The UK retail landscape has changed radically in the last ten years. The rise of the internet, new competition, increasingly demanding consumers and the slowdown caused by the recession have triggered the demise of many long-standing players, transforming the sector.
How are the UK’s top retailers coping with these challenges? To find out, the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 40 leading UK retailers, spread across four sectors, food & wine, consumer electronics, entertainment and fashion. It measured them on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and web chat. Sample questions included:
- Can I add items to an order before it is delivered?
- Can I order online and pick up instore?
- Do you have an ethical sourcing policy? If so, where can I find details?
The Study found wide variations between different sectors, channels and individual companies. These meant that while some retailers scored highly, the overall performance was patchy, with over a third of questions going unanswered online, via email or through Twitter. On a channel by channel basis, performance varied as follows:
- On the web: Retailers topped the overall study (which also looked at the insurance, travel, consumer electronics manufacturers, utility, telecoms and banking sectors) when it came to answering questions on the web – but also brought up the rear. Fashion retailers scored an average of 79%, while entertainment and electronics retailers only managed 52%.10% of retailers scored 9 or 10, while 17.5% were only able to answer 3 or fewer questions. This means that whilst the overall average for retailers was 60% (up from 53% last year) – 4 out of ten questions are simply not being answered online.
- Twitter: Over eight in ten (83%) of retailers are on Twitter, but just 33% responded successfully to tweeted questions and the average response time was slow at 13 hours 10 minutes. The fact that there was a 30% difference in performance between email and Twitter, even though the same question was asked on both, shows that the sector needs to share knowledge better between the two channels.
- Email: Overall, 63% of retailers successfully answered a question emailed to them, a 10% improvement on the same study last year. Speed of email response had also improved dramatically – with an average time of 35 hours and 43 minutes (versus 67 hours last year) but this does mask enormous differences – one electronics retailer responded in 7 minutes, yet another in the same sector, took nearly ten days.
- Web chat: When the research took place just three companies (8%) had web chat deployed, although others advertised on their web site and simply did not have it working at the time or have introduced it subsequently. Those that did offer chat, principally electronics retailers, benefited from its speed and flexibility – 83% of interactions received satisfactory answers in an average time of 4 minutes.
In an increasingly competitive market retailers should look at the following five key areas if they are to continue to meet rising customer expectations:
- Increase efficiency across channels: Retailers need to invest to improve efficiency by centralising customer service and automating as much as possible. Technology such as web self-service can deflect simple interactions to online channels, while advanced linguistic analysis can better understand incoming emails or tweets and suggest more relevant answers based on an understanding of language and context.
- Value customers’ time: Retailers need to deliver a multichannel response, answering questions quickly, on the customer’s channel of choice, powered by consistent, centralised knowledge. Retailers are advised to investigate new channels and devices such as mobile and social and ensure they have a presence on them that meets customer needs.
- Engage: To build loyalty and a deep relationship retailers need to engage with customers. Understand the customer journey and consumer expectations. Use linguistics to analyse and understand the questions people ask so that you can fine tune the experience to best meet their needs. Proactive web chat not only helps customers by quickly answering their queries but also increases engagement and drives additional sales.
- Benchmark the best: In a world where the internet increases competition and makes it easy for new entrants to launch, retailers need to be constantly improving. As a first step, companies should therefore benchmark their performance against immediate competitors. But they should also look further afield and review the wider market to spot new ideas that can be adapted and incorporated into operations, to increase differentiation and efficiency.
- Integrate with the business: Everyone is involved in the customer experience, from those working in shops to delivery drivers and senior management. Retailers are advised to work across departments to share information and link systems together to give an end-to-end view of the customer relationship. In the longer term linguistics can become part of the customer experience and information shared as part of a retailer’s big data strategy.
To download the study in full, including a sector-by-sector breakdown and to access further recommendations from Eptica please visit: http://www.eptica.com/Retail-Multichannel-Study-2014.html.
Web chat is growing rapidly in popularity with studies consistently showing that this service is highly valued by customers. For example, a 2013 survey by eConsultancy found that web chat had the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, scoring 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone. Speed (79%) and efficiency (46%) were the top reasons given for its popularity. A separate survey by eMarketer found that 63% of customers are more likely to return to a site that offers web chat.
