helpThere is no right answer to creating a good online self-service environment, but there are some strong best practice pointers that will help guide the way. Not everything will be suitable for every business.

Here are some pointers though!

  • Ensure you have joined up web analytics and reporting, including contact centre, voice of the customer and web data.
  • Use simple classifications to help people filter quickly and easily.
  • Don’t have long lists of FAQs. Have a clear list of top questions, and then have a clear path for other users to filter to the right answer.
  • Make sure your search engine is capable of using natural language queries, and that it provides a small handful of relevant results. Implement a “did you mean” feature for clear filtering, and include either automatically corrected spellings or corrections.
  • Not all content has to be provided by you. Other sites might be better able to answer the question.
  • Have a user forum/community. Your engaged base will help out other customers in need of help. It’s also good for SEO, helps with appropriate escalation and is good for the brand. Ensure the community is fully integrated into your online help solution, including search.
  • Consider using video for your high traffic solutions. But also consider using your engaged base to help make those videos, and reward them for doing it.
  • Add a full customer satisfaction survey, and if possible include session replay.
  • Identify areas where contact is required, and ensure escalation points are clearly signposted. Finding an answer should be easy, even if that means the customer has to make a phone call rather than spend time searching the website. Consider web chat for help.
  • Ensure content is accessible on mobile.
  • Allow people to rate every answer on the website. This helps compliment web analytics with a partial voice of the customer. It also helps to weed out potentially poor answers for continual optimisation.

Ensure you use consistent language across your digital touchpoints, from purchase to account management to online help, store and the contact centre. Create a language bible that is shared across the business. For example, a talk plan should be referred to consistently across the brand.

Don’t work in silos. Some lessons from the US:

“A lack of coherence can damage brand image, and because of the confusion caused by the variance in navigation systems, could lead to frustration on the part of the customer and to increased calls to the telephone help desks.…support has a different look and feel and uses a different menu system. This can also slow the customer down when looking for help. Customer confusion poses a significant challenge, as visitors’ patience levels are low”[i].

Furthermore “…best practices demand that businesses be equipped to manage the customer experience via the preferred channel of the customer – whether it’s online via self-service, online via assisted service, or offline through a phone or in person. For some businesses, this process can be hindered by silos of informational hierarchies – with marketing owning the web site, contact centre owning many of the customer interactions and with neither communicating effectively with the other.”[ii]

[i] Verizon report, Customer Respect Group, 2010

[ii] IntelliResponse, Web Self-Service: The Cornerstone of Multi-Channel Customer  Experience Management

Social shopping?

facebook logo thumbs upShopping is historically a social experience, of that there can be little argument. It was online shopping that made it a more solitary experience. It seems only logical that people would like to bring back that social element while retaining the convenience of shopping online.

It is not yet easy to pick through the various statistics and review what businesses have done so far to come up with a single answer. Indeed, it’s still probably too early for there to be any kind of established route into making online shopping more social. There are also some trust and privacy issues that some of the social networks must iron out.

But if there’s no clear route, there is a clear business rationale, and that is to sell more. Inherent in that goal is the building of your brand, extending reach and the development of a long-term relationship with your customers to lead to deeper loyalty.

So how do you do it?

You have the pioneers like JC Penney and GameStop who have jumped straight in with full transactional apps on Facebook. Then you have people like BestBuy US who feature their products on Facebook, allow you to share and comment but ultimately lead you back to their site to close the deal. And then there’s the Levi’s approach, which keeps everything on their own site, but integrates with Facebook to allow people to share and comment on their own news feed.

Many of the retailers currently leveraging Facebook have something in common; JC Penney, GameStop, ASOS – these brands sell products that in reality require very little consideration and are largely self-gratifying (clothes, video games, etc). It is highly possible that Facebook shopping in particular is more about impulse buying of lower cost, lower consideration products.

Keep control.

If nobody truly knows the right route to follow, then there are at least some common principles:

  1. Your brand has to be on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter
  2. Don’t use social media to bombard your fans with constant sales messages. Build your brand, build trust and develop your relationship (but don’t bribe with competitions every week or discount coupons).
  3. Update regularly and consistently, but not for the sake of it
  4. Experiment, be brave and evolve, but make sure everything is measurable.
  5. Watch what others do and don’t be afraid to copy.
  6. Leverage social media in your brand campaigns and be confident about it, but continue to use retail spend in the channels that provide the best quantifiable ROI
  7. Facebook shopping will probably be for lower value, low consideration impulse purchases. Accept this and leverage it if you can.

The world of shopping on social media sites is going to evolve and change quickly. If you are going to jump in you need to do it properly and ensure that the benefit to your business is both measurable and quantifiable.

The future of digital retail

Abstract image

Retail is changing. Multi-channel is now firmly established as a consumer necessity, from click and reserve, any channel returns and super-fast delivery. It is also not just younger, agile businesses who are embracing a new approach. Tesco, John Lewis and Argos are hardly new entrants to the retail market, but they are some of the leaders. This isn’t a UK phenomenon either. In the US it is also established businesses such as Macy’s and H&M who are right at the forefront of innovation and experimentation.

There is no magic formula to create a successful digital retailer, but there are some clear emerging principles:

  1. Align with the aspiration of the customer and their changing habits
  2. Be committed to investing in and implementing change
  3. Have channels that are interdependent, not in silos
  4. Have a consistent brand view across all channels
  5. Have a single view of the customer
  6. Have real time analysis and insight
  7. Deliver a personalised customer experience
  8. Be clear on sales attribution
  9. Be clear on the role of the high street
  10. Test, learn, optimise. And do it over and over again.

Consumers are comfortable mixing shops, digital touch points, call centres and catalogues.

By having a digital presence across all touch points businesses are offering a clear benefit to consumers who are then able to make the choice as to how they want to interact with the brand.

There is inevitably organisational change that is a prerequisite to becoming a successful multi-channel business, but the perfect solution will evolve over time. The important step is to start.

Customers just want to shop with the brand, regardless how a retailer might have organised himself internally.

Businesses would do well to keep this simple philosophy in mind – test, learn, optimise, iterate.

At the heart of digital retailing is a mindset: a willingness and ability to understand and respond to emerging trends and changing behaviours. It is imperative that businesses evolve their model as consumers’ needs and behaviours evolve. And a genuine commitment to this approach is required, through failure as well as success.

So while much of digital retailing is in its infancy still – NFC, location based apps, social buying, interactive advertising – it is undeniably growing quickly. At the very least businesses today need to be multi-channel and starting to experiment with what it is to be a digital business.

Image © Chrisharvey