can connect with their customers in many more ways than just live chat. Ecommerce Europe’s report also identified that mobile commerce is growing rapidly, with a €5bn increase in sales in 2015 alone. As live chat functionality may be limited by the confines of mobile apps, retailers should offer alternative means for customers to receive information quickly.

At Parker Software, for example, we’ve developed business automation software that allows retailers to set up dedicated customer SMS hotlines that mobile users can quickly send text their queries to. These hotlines can be automated to ensure messages are scored for urgency, and passed along to the most relevant member of staff. This means that appropriate action can be taken immediately, giving mobile users the information they need in a way that minimises disruption. 

While customers won’t be rid of retail representative input just yet, businesses can improve relationships by changing the dynamic of those interactions. With the help of automation software, retailers can change, “How can I help you?” to, “We’re ready to help how and when you need us.”