The business benefits
Equally, chat delivers competitive advantage. Proactive web chat enables agents to help at key points on the customer journey, improving the experience, reducing abandoned transactions and offering opportunities for upselling. Think of web chat as the online equivalent of a helpful shop assistant that makes the buying process easier, providing advice and suggestions that improve the customer experience and turns browsers into buyers. It is also cost-effective as an agent can manage multiple chats simultaneously. No wonder that proactive chat has a return on investment of 105%, according to Forrester.
Web chat – the picture on the ground
Yet despite these benefits to customers and businesses, few companies actually offer chat. The most recent Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that its use in the UK’s top companies is still in its infancy. We tested the channel by asking a single question through a chat session. Key findings included:
- Overall just 13% of companies claimed to offer reactive web chat, a figure that is actually down from 15% last year.
- The picture worsened when we revisited sites. We then found that just 7% of organisations had reactive web chat operational (so a drop of nearly half) – possibly because companies were switching agent resources to other channels at particular times.
- On the other hand the benefits were immediately apparent. 93.5% of queries were answered satisfactorily– the highest score of any digital channel, and way above the 41% of email and 39% of Twitter.
- It was also blisteringly fast. The average chat session took just 4 minutes and 29 seconds. This makes it the quickest channel to receive an online answer from an agent – in comparison the Twitter average response time was 8 hours 37 minutes.
Companies need to deal with a growing number of interactions, across a widening range of channels, often with static or shrinking budgets. However, as both industry studies and the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study show, chat brings significant benefits. Customers understand the channel and value the immediacy, simplicity and personal service that it enables, leading to greater loyalty and recommendations to their peers. It is time to invest in chat and reap the benefits it brings.
With summer approaching (and another bank holiday imminent), getting away from it all is becoming uppermost in many people’s thoughts. And that means turning to the internet, which has radically changed the structure of the travel industry now that the majority of transactions happen online. Whether it is holidaymakers creating their own tailored trip or consumers comparing holiday companies and packages, delivering a strong online customer experience is central to winning business, from both last minute or more prepared travellers.
So, how good are travel firms at digital customer service? As part of the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, we surveyed ten major travel companies, including both operators and airlines. We looked at their ability to provide answers to routine questions via the web, email, Twitter and web chat. Unfortunately for those looking to bag a last minute holiday, there were vast differences in performance between companies and channels:
Web performance up
On a positive note, web performance improved, with an average of 68% of questions being answered via company websites (up from 63% previously). However, this masked a range of response rates. For example, when answering questions successfully, one company scored 9 out of 10, but another only managed 3.
Hitting delete on the email channel
As with many other sectors surveyed, email performance has deteriorated. Only 40% of companies enable non-customers to email them, down from 80% in our previous survey. Of these, just 20% of questions received a successful answer. One company took over 121 hours (16 working days) to respond – hardly ideal if you are looking for a last minute break. Another company answered the same question within 15 minutes, showing that the query wasn’t unreasonable. Others actively seemed to deflect email enquiries, with one airline bluntly stating that if the answer to a question could be found on its website, it simply wouldn’t respond to an email message.
Growth in Twitter
More encouragingly, travel companies have embraced Twitter. 70% had a Twitter presence and 60% successfully answered a tweeted question. They also responded much faster than to emails, although performance ranged from 8 minutes to 8 hours 34 minutes.
Pick your channels to get an answer
Holidaymakers face a shrinking choice of channels to communicate with travel companies. 40% of companies had switched off email since last year, cutting down the options for travellers. Just 50% offered two channels (from chat, Twitter and email), alongside the web and telephone channels. Consistency was also an issue – only one company provided the same answer on more than one channel. This is far from a joined-up multichannel experience and an inefficiency that is likely to increase costs.
The results of the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study show that, when it comes to travel, a customer’s service experience can still vary wildly. So, for those still looking to book a last minute bank holiday break, you’d better start planning now.
See more about the full Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study in this infographic or download the full report, which covers 100 companies in 10 sectors here.