For online retailers, servicing customer questions and queries is one of the biggest challenges associated with the channel. The ‘old world’ of store retail has conditioned shoppers to expect there to be someone on hand to answer their questions about products and services before they buy. Online, this is often hard to replicate.
One of many retailers that has wrestled with this is The Kooples, a French fashion retailer that has some 350 stores across Europe and the US and which sells a large proportion of its items online in all regions. Like all retailers it faces the issue of being deluged with customer queries, often prompted by making an order and it wanted to find a way to more effectively handle these.
The problem is not unique to The Kooples. Research by InternetRetailing for its white paper The Human Touch: Unlocking the power of conversational marketing, produced in conjunction with iAdvize, found that 50% of retailers see making a quick and effective response to customer queries as being a key part of improved customer experience, with 90% of them already using in-house staff to handle the calls.
But herein lies the problem: the more sales that are made, the more calls received and the further stretched the staff become to handle those questions well. This was the issue facing The Kooples Global Head of Client Experience, Nam Tran. And he found a novel – although increasingly popular – solution.
Tran is very keen on getting customer service right. As a student he had a bad experience with an online retailer. Faced with an issue about an item vanishing from his basket, he called the customer service department. He told them of his issue and how desperate he was to buy it and…
“They hung up on me: they said they couldn’t help and hung up,” he says. “I was really upset and shocked at how bad they were and what a bad experience it was.”
The incident forgotten, months later, Tran saw an advert looking for customer services interns at The Kooples so he applied. Tran has worked his way up from there to now being in charge of customer experience at the retailer and now is in the process of expanding how the company can handle an ever-growing number of calls as its customer base grows.
“We have to handle a huge number of FAQs, such as ‘where is my order?’, ‘How do I return it?’, ‘When will I get my refund?’,” he says. “And we get this on email, phone and social media. We needed a way to handle these properly on all those channels, but I also saw that it was vital to offer them an immediate and personal channel: live chat.”
In Tran’s view, people trust people and feel more reassured if they can talk to someone. He tried bots, but in his view “Bots are not qualified enough to handle all the fashion queries, such as care and total look proposals. People are much better,” he says. “And customers trust the authenticity. But how do you make that work at scale?”
Tran’s first idea was to connect in-store staff to the live chat to handle those live chats, but soon realised that, because of the traffic in-store, it wasn’t possible to do it effectively enough. “Then the live chat was implemented in my team internally,” he says, “with up to four people handling it. They the problem became one around business hours: our team worked 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, while traffic tends to peak on evenings and weekends. That’s when we turned to the experts for a solution.”
Tran spoke with iAdvize about their ability to source independent experts to chat on behalf of brands.
iAdvize specialises in selecting experts and ‘super-fans’ for the brands it works with, tapping into those people out there on social media who love a brand and know perhaps more about it than any other person, even those who run the brands themselves. These people are enthusiastic, but also realistic and will give a knowledgeable but practical response to enquiries that would-be customers can trust.
For The Kooples, iAdvize select super-fans that it advertised for or that it found online and, once they have passed a very specific test about the company, they are set off working for that brand. And the results are already being felt at The Kooples, handling all sorts of enquiries and aiding sales through answering questions.
The next phase is to look at how to use these people and chatbots to dynamically filter what the enquiry is about and send it to the most suitable ‘person’ to handle it. This is in the pipeline and is likely to be seen in the coming years.
And all retailers should take note. Handling online queries well already uplifts sales and, as consumers demand an ever-more personal service both on and off-line, retailers are going to see more customers wanting contact – and those that handle it well will be the ones that win the sale.
Increasing use of voice devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, too, are going to only up the ante when it comes to customer service. Retail is already a very competitive business and, where once the web made it a commoditised ‘best price’ business for a while, now the tropes of yesteryear – the informed and knowledgeable customer service with a personal edge – are back in fashion and are going to be what keeps Amazon from eating everyone’s lunch.
As Tran proved with his deployment of iAdvize, it can make a very vocal difference.