Retail in 2021: Customer Service Trends You Can’t Ignore

2021 brings with it the shopping trends of 2020 — despite the Covid-19 vaccine close on the horizon, the way the pandemic has changed consumer behavior may permanently alter how brands deliver customer experience and customer support. 

These changes — increased online shopping, expectations for curbside or buy-online-pick-up-instore (BOPIS) delivery, more flexible and faster returns, and more proactive updates on status and shipping — all drive the need for faster, smarter, digital customer support. 

The increased expectations on retail contact centers comes at a time when these contact centers are grappling with remote workforces, disconnected or lagging technology, and unpredictable spikes in volume and demand generated by customers and the economy. 

It sounds like a perfect storm: right when consumers need customer support to be available, fast and accurate, the contact center is struggling to forecast, schedule, scale and keep hold times down. 

Contact centers have, understandably, found it challenging to keep pace. 

75% of Americans say that customer service has worsened during the pandemic
78% say they had to contact customer service multiple times to address a single concern
49% say they never got any response at all

At Replicant, we believe the contact center is entering a new era: where AI-driven autonomous contact center solutions provide just-in-time, always-on, answer-every-call AI voice services that create elasticity for modern contact centers. It’s time to do customer service differently. 

In this ebook, explore how consumer behavior is reshaping customer service and how taking an elastic customer service approach with autonomous contact center capabilities can equip you to not only meet these expectations, but improve the customer experience overall — and retain your customers. 

Online shopping is here to stay

With stores closed, lockdowns, and social distancing practices in place, many shoppers turned to online shopping. In fact, 84% of consumers have shopped online since the pandemic, with 65% having shopped in store. What’s more is that 79% say they will shop online regularly in the next six months, while only 57% say they’ll shop regularly in store. 2021 brings the promise of recovery, but it carries most of the same consumer behaviors with it. 

The increase in online shopping volume puts pressure on contact centers as agents effectively take the place of in store sales associates in assisting consumers through the buying process.  59% of consumers contact customer service now to get help making a purchase.

This is in addition to handling all the routine customer service inquiries and issues. This massive uptick in call volume as well as the sheer unpredictability of when spikes and surges will arise, leaves contact centers maxed out. Consequently, long hold times or lack of responsiveness create negative customer experiences that induce churn. 

In addition to ecommerce, retailers that also have brick-and-mortar stores must maintain high levels of positive CX in store, and connect the consumer experience across every touchpoint: in store, website, app, marketing, and customer service. While retailers cannot take their eye off of ecommerce, for many it’s just one more piece of an already complex omnichannel customer experience. 

New delivery options are now the norm

Contactless shopping, curbside delivery, and buy-online-pick-up-instore (BOPIS) were initially ways to adapt to shutdowns and restrictions. But buyers have grown accustomed to the convenience of these services and expect stores to continue to provide them into the future. 

72% of Americans say contactless pick-up is important to them

69% value curbside pick-up options

These trends require a closer connection between online ordering, delivery, and customer support — and result in an increase in customers contacting customer service with Tier-1 questions about orders, pickup times and order status updates. 

Even with automated systems communicating this information to customers, many still have questions and contact support to resolve them.

Increased returns adds pressure

As shoppers have transitioned to online shopping for items they normally would have tried on or evaluated for themselves in store, the rate of returns has understandably increased. 

In fact, digital purchases were forecasted to increase by 35.8% in 2020, reaching $190 billion for November and December combined, resulting in the value of returns being estimated to touch $57 billion. It is estimated that 70% of consumers make purchases now based on a retailer’s return policy, and 60% expect returns to be handled within seven days. 

Who handles these returns? While there are multiple teams involved throughout the complex return process, for the consumer, returns start and end with customer service. 

The massive volume of returns incurs steep costs and time, with the potential to jeopardize margins for retailers already hard hit by economic uncertainty. 

All of these shifts mean that customer service agents are bearing the weight of a much heavier load than they have in decades. 

