Change is a constant in life, and resistance is futile. This is certainly the case in the domain of commercial enterprise. With the advent of so many technological developments the past two decades, every sector has been forced to evolve to adapting consumer patterns. This has been pronounced in retail, where long-established players are facing extinction as individuals move toward online buying. For providers of front-line services with retail customers, this sea change needs to be top-of-mind. Adapting with the right tools, channels and service strategies will differentiate one outsourcer from the next, and outsourcers need to plan their strategies accordingly.
To say that the trend of shifting retail behavior has been apparent for quite some time would be an understatement. However, it was illustrated starkly terms in a recent Guardian article, which published statistics that indicated a significant pattern of UK high street retail stores being shuttered. Granted, a large number were restaurants and bars, apparently due consumers now preferring to eat and drink at home. But other casualties were retailers that relied heavily on customer experience delivery. One of the most important is clothing, which leading retail analyst Patrick O’Brien indicated has experienced a major shift to online sales over the past five years. However, given that consumers can buy a wide range of goods from devices linked to the Internet, rather than braving the elements, traffic and packed public transport, it is expected that this trend will only deepen across retail in major demand markets.
This poses a shift for contact center service providers moving forward. No longer will retailers be requiring their front-office BPO partners to operate hundreds of agents managing warranty issues, returns and service matters on the telephone. Rather, the challenge will be to engage a new swath of online buyers, with the aim of providing seamless, real-time interactions that drive loyalty. This will take a careful balance of investments in processes, people and technology.
From a channel angle, there can be no doubt that voice will remain a mainstay for retail service. Even so, more consumers browsing and buying online will look to find personalized support via web-chat, instant messaging, social media and in some cases video-chat. Making certain that these solutions are present to prevent consumer attrition is vital. So, too, is having the right automation in place. If deployed correctly, automated solutions will reduce costs and streamline consumer interactions.
For outsourcers, making the investment in analytics and artificial intelligence will be also be vital, if they are to know the end-buyer better and to position the right cross-sell / upsell opportunities. Going into 2019, outsourcers are in a unique position to act as the trusted guides for retailer customer experience, given that contact center budgets in this sector have been underfunded for some time. The most recent Ryan Strategic Advisory Front Office Omnibus Survey indicates that less than half of retail contact centers are expected to see increases in their customer experience budget flexibility next year.
With the need for the right solutions at the ready, providers have an obvious opportunity in this evolving industry. The key is to act now, with targeted campaigns to retailers that are feeling the pain of the shift to online buying, one that focuses on seamless customer experience transitioning to the solutions of tomorrow. To simply provide traditional support options will render luddite outsourcers as redundant as those stores closing on high streets across the UK.