CONTRIBUTOR
VP of Marketing Insights, Experience and Enablement ,
Verint

Retailers are struggling to provide positive customer experiences during the ultra-critical holiday shopping season this year. With more consumers choosing to shop in-store while still engaging via digital channels, retailers are faced with an ongoing set of challenges.

The biggest issue continues to be labor shortages across the board from contact centers to retail stores, according to a recent study conducted by Verint, with half of retailers saying they are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill stores. Additionally, nearly one third (30%) of retailers surveyed said they are facing shortages in contact center and back-office positions. In addition to not having the required skills, a significant number of the successful applicants don’t show up for work once hired, making it even more difficult to adequately staff retail customer service positions at the most critical times.

In response to these challenges, retailers are turning to technology and automation as a force multiplier.

Fortunately, advanced intelligent interviewing solutions are coming to the rescue to help retailers identify and hire the most qualified candidates. In addition, workforce forecasting solutions help retailers match and schedule available staff to work anticipated peak shopping hours throughout the course of the day, making more associates available to assist and meet customer needs.

The Verint study also found that maximizing the use of customer data has become another major challenge facing retailers this holiday season. While shoppers engage with retailers in an omni-channel fashion, many retailers struggle to share customer data across channels to help support omni-channel engagement. Of the retailers that connect customer data across some of their digital channels, only 22% are very effective in using insights to improve digital channel experiences as well as in-store experiences.

Connecting customer data across types of transactions and contact methods helps provide a comprehensive view of customer history, including inquiries, and purchases across different channels such as website, in-store, social media, messaging and telephony.

This unified view of customer data offers contact center agents and store associates the information they need to provide more personalized and efficient support, leading to faster issue resolution and a better overall customer experience. For example, a contact center agent can provide support over the phone for an issue originally raised in live chat on a web site or mobile app – but only if the organization has integrated their channels—and if the agent has access to the customer’s historical transactions on not only one but all customer service channels.

Even retailers that are connecting customer engagement data across all channels don’t appear to be fully leveraging this data. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of retailers surveyed said that they don’t provide the contact center with access to interaction data. Without that access, agents don’t have the context that they need to provide seamless customer experiences. As a result, callers need to repeat information that they have already provided through another channel. This leads to frustration and a less than optimal customer experience.

To achieve success in omnichannel retailing, brands need to connect customer data across all channels. They can do this by leveraging customer experience automation solutions to close feedback loops, activate customer insights and to help retailers focus on areas for improvement.

More than 6-in-10 (64%) retailers that are connecting all customer data say that chatbots are key to their strategy, yet almost half (49%) off all respondents say that they have chatbots that operate in silos, meaning they don’t have access to data from other channels. Chatbots operating in silos without access to end-to-end customer data are only able to provide substandard, limited support.

Chatbots powered by rich customer data are better able to handle inquiries quickly and efficiently, which is critical during the busy holiday shopping season. Automating customer experience in this way helps reduce the burden on contact center staff, improves average call handle time and increases customer satisfaction scores.

Though a significant volume of consumer purchases have moved online in the last couple of decades, physical stores are still an essential channel for many retailers, particularly during the holiday shopping season. The Verint research found that 41% of retailers are prioritizing customer service and engagement improvements across physical stores and a wide variety of digital channels to meet evolving customer expectations.

Consumer shopping behaviors have evolved over recent years. Today’s consumers don’t shop purely online or purely in a physical store when a retailer offers both options. Many will start with researching an item online, then visit a physical store. Others will start at a physical store then price compare or do other research online while at the location. The Verint study shows that use of alternative digital shopping options such as these are on the rise – buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is used by 69% of customers while 59% will check in-store stock online and 58% use a digital channel to book in-store appointments.

Customers will also offer valuable feedback at the physical locations and online. Retailers that are the most proficient in implementing comprehensive customer feedback (i.e. Voice of the Customer) solutions are three times more likely to use these insights very effectively to improve customer experiences versus retailers that only connect data across some engagement channels.

Conclusion

Retailers must move quickly to fill staffing, process and experience gaps. Connecting data from all channels helps customer-facing, back-office and contact center personnel provide customers with a seamless omnichannel experience. This approach enables retailers to engage customers at every touchpoint, providing convenience, personalization and consistency. By offering consistency across channels, retailers can provide a superior customer experience, enhancing customer loyalty which is crucial to surviving this year’s holiday shopping season and thriving in the new year.