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How to embrace the connected customer: digital interaction & service innovation

A pair of experts shared their decades of experience in creating customer service excellence.

How to embrace the connected customer: digital interaction & service innovationImage courtesy of iStock.

Retailers know they need to embrace digital innovation to succeed nowadays. Suggestions on how to do it were the focus of a recent Retail Customer Experience webinar, "The Connected Customer: Digital Interaction and Service Innovation."

Amrit Dhangal,

A pair of experts — Amrit Dhangal, co-founder and COO at Acquire, a conversational customer engagement platform, and Derrick Boatwright, director of commercial innovation at HLC, a wholesale distributor to bicycle shops — shared their decades of experience in creating customer service excellence.

"Companies hoping to succeed must meet these expectations by creating engaging and rewarding customer experiences," webinar moderator Elliot Maras, editor of Kiosk Marketplace, said in introducing the two panelists.

A listener poll at the start of the webinar found that most attendees like to communicate with companies via live chat and email. Both Dhangal and Boatwright said these poll findings matched their own companies' experiences.

Dhangal further noted that there were 63% more digital engagements last year among businesses as the pandemic drove customers to use more digital channels when connecting with brands.

Derrick Boatwright

"Effectively, cross communication became very digital," Dhangal said.

A customer can start a live chat on a website, then use SMS, after which point an email exchange takes place, he said. This holds true for nearly all types of businesses.

More shopping is also being done on social media channels such as TikTok (through its Shopify partnership), Facebook click to buy and Instagram, he said.

HCL encourages online and in-store buying

HCL was encouraging its customers to blend online and in-store commerce, which proved to be very helpful when the pandemic struck.

"People prefer to spend their dollars locally if you make it easy for them to do so and when you give them that option," Boatwright said. "If you didn't have the ability to live chat with your customers or if you didn't have the ability to transact online, then you really were left without any options, especially when shutdowns were in place and your physical store had to close down."

HCL, which has partnered with Acquire for four years, offered customers a doorstep delivery and a back order solution. This allowed customers to back order products, get in the queue and know when the products would arrive.

"They (back order programs) were never more reliable than when a supply chain shuts down," Boatwright said. "We were able to equip a mom-and-pop retailer with some of the best e-commerce platforms in the world." Retailers were able to provide two-day delivery.

"You get to spend your dollars locally, but you get the experience of an Amazon," he said. "It set our customers up to be successful."

Helping customers navigate the journey

HCL was also able to offer customers video, screen sharing and co-browsing to help retail customers navigate through challenges.

"It allows us to do a better job of realizing the needs that our customers have," Boatwright said. "In many cases, they can't even articulate those things. The retailer must find out what challenges their customers are facing. Then and only then can you go into solutions mode."

A good first step for crafting a digital customer strategy is to understand your internal resources, Dhangal said.

The first actual project in this journey is live chat.

"That is first and foremost step one," he said.

Boatwright said the first step is to understand how your customer wants to communicate with you. If the target customer is older, Tik Tok might not be the best channel.

Who's on the team?

As for who should be involved in creating the programs, a variety of company roles can be involved, such as e-commerce, finance and customer service, Dhangal said. The job role that companies use most often is digital strategy innovation.

He advised not to wait for the perfect version of a digital interaction offering before launching one. He also recommended not trying to do too much at once. As you add more channels, consistent execution becomes more difficult.

Boatwright agreed.

"Maybe start with one channel and get live chat figured out before you try to add something else," he said.

At the same time, Boatwright suggested not setting your bar too low.

"Compare yourself with the best of the best," he said.

"Understand that retail has changed, and in many cases, the person walking into your store knows more about your products that they are coming to purchase than you do," Boatwright said. "If you're no longer the expert, how does that change the way you speak to and interact with your customers?

"Maybe that's an area you could make some changes and have a positive impact," he said.

To view this video, click here.



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