The retail industry has been hit hard by the global pandemic. Many brick and mortar retailers have had to shut up shop, and are now relying 100% on e-commerce sales — a trend that is only growing, with online sales predicted to hit USD $6.5 trillion in the next three years.

At the same time, while businesses are making the pivot, customers expect and demand more from brands. They want quick responses and personalised interactions at every touchpoint. And they’re not afraid to take their business elsewhere if their needs are not being met.

For retailers, this new world is leaving many struggling. The move away from physical stores to online, means one less channel to interact with customers, and with it, the loss of face-to-face engagement. But for savvy retailers, this is an opportunity to differentiate through the experience they provide. The opportunity lies in looking to new channels and digital tools to replace traditional physical interactions, and to find ways to engage and interact with customers all while adding value and being helpful.

But what does this look like in action? Here are a few things to consider:

Helping your customers find the answers they seek 

Today’s customers are curious. They’re spending more time online and are actively seeking answers and assistance. In fact, data collected from more than 70,000 HubSpot customers around the world showed monthly user-initiated on-site chat has almost doubled (98 per cent) since the beginning of the year — likely a reflection of the global shift online, with customers seeking new ways to engage with brands in the absence of in-store.

Customer self-service is quickly becoming the preferred method for customer service. That’s because self-service options, like FAQs or live chat on a company website, provide customers with faster answers that they can find on their own time. Rather than having to pick up a phone and wait on hold, customers can use a company’s resources to self-serve and find answers to support questions.

Another option to support customer service departments is leveraging AI through the use of chatbots — which can be used to address basic customer support inquiries at any time of day. The efficiency and accessibility bots offer are helping conquer traditional challenges, like needing help outside of working hours or waiting in phone queues.

There’s also features like lead routing in chat, which automatically directs customers to the right support representative or resource based on their question, providing a quick, personalised and relevant experience for customers.

These tools help customers and service reps alike win. Whether it’s FAQs, chatbots or live chat, customers with basic questions can have their inquiries addressed easily whenever they need. And reps aren’t burdened with constant, monotonous, simple questions — giving them more time to tackle more pressing, significant issues that are impactful for the business. This is especially important in the current context when companies are dealing with an influx of COVID-specific customer inquiries.

Mind the (customer service) gap 

The power of customer service tools is clear, but there is a gap in the market. Businesses aren’t offering self-service solutions — which not only adds pressure to internal teams but can mean the customer experience is jeopardised. In HubSpot’s latest State of Customer Service report, less than a third (29%) of those surveyed said they currently use live chat. Further concerning is that the report found businesses viewed self-service as a low priority, with only 10% ranking it as a priority at all.

Considering relationships are built through connectivity and making sure that customers’ needs and feedback are considered, retailers are missing a trick without these tools.

Customer service in action

Coffee on Cue, an Aussie small business offering coffee experiences to Sydney and Melbourne-based events, is a great example of a local company using new technology to support customer service. With the ban of social gatherings, it had to reinvent its entire offering — not only how it physically serviced customers, but how it continued to deliver exceptional experiences, virtually. To do this, and also address the increasing number of online customer queries, Coffee on Cue implemented a variety of customer service tools including a chatbot to respond to customer questions, as well as a detailed FAQ. It also built a content hub on-site, which provides helpful information like how to brew great coffee at home, to draw customers in and support new subscription orders and virtual event attendees.

All-in-all, these tools allowed Coffee on Cue to create personal experiences for its customers, and help them get the answers they need in a timely manner.

Today’s most successful businesses have found out that happy customers are the secret to growth. They buy more, stay longer, refer their friends, and tell the world about you. It’s this flywheel approach, which places the customer at the centre of everything that keeps businesses spinning, and ultimately helps them grow better.

With e-commerce the new normal for retailers, it’s time to start seizing customer service opportunities. One thing is clear in this brave new world, effective customer service is best done in partnership — utilising the best of tech and people to give people what they want. What are you waiting for?

Kat Warboys is head of marketing for Australia and New Zealand at HubSpot