What are the customer service needs of the retail buyer?

July 2021


In this article, we discuss what UK and overseas consumers demand from British retailers when it comes to customer service. This article includes the latest Whistl and third party research and actionable tips on how you can deliver a best-in-class customer experience.

To truly excel as an online retailer, merchants must get every component of the customer journey right. From your website user experience to product sourcing, fulfilment and delivery, get any of these elements wrong and you can say goodbye to repeat business. At each of these stages, customers will have to overcome objections and this is where your own, or outsourced customer service department can help ensure their needs are met and their concerns are remedied.

So according to Whistl’s own, and third party research, what do today’s customers want from you, the online retailer, and what can you do to keep them coming back for more? Here is a list of the key things consumers expect.

Customers want empathy

When you show empathy to others this reduces their defensive energy and increases their positive energy. This will help you solve customers' problems more easily, and help them self-serve more effectively.

Empathy is one's ability to understand the thought processes and emotions of another person, from their perspective. Therefore your customer service agents need to be both self-aware and emotionally intelligent. As highlighted in the below diagram from tractionwise, this Customer Empathy Map can help you track the needs and desires of your potential and existing customers to better serve them:

Customer Empathy Map.png

The above diagram is valuable because it forces the customer service agent to consider their customers’ fears, frustrations, obstacles and what they are hoping to achieve from their phone calls, email, social media and live chat.

In our research we found both men and women find unhelpful contact centres and those that keep them waiting on the line the most annoying. For men, language issues are in third place; for women, it's being sent around in circles without achieving anything. Women also found ‘going round in circles and ‘rude/arrogant agents’ more of a hindrance than men.

Taking the Whistl research into account, your contact centre agents will need to ensure that however, the customer feels, and whichever problem they are facing, that they get to the right department and demand a solution as quickly as possible.

Customers expect choice

Whichever way you look at your online store, be it your delivery options, products or sales channels, customers increasingly demand greater choice. When it comes to serving your customers on a campaign or ongoing basis, it’s critical that retailers service their customers on the channels of their choice.

In 2020 Eptica surveyed 1,000 UK consumers, asking them to rank their preferred channels across the entire customer journey, from initial research to post-purchase follow-up and then providing positive and negative feedback. The survey also asked how long they were willing to wait for an answer on specific channels before they gave up. The research found that four channels dominate, with consumers preferring:

  • Phone
  • Website self-service
  • eMail
  • Chat

With social media channels; Twitter and Facebook trailing behind.

The majority of customers are happy to self-serve, on their terms, then they are willing to jump on social media to solve a problem. When it comes to complaints, email, at 41%, is by far the most popular channel, followed by 33% by phone and 20% using live chat. Consumers prefer email because it has a clearer audit trail.

Whichever channels your customers demand, it’s critical that you harmonise all of these communications with a customer experience management (CEM) platform such as Freshdesk, to ensure your customer service agents can see every interaction a customer has had with you, regardless of their channel selection.

Customers demand speed

Utilising a CEM will help your customer service agents respond faster to queries with better information.

At Whistl, we interviewed 1000 UK consumers to understand how e-tailers can improve the experience their customers receive when using call centre support. We found that waiting time and average call handling time is important; longer than 5 minutes was deemed unreasonable but people would stay on hold for 9.1 minutes and 69% would hang up after 10 minutes. We also found that consumers don’t mind if you use recorded messages, provided that they come across as personable, relevant and friendly.

Taking a look at other channels, the Eptica study reinforces Whistl’s findings; customers demand speed across all channels, but not so much as via phone. While 52% wouldn't wait more than 5 minutes for their call to be answered, 48% felt the same when using live chat and 40% would leave a website when self-serving if they couldn't find the required information within 5 minutes. Customers are more patient on social media, with 28% of those on Twitter and 25% on Facebook expecting a response in 5 minutes. While email is consumers' favourite channel to make a complaint on, they are willing to wait for the longest for a response, with only 16% demanding their email is answered fully within 5 minutes.

Customers love personalisation

A survey by Useproof found that customers now value personalisation more than speed when it comes to customer service, 59% voted for personalisation, while 53% voted for speed.

Moreover, with consumers becoming accustomed to personalisation from platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon, they increasingly expect the same from mid-market merchants. A survey of 1,000 US adults by Epsilon and GBH Insights found that the vast majority of respondents, 80%, demand personalisation from retailers.

But how can you personalise your customer service? A sensible starting point is having the technical infrastructure in places, such as a CRM and CEM, to gather rich information on consumers’ preferences and pain points. If a customer prefers a particular contact channel, then ensure they are responded to there. By analysing your customers’ buying patterns, you can make popular questions about their preferred product categories more visible in the self-serve section, and promote this via email.

Customers appreciate proactivity

By harnessing predictive data, retailers and their customer service agents can proactively identify potential issues before they impact the consumer. For example, at Parcelhub, part of the Whistl Group, they offer a delivery management solution called Proactive Tracking Support, in which their technology carefully analyses each parcel’s journey. If an issue happens during the delivery route, such as a bad address being entered during checkout, a misrouted parcel or ‘customer not in’, this generates a ticket for Parcelhub’s customer service team to act on, to alert the retailer and if possible, ensure the delivery issue is rectified. This proactivity minimises the likelihood of a customer having to make a WISMO (Where Is My Order?) query, saving the retailers time and money, and the consumer a lot of hassle.

Another method of proactivity is for your contact centre team to use AI technology to monitor a customer’s voice and text communications to pre-populate contextually relevant response information that the agent can be ready with, ensuring resolutions are reached faster and with the correct information.

Getting customer service right

As outlined in this article, customers really value their time, demand consistency and expect you to serve them on their terms. At Whistl we help retailers make customer service their competitive advantage, by providing tailored contact centre solutions to either compliment as an extension of the team, or replace existing customer service departments. With a tailored solution based on your business needs, we help support the customer experience, allowing your business to focus on core competencies. Our experienced team of contact centre agents have a unique perspective on the customer journey and the ever-changing demands consumers place on businesses across a broad range of different industry sectors.

Discuss your retail customer service needs, with a Contact Centre specialist.

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