By Ryan Falkenberg, 22 December 2022 – Originally published by Retail Brief Africa.
If you’re anything like some of South Africa’s biggest retailers, you had a very good Black Friday. Through the course of the annual shopping extravaganza, South African consumers spent billions of Rands, with one spending R400 000 before sunrise and at least two others spending more than R1 million each. But even the most successful of Black Fridays doesn’t come without a few wrinkles.
In the weeks following Black Friday, retailers of all sizes have had to deal with a related spike in service queries, issues and disputes. And while these retailers have perfected digital sales, the same cannot be said for digital servicing. Most retailers still rely heavily on human agents to handle the complexities of query resolution and dispute handling.
The challenge with digital servicing
Offering a customer an incredible online shopping experience is not simple. You don’t just need to make it easy to find the right product, pay for it and specify a delivery address. It’s everything that goes into making it a frictionless experience, from product images and details to stock management, payments and logistics.
Resolving related queries and disputes is no less simple. You need to be able to analyse each situation and based on each context, apply different rules to reach relevant outcomes.
It seldom involves a simple answer to a specific question, like ‘Where is my delivery?’. Instead, many service queries or disputes can only be resolved once a lot more information has been gathered from the customer themselves.
For online retailers using chatbots to handle their customer service needs, that’s bad news. Chatbots are good at giving basic information, but terrible at offering meaningful advice. They struggle to ask relevant questions that result in meaningful outcomes. In many cases, chatbots actually make it worse.
To overcome chatbot limitations, many retailers employ contact centre agents to take over the conversation from the chatbot, either via live chat, phone or email.
Over peak periods like Black Friday, they need to ramp up capacity using temps who are often overwhelmed by the volume and variation of queries they need to resolve, leading to frustrated customers and poor customer experiences.
Virtual agents are solving this problem
Fortunately for online retailers, they now have an alternative – virtual agents.
Unlike chatbots, virtual agents operate at the level of experienced human agents. They can clarify the customer’s intent, analyse their situation or need, diagnose the root cause of any problem and then identify the right solution before triggering the relevant process to action it.
Plus they can engage directly with customers via multiple digital channels including the web, mobile app, WhatsApp and email. By offering customers access to a digital expert capable of analysing their situation and resolving their issues in one touch, retailers can significantly lower the volume of calls that end up being handled by human agents.
The calls that do get handled by human agents are those where the servicing rules are not clear, or where a customer requires emotional reassurance from an empathetic person. The rest get resolved by virtual agents that can handle huge volumes, 24/7/365.
As more sales get processed online, customers will expect more of their service queries to be resolved the same way. Fortunately, with virtual agents, this is now possible. And as a result, retailers can now look to offer frictionless sales and service experiences, via multiple digital channels.
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