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The Future of Customer Service in Retail is Proactive Service

Move beyond the contact centre with AI and ML solutions
Anurag Saluja
Retail Industry Lead for UK/I
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Retailers of all sizes and across various categories have historically utilized many different forms of customer service to meet the needs of their diverse customer base. However, COVID-19, the “always connected” customer, and rising consumer expectations are causing retailers to further evolve their customer service offerings from reactive to proactive.

Traditional approaches to customer service are typically more reactionary. However, reacting to issues (e.g., placing a customer on hold to check tracking) rather than proactively solving them (e.g., offering order tracking capabilities through AI/chatbot) consumes more resources and costs more.  

Therefore, customer service needs to move beyond the contact centre to a virtual ecosystem of digital and human-enabled assistants. This migration is happening already. By the end of 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by artificial intelligence—an increase of 400% from 2017.

This shift would require retailers to establish a foundation with the most important building block being a consistent view of the customer that can provide valuable insights across customer channels and interactions to proactively identify service vulnerabilities before they show up as inbound complaints. Anticipating and predicting issues, providing multi-channel and personalized touchpoints (or self-service capabilities) is the way forward.

Retailers who lay this foundation will have a more loyal customer base resulting in a positive impact to their top line. Therefore, to meet the increased expectations of the connected customer, retailers should consider adopting the following capabilities:

  1. Capture all customer interactions to use in all channels: A customer data platform is the foundation of the customer service function. To best serve their customers, retailers need to know them well; therefore, they should integrate data from various sources and make it available in real time to the customer service team and the self-service bots/apps. The goal is to enable real-time queries (e.g., a particular item is available in a particular location or an ETA for an item which the customer is waiting for).

  2. Flexibility for customer service staff to work from anywhere: Managing talent and equipping the customer service team with the right tools is critical for agents to deliver a hassle-free, conversational customer experience. Per recent Gartner research from 2020, over 71% of customer service leaders stated that 90% of their employees work from home. Therefore, retailers should have the ability to quickly flex their teams up or down in terms of remote work. Amazon Connect has been instrumental in delivering solutions that facilitate retailers’ customer service staff to work from anywhere. Read more about Morrisons—a leading retailer in the UK—who was able to get every single person in their contact centre working remotely within a day using Amazon Connect.

  3. Predicting using AI/ML: Only 13% of the customers received proactive customer service in 2020. By 2025, proactive customer engagement interactions will outnumber reactive customer engagement interactions. Retailers can use AI and ML to put themselves one step ahead of their customers when issues do arise. By identifying problems before their customers do, retailers can reach out with potential solutions, encouraging the customer to use a fast, effective resolution channel. To illustrate this point, a retailer could use data to anticipate a churn and be ready with an offer to retain that customer. ML can also be leveraged in translation services to speak to customers in any language. Amazon Comprehend and Amazon Translate can help retailers serve customers in local languages. Read how Schuh stepped up their customer experience with AWS and how Daniel Wellington’s customer service department saved 99% on translation costs with Amazon Translate.

  4. Personalization and AI-powered self-service (e.g., chatbots): According to Gartner, 33% of all buyers desire a seller-free sales experience—a preference that climbs to 44% for millennials. Therefore, organisations will need an informed, intelligent, and intuitive digital platform to cater to this customer need. This digital platform should have the ability to transcribe all conversations, support keyword searches to help detect trends, and improve agent conversations through real-time alerts that identify angry customers.

  5. Seamlessly connected to live agents: Nothing can replace an empathetic, positive conversation with another human. However, this human-to-human connection should be made seamlessly and routed intelligently to the appropriate service team to ensure there is little repetition and validations on the customer’s part.

  6. Pay as you go: During the pandemic, contact centre capacity had to be ramped up or down based on need. Retailers have realized the immense value of a consumption-based commercial service model. All companies must keep the cost of customer service in mind, so this will remain one of the most important features of a customer service platform.

These capabilities often look difficult to implement, but, thankfully, technology is also evolving and is being deployed rapidly in the retail sector. Cloud services, voice-enabled technologies, AI/ML technologies, big data analytics, and more have helped retailers improve call centre productivity and provide superior, agile service by making customer interactions more effective, personal, and natural. Look out for my next blog where I’ll explore how retailers have deployed cloud-based omnichannel customer service solutions to achieve this.

If you’re ready to transform your customer service strategy, AWS is here to help. Contact your account team today or visit our AWS for Retail Overview webpage to get started.

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