Recently, U.S. online sales overtook consumer spending in physical stores for the first time.
By 2023, retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. are projected to surpass $735 billion. Even industries that were previously predicated on offline purchases like grocery, healthcare, and banking are now looking to e-commerce to become more efficient and reduce costs.
Today, customers expect an individualized, fast and accessible experience from companies. Otherwise, consumers will jump to a different brand. In this environment, high-quality customer service and customer experience (CX) have become important differentiators, and over 80% of businesses expect to compete mainly based on CX.
To keep up with existing customers’ expectations and attract new consumers, companies must evaluate new technologies without forgetting to keep people at the heart of the customer service equation. It is important to balance technology and the human touch in customer engagement to deliver the optimal experience.
Here are four technologies that are changing customer service delivery for e-commerce:
Chatbots and voice assistants
Intelligent virtual assistants and chatbots can be reached 24/7 on a customer’s smartphone, providing speed and instant access to information. However, it is still critical to have customer service representatives respond to more complicated questions to deliver the best advice. Voice assistants are being used for:
• Search: Customers are increasingly using Amazon Alexa, the Google Assistant or Apple Siri to search for products because the input is fast and simplifies the display of search results. As a result, brands must make sure content is rigorously optimized to be helpful for customers.
• Purchasing: Consumers can use voice commands to authenticate a payment. Though the capability exists, 31% of U.S. shoppers say they are not entirely comfortable shopping by voice. Greater familiarity and trust will drive more use in the future.
Consumers have become accustomed to interacting with video content, and e-commerce customer service is no different. Video has grown in popularity for:
• Support: Customer service representatives are utilizing live video chats to optimize personal contact and enable a scalable, yet personal, interactive exchange with customers. This virtual face-to-face conversation facilitates highly customized assistance.
• Learning: With the rise of YouTube, customers are utilizing video content to find out about products and their uses. In fact, 70% of shoppers say they are open to learning about products on YouTube.
• Marketing: Short promotional videos have become a powerful marketing channel to create awareness about products among new and existing customers.
Automation has emerged as a powerful tool to help to deliver a comprehensive customer experience with cross-channel customer service that is personalized, efficient and effective. The technology is being leveraged for:
• Recommendations: Automation combined with personal advice has led to growth in curated shopping and subscription services, which give customers an individualized pre-selection of products and has turned into a competitive advantage for many brands. In 2017, 15% of online shoppers signed up for at least one subscription to receive products on a recurring basis.
• Delivery: Customer expectations for fast shipping continue to rise. By 2023, 78% of logistics companies expect to provide same-day delivery and 39% anticipate delivery within a two-hour window by 2028. To achieve this level of shipping speed, retailers should continue adopting innovations like machine learning, automation, and drones to make deliveries more efficient and customer-friendly.
Augmented reality (AR) and connected devices
With more buying channels emerging, AR and connected devices are being used to help facilitate purchases. Examples include:
• Selection: AR digitally transforms the user’s environment, enabling searches, selections and purchases that are best suited for that individual customer. The technology can help make offline and online worlds closer and more connected. For example, virtual furniture can be viewed in a real room or makeup products can be tested virtually.
• Payment: New payment technologies are critical to streamlining the purchase process for customers, and IoT-based devices are making it easier than ever for customers to complete transactions. Smart shelves with Bluetooth signals can send notifications to consumers’ smartphones for a targeted, specific transmission of information about interesting offers in the area. Beacons, or digital transmitters, can now even trigger payment processes when a customer leaves a store.
With e-commerce on the rise, brands must evaluate new technologies like chatbots, video, automation, AR and connected devices. When introducing innovative technologies, businesses cannot forget the value of the human touch in CX. Even as technology drives process improvements, the human skills customer service representatives possess will still be integral to success. With an understanding of how trends and technology impact online customer service, brands can fulfill customer demands and better predict what consumers will want in the future, helping the business to succeed as e-commerce grows.
Fara Haron is CEO North America, Ireland and Southeast Asia & executive VP global clients, Majorel.