It is no secret that the retail industry has gone through a transformational journey over the past decade. Brick-and-mortar was once the primary distribution channel for retailers to sell to consumers, but then came the dot com era which catapulted ecommerce growth with the rise of online retailers and marketplaces.

Ecommerce has since taken over brick-and-mortar as a primary sales channel, with traditional retailers expanding their distribution strategy to include both online and offline channels to ensure they remain competitive and retain customers.

Fast forward to the present, the ongoing pandemic has accelerated digitalisation in the retail sector and led to a ‘digital tipping point’. Consumers today can shop easily with just a few simple clicks from the comfort of their home. With the prevalence of online marketplace and social media, consumers today rely on digital channels for their retail needs more than ever before and have reset expectations of what makes a good ecommerce experience to customers.

At a time where most retailers have digital presence, what separates one retailer from the competition? Here are three tips for retailers to create standout customer experiences and stay competitive:

  1. Meet your customers where they are

Customers are reaching out for support more than ever before with messaging as their preferred channel because it’s convenient, fast, and personal. Connect with your customers where they are by implementing messaging channels such as WhatsApp, which is outpacing all other channels with ticket volume up 219% since the start of the pandemic, according to our 2021 Zendesk CX Trends Report.

When your support teams have a unified agent workspace, this also means that no matter what channel your customers are on, they can start a conversation in one channel and pick it up again in another for the same request – without having to start over. This opens up a gateway to conversational experiences and an entry point to long, meaningful relationships, changing the way customers and retailers interact. Not only does it make it easier for customers to reach out for support via their primary channels, but it also makes it easier for support teams to manage requests.

Retailers must implement a well-thought-out messaging strategy to set their teams up for success. From integrating efficient systems and having the right tools to help your agents manage conversations, to having the right mix of channels. Retailers must also carefully consider the process for rolling out their strategy. For example, starting small and migrating people over to messaging may be beneficial for both agents and customers.

  1. Empower customers to self-serve

In a time where customers are adopting mobile and digital technology more than ever before, retailers can benefit from offering self-service through a variety of support channels. From simple FAQ pages to more comprehensive community forums and AI-powered chatbots, having a robust self-service offering will help set retailers up for success.

Our CX Trends research identified that nearly a third of customers (32%) said resolving issues quickly was the most important aspect of a good customer experience. Self-service is a quick, direct way for customers to resolve simple enquiries, whenever and wherever they are, before it even becomes a support query. 

Equally important is to strike the right balance between powerful technology and good management. AI-enhanced chatbots are great at tackling high-frequency, low-complexity queries, and are well-positioned to reduce agent workload. However, it also needs to know when a more complex query needs to be seamlessly handed off to a live agent, without breaking the conversation with the customer.

When retailers master their customer self-service offering, it takes pressure off support teams and allows them to focus on more complex queries, or scenarios that require a human touch.

  1. Keep your business in sync

Our recent CX Trends research also revealed that customers view experience as more important now compared to a year ago, and to meet these heightened expectations, retailers must understand that customer service is about more than just the customer. It’s about your business and your teams too.

To offer seamless support, you must have the right tools and processes in place to keep your business and teams in sync. For example, using collaboration tools will boost support agent efficiency and having a unified agent workspace will make it easier to track, prioritise and respond to customers. We designed our Zendesk Suite with this in mind by combining all your channels in a unified experience, empowering your customers to choose how they want to communicate with your business in a seamless way.

With the industry at a digital tipping point, retailers must accelerate their use of technology to provide customers with the standout experiences they are looking for. By having the right tools and optimised processes in place, retailers can offer richer, conversational experiences to stay ahead of the digital curve and continue to win customers’ loyalty.

Malcolm Koh is customer experience strategist for Asia Pacific at Zendesk.