6 best practices for thriving in the 'post-human' customer service age
By Anand Subramaniam, SVP worldwide marketing, eGain
Gartner recently stated that, by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with businesses without interacting with a human.
How can retailers, whether brick-and-mortar, click-and-mortar, or digital ones prepare for this? The roadmap to attaining that level of digital self-service is actually not that difficult.
But before we get to that, it's important to understand the underlying trends driving this change. First among them: next-gen shoppers — millennials and Gen Z — were "born digital." These shoppers are 60 percent more likely than older consumers to use digital self-service, per Forrester. These shoppers are also more likely to use human-assisted digital — rather than phone — customer service. And they demand that self-service get smarter.
To assess today's state of self-service, eGain did some mystery shopping on leading websites, including those of retailers. We found that search results were often frustratingly wide of the mark:
Search terms Results
Wide toe walking shoes Info on running shoes
Non-stick saucepan with no Teflon Scores of hits on pans with Teflon
No scent pain relief cream No sting pain relief cream
Dishwater does not clean well Pages of unrelated hits
How to pay more principal on mortgage loan Info on auto buying; other unrelated hits
Sure enough, when we surveyed 5,000 consumers regarding their pain points on getting customer service, their inability to find answers on a retailer's website was one of the top three issues that annoyed them:
- 41 percent: Different customer service agents give different answers
- 34 percent: Customer service agents don't know the answer
- 31 percent: I can't find an answer on the company's website
With self-service lagging behind today's shopper expectations and customers moving rapidly to self-service, how can retailers avoid frustrating their potential customers?
Here are some best practices that can help them not only survive but also thrive with self-service.
1. Prioritize knowledge scope
Smart knowledge is critical to answering shopper questions, as evidenced by the top three pain points in customer service. But it is important you don't try to boil the ocean when you get started with a knowledge management (KM) implementation. What we have seen work best is the application of the 80-20 Pareto principle: start by developing simple and effective answers to the most frequently asked questions. You can get a sense of what these FAQs are from your customer service organization and website search data.
2. Leverage AI
Artificial intelligence can be used to help both shoppers and customer-service reps. Leverage AI-based reasoning to provide step-by-step guidance to answers, or purchase advice for complex customer questions, or to guide agents through service processes such as processing returns. Our clients have been applying AI for customer service in three ways:
- Virtual assistants (for queries of low to medium complexity)
- Reasoning (for queries of medium to high complexity)
- AI-guided search and process
How does this work in the real world? Here are some examples:
- A leading windows manufacturer uses AI reasoning for conversational self-service, where consumers get guided to answers through a dialog
- A top cosmetics manufacturer uses virtual assistant and other tools to answer questions from their worldwide sales team while educating them on best practices.
- A leading household appliances manufacturer uses AI reasoning to provide conversational self-service to consumers across 24 European countries.
Even when customers are on hold for the interactive voice response (IVR) system, or when they are about to escalate an issue to human-assisted touchpoints like chat, email, or phone, contextual knowledge and AI guidance can be offered proactively with the promise that the customer will not lose their place in the queue. Such deflection at the point of escalation is a win-win for the customer and the business.
3. Provide a human safety net
When self-service fails, shoppers need to be transitioned to human-assisted service without loss of context, where they don't have to repeat answers to questions they had already answered through self-service. And the answers should be consistent regardless of touch point, which underscores the need for a unified omnichannel knowledge base.
4. Use human-assisted service to boost self-service
You can boost confidence in and adoption of self-service by using co-browse technology, in which the shopper and agent share the same screen, and customers learn how to use self-service "the next time around." In fact, co-browse can also be used to help shoppers navigate the retailer's own website or third-party sites, and complete their transactions, whether buying a product or collaboratively filling an online form.
5. Optimize knowledge-base performance
Use analytics to identify what's working and what's not working in the knowledge base, and modify the scope and content of knowledge, as needed.
6. De-risk new technology consumption
Insist that your solution partners agree to de-risk self-service innovation by asking for a free production pilot with no-charge guidance to success during that period, and with no obligation to buy at the end. This ensures a shared vision for success and a true partnership arrangement.
Smooth the path to checkout
Forrester states that 55 percent of online retail shoppers abandon if they cannot get a quick answer through self-service. These proven best practices will ensure you get the lion's share of the 55 percent — and not your competition.