Faster, smarter digital customer support

Given the added pressure on agents, it would seem cruel to inform contact centers that they must now work faster and step up their already stretched-thin game. But, customer expectations lead when it comes to how businesses differentiate themselves in this age. 

93% of consumers expect a response within 24 hours

89% expect a resolution within 24 hours

Customers go where they get the best customer experience. Their loyalty is not to brands, but to how brands make them feel. And, they have little forgiveness for when brands are too slow or fail to respond when they contact customer service. 

Contact centers are at an inflection point where they must find alternative ways of delivering exceptional customer care or risk losing customers and revenue to competitors that do.

Autonomous contact centers can do the heavy lifting

It’s no surprise that as contact center and CX leaders strive to address these growing demands on customer service, automation and AI come into the scene. In fact, AI-driven automation solutions abound. Many enable contact centers to use chatbots and automated notifications and updates, as well as lift the burden of after call work for agents; but few offer what is critically needed: an extra pair of hands without hiring or outsourcing another agent. 

An autonomous contact center solution provides elasticity for contact centers — enabling them to stretch up and down without adding cost, staffing more agents, or having to make fine-tuned forecasts for scheduling. By offering true elasticity, autonomous contact center solutions, like Replicant Voice, lift all the work of Tier-1 calls off of agents’ shoulders and answer every call, no matter what is happening. They resolve up to 90% of Tier-1 issues, and if needed provide agents with auto-generated call summaries prior to escalation. This means that customers with common, routine questions and issues always get resolution on first contact. 

It’s like adding a massive amount of staff without ever having to do so, at 50% the cost. And, it frees agents up to focus on calls that require an emotional connection and more complex resolution skills. 

Adopting an autonomous contact center

When retailers adopt an autonomous contact center, they experience the following benefits: 

  • Give every shopper personal and proactive service: Authenticate callers and know what they’re calling about to make every shopping experience more personal. Automatically detect satisfaction and send happy shoppers upsell offers and dissatisfied shoppers discounts via SMS to increase retention. Want to keep customers informed? Provide them with a brand ambassador to get store updates or the latest promotions based on their past purchase behaviors instantly. Tailor call scripts and A/B test them to ensure that every conversation is consistent and on-brand.
  • Provide shoppers with accurate and fast responses: Give customers a number they can call to get resolutions anytime, anywhere and remove the burden from agents by letting the autonomous contact center resolve tier-1 customer service issues 24/7.
  • Streamline shoppers most common service requests: Give shoppers faster resolutions to their most common service needs like delivery status updates, account updates, or return processing with interactive and intelligent voice-AI driven conversations. Make self-service easier by providing shoppers with downloadable return labels or their nearest fedex locations via SMS to reduce time to resolution while on the phone. 
  • Elastically scale customer service to meet shopper demand: With more shoppers moving online, it’s more important than ever to deliver consistent customer service experiences across every channel, 24/7. Efficiently scale capacity with automated self-service. Deliver one-to-one customer service without compromising on quality or increasing costs with operational overhead.  

Replicant can make your contact center elastic today

Replicant is the world’s first autonomous contact center that brings always-on, elastic capacity to every customer experience with voice AI. 

Designed to sit alongside your cloud contact center platform, Replicant.ai delivers a nearly-natural human conversation through its Thinking Machines™. Conversations adapt to context, handle multiple questions and comments at once, and respond with a human-paced speed of conversation. Replicant Thinking Machines accurately recognize customer intent for fast resolutions. Every call is answered immediately, hold times are eliminated, and customers have 24/7 service available anywhere, anytime. Additionally, contact centers pay for what they use without committing to capacity. 

With so much added pressure and the future of customer service being reshaped by these current trends, now is the time to find a better way to serve customers. Replicant is here to help you do that today.

See for yourself how Replicant.ai can lift the pressure from your contact center and position you for a strong future. 

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