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We all know Covid-19 has changed retail and e-commerce. Many people bought online for the first time; many bought more online; and many bought differently online – in all cases because pandemic restrictions on daily life forced them to change.

Those evolving purchasing patterns have seen web purchasing soar, and accelerated the trends around omnichannel selling and e-sales. They have also changed consumer expectations – probably forever – and forced brands to rethink their customer support on e-commerce. 

Brands that want to thrive in the 2020s must understand their customers’ new expectations for support, interaction and experiences. And then, additionally, deliver them in practice – seamlessly and consistently. After all, research pre-Covid found that 32% of customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after just one poor experience1. In LatAm, it was 49% of customers.

COVID-19 AND DIGITAL SELF-SERVICE  

Pre-pandemic, brands were already investing vigorously in e-sales, often focusing on digital self-service and self-care, mobile-first or other digitally-driven experiences. This has been highly effective for numerous sectors, from groceries to fast fashion to toys to homeware, as well as for the aggregators. Consumers have wanted seamless and quick ways to purchase and they have got them.

Adding to this, Covid-19 has seen brands augment their digital presence, introducing new tools and channels for customers to engage with them – for example, WhatsApp and videoconferencing alongside their existing email, chat, chatbot or phone channels. Car dealerships and real estate agents offer video viewings of cars and property, fashion brands have launched virtual fitting rooms, and cosmetics brands encourage people to try on make-up virtually. 

But the pandemic and the various lockdowns around the world have highlighted something else: that people also want the human touch. In sectors from consumer electronics to household appliances to high-end fashion, buyers want someone to advise them and reassure them about perceived risks. For new e-commerce buyers, it’s about building confidence in the channel; for those who already had confidence in the channel, it’s about creating web purchasing experiences that match what they can get in physical stores.

As Christophe Famechon, Head of Customer Service at FNAC Darty, told us recently discussing both digital and in-store customers: "In the aftermath of this crisis, people need to feel welcome; they want advice, but they also want to feel that we care. We have really placed an emphasis on that in all of our contact points.” 

WHAT ‘CARE’ MEANS TO CUSTOMERS 

When we talk to clients and consumers about customer support on e-commerce, they tell us frequently that customers want brands to be ‘reachable’ and ‘trustworthy’. They want the brand to be genuinely available to answer their requests, and they want to feel they will end the purchasing process with the best product for their needs. 

In response to Covid, some brands have opted for fully automated solutions; others have dramatically increased the use of online human support. At Comdata we believe that automation offers excellent opportunities to provide the level of support customers want, but it should also be the route that, in some cases, leads to an agent. 

From our own analyses, it’s clear that conversion rates are significantly higher where customers are provided with human support to take them through the purchasing processes and advise them on what to buy – whether it’s a high-end camera, household appliance or new outfit. In a recent report, McKinsey echoed our view on this, saying, “The human element of customer experience remains an essential differentiator.”2

HOW TO HIT THE SWEET SPOT

That said, if people are shopping for their weekly groceries, a new video game, or a €25 sweater, the human touch may be neither necessary nor viable. This may be the case in many high-end purchases too. So, where does the sweet spot actually lie in e-sales 3.0?

Based upon our own experience in multiple geographies and sectors, hitting the sweet spot relies on a combination of factors.

  • Nature of the purchase: In general, the human touch is most needed or effective when customers are purchasing high-engagement, very large-ticket items where the physical store and store assistants were important in the purchasing process. Typically, this would include luxury, household appliances, electrical goods and high-end furniture. Segmentation of the customer base could identify other areas of potential too – the human touch may not be merited for a single purchase of a book, bottle of wine or cosmetics, but there it may be a different story for customers who purchase these weekly and have moved online during the pandemic.
  • Stage of the purchasing journey: One way to manage the human touch cost-effectively is to introduce it once there’s a clear buying intention, for example when a shopper puts keywords into the search or items into their cart. 
  • Data and analytics capabilities: The great advantage of e-commerce over the physical store is that more information about visitors and purchasers is available to the brand, and every touchpoint with customers can be analysed. From loyalty (or loyalty potential) to optimal intervention points to customer preferences for interaction to best agent types, brands should use advanced data analytics to plan and design their automated or human interactions.
  • Augmented agents: Providing the human touch effectively requires knowledgeable, skilled agents who understand customer needs, listen actively, and convert leads. Good profiles are needed to provide the ‘experience’ and personalization, and agents may also need the autonomy to handle requests, provide guidance and leverage the tools they have available. In addition, the stronger customer experience providers are differentiating themselves through the use of ‘augmented agents’, that is agents who have the technical skills to optimize automated elements such as algorithms, bots and other technology in their interaction with customers. For example, Samsung and Comdata translated the in-store customer experience to the digital world through the use of sophisticated remote support tools managed by agents.
  • Balance: Since it’s not financially viable to provide the human touch on every interaction, brands must approach this holistically, looking for the right balance between self-care solutions and human support. This balance will be different for every sector, every business and every brand, with the matrix of interactions depending on the price of the services and product. Here too, analytics will depend on the strategy and delivery.
  • Delivery and operational excellence. The pure-e-commerce brands have created high expectations for seamless DIY purchasing experiences. Consumers now expect this frictionless experience to be available across all channels – physical, automated, human – and fully integrated. Many brands are not yet able to deliver this.

TAILORED SOLUTIONS FOR REAL BUSINESSES 

As they navigate 2021, brands know that consumer expectations have changed and that they need to respond quickly; what’s lacking are the technical, digital and customer management expertise and insights to deliver e-sales 3.0. We see this especially among small and mid-sized retailers, who are rapidly having to create customer management solutions that were not needed pre-2020. This includes customer care and post-sales but also shopping experiences that recreate the buzz of a popular store and the connection and confidence offered by a skilled salesperson. 

This is where Comdata helps – bringing the knowhow, technology, insights and balance that brands need to meet customer expectations, and rapidly tailoring it to each business. One final example will show why such support can be so game-changing.

A recent study of sales conversion rates across remote channels found that the average difference between top-quartile and bottom-quartile performers was 230 per cent3. When you translate that into washing machines, TVs or cameras bought or not bought, that’s a significant difference in revenues. Seamless experiences and skilled agents can make all the difference between top quartile and bottom quartile, especially post-Covid. For brands of all sizes, hitting the sweet spot on this is more important than ever.

 

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1. PWC (2018), ‘Experience is everything’.
2 & 3. McKInsey & Company (2021), ‘A new growth story:  Maximising value from remote customer interactions’.
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