In this article, guest contributor Elliot Mark explores how local businesses can create online customer experiences to complement physical brick-and-mortar stores, and provides customer service tips for retailers.
Throughout recent years, the growth of the online retail industry has made it increasingly difficult for brick-and-mortar retailers to compete, pushing them to adapt to maintain their viability. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has only added urgency to this process. Unable to carry on as usual, even the staunchest holdouts have had to embrace online operations.
While there are some notable distinctions, online and offline retail overlap far more than they differ. Consider what it takes to bring a customer back, for instance. Superb customer service, whether it involves providing key advice concerning product options or calmly and productively fielding complaints, is a necessity for every type of retailer.
Now that in-person shopping has become so limited, with people being much less willing to spend significant time in stores (and much more likely to use straightforward click-and-collect systems with minimal interaction), traditional retailers can take advantage of this overlap. They can’t provide rich service in person, but they can provide it through the internet.
In this post, I’m going to set out four ways in which exceptional online customer experience can help you make your customers happy, bolster your reputation, and encourage patrons to return to your physical store.
Let’s get started.
Field queries quickly
Being attentive is a key part of customer service. It shows that you’re invested in helping shoppers get what they need as quickly and easily as possible and that you’re eager to secure their business. It’s nice to feel valued, after all. And where in-person service can be particularly friendly, online service can reach a level of efficiency that isn’t otherwise possible.
This is especially true when you implement live chat, a system that has become commonplace in customer service because it’s so much easier than the alternatives. Phone support is frustrating, requires focus, and must be handled one call at a time. Email support, however, has little sense of urgency.
Live chat manages the best of both worlds. It’s happening in real-time but can be dealt with while you get on with other things. Plus, support assistants can typically field multiple live-chat queries simultaneously.
You can further improve a live chat system through the implementation of chatbot software. Tools such as Crisp Chat were designed to accommodate customer service workflows, making it possible to automate the handling of common queries and concerns (leaving support assistants with time needed to field the more complex matters).
Source: Best Buy
You can see this type of system in action on the Best Buy site. If someone wants to check up on an order without going through the (often frustrating) process of waiting for an assistant to be available, they can. Knowing how easily they can get support will prove encouraging to your customers, and build trust before the time comes to return to physical stores.
Showcase in-depth product content
The best thing about checking out products in a physical store is that you can physically inspect them (well, to some extent: you may only be able to pick up the box). Very often there will be sample products on display to allow customers to look at them more closely. This in-store experience is great for showing the quality of materials and other things that might not be obvious from text descriptions.
Unfortunately, that experience can’t be reproduced online—but the advantage of the online world is that it takes away the rush that’s often present while shopping in person. Even someone very interested won’t stick around in a brick-and-mortar store for hours on end unless they really have time to kill, but it’s possible to spend that time browsing a site without even thinking about it.
Through your website, you can offer so much rich product information. Booklets, guides, dimensions (see how Ikea does this, nesting further figures for anyone who wants them), guarantees, tutorials, demonstrations, explainer videos.
If you think that a piece of content would help someone choose what to buy (or help them use whatever they bought), then you can include it, and it won’t take up valuable in-store space you can’t afford to lose.
Offer dynamic recommendations
Traditional stores order their items in particular ways. Supermarket chains are notorious for positioning their staple foods at the most hard-to-reach parts of their stores, requiring shoppers to walk past myriad tempting items (chocolate bars, for instance) to reach them. You can’t do this online, but you can draw upon previous purchases to inform dynamic recommendations.
Suppose that someone buys something from your physical store (creating a store account in the process), then heads to your website at a later date. With the systems linked, you can provide them with hyper-relevant product suggestions as they browse, and at the checkout stage before they place an order (there are countless systems for doing this, such as Dynamic Yield).
Amazon (pictured above) takes this one step further through using all sales data to offer relevant recommendations without requiring the user to sign in. If you add several items to your basket, you’ll be recommended items frequently purchased alongside that particular combination, making it hyper-convenient to take up new hobbies.
This example may be from an ecommerce brand, but it’s a tactic that could useful for your physical store because it increases your online store’s utility (improving the perception of your brand in general) and reminds the buyer of everything you stock, leading them to wonder what else you have to offer — something they could investigate further through visiting your store in person. Whichever store they choose, you benefit.
Provide exceptional after-sale care
Lastly, digital service allows you to assist your customers after they’ve bought from you in a way that wouldn’t be possible through your physical store alone. In addition to being there when they need you, you can reach out to them through social media to see how they’re faring. Are they satisfied with what you’ve sold them? Is there anything you can help with?
More often than you might think, customers will have minor issues with their buys that they don’t consider serious enough to actively pursue (but can certainly influence their decisions). By taking a proactive approach to service, you can learn about these issues and take action to resolve them. The result will be happier customers who want to support your brand.
There’s also the possibility that they just want to know more about what they’ve paid for, in which case popping up with relevant information would improve their experience and make them more likely to be positive about it. It isn’t for retail, but Spotify support (as evidenced above) is fantastic at picking up on such things — notice how it found and addressed a mention with no hashtags or profile targets.
Keeping physical stores going is certainly a challenge at this point for all businesses that don’t focus on staple buys (particularly grocery stores), and you can’t rely on the offline world to cover all your costs (let alone produce adequate profits). Working the digital world into your operation to achieve a hybrid strategy is the best way to proceed.
By concentrating on the customer service you can provide through your website and social media presence, you can find compelling ways to make your customers happy, resulting in a general boost to your company’s reputation. Good luck.