Customer service platforms (CSP) are now a necessity, not an option. For many companies, customer relationship management operates as the core of the sales funnel. For retailers – whether physical or digital – the use of CSPs is now a critical way to guide customers through the buyer journey and continue giving them the support they need post purchase.

CSP options have come a long way in the past decade. There is now a range of SaaS vendors with products focused on everything from a small Shopify store to large retail chains. Yet, in many cases, service CSPs take an either/or approach: one offering for digital natives and another for traditional retailers.

But this false dichotomy ignores the bigger picture that most customers take an omnichannel approach to shopping. Even with eCommerce on the rise, most customers still prefer to shop in a physical store.

This leaves retailers with an important question to answer: how can we offer winning onsite customer service while maintaining and even connecting it to our other channels?

Customer Service in Retailing

First things first: customer service in retailing is more important than ever. Customers are accustomed to the flexibility offered in eCommerce, and bring these expectations to their physical retail interactions. People want the personal touch of shopping in-store, but expect the on-demand, flexible options they are used to from digital channels. More than that, consumers of all stripes are buying into the experience economy which in turn is changing expectations for companies.

This is why the goals of customer service in retailing have shifted. What was important as the millennium began – such as feeling they are in an exclusive space while shopping – may not be important any longer. And what was nonexistent then – like personalized in-store options, buy-online-pick-up-in-store, and hassle-free returns – is now the norm. It’s an experience, and it’s one customers expect to be frictionless and even fun.

With this shift in mind, the goal in retail customer service should be to provide a positive onsite experience and the ability to resolve service issues when or even before they occur. In turn, a CSP should solve for these omnichannel expectations.

Customer Service Software and Omnichannel Expectations

People shop online for convenience and shop in-store for quality. Offering an integrated customer service platform that fulfills buyers’ expectations can achieve both simultaneously.

When implemented well, retail customer service solutions fulfill the omnichannel expectations of customers. Let’s set the scene:

  • A customer visits your online store to buy an item.
  • When they have a question, they open a chat window and speak to a customer service rep in real-time in the retail contact center.
  • Later, they have a follow up question about the product – how it compares to another, similar product. This time they call the retail contact center. The agent there immediately accesses the previous chat interaction and answers the question without having to ask the customer to repeat themselves.
  • The customer decides to purchase the item and selects the in-store pickup delivery option.
  • Once in store, they are able to pick up the item in a matter of minutes and immediately get answers to any questions about features.
  • After leaving the store, the customer receives a follow up email thanking them for their purchase, providing links to similar products on the online store, and asking if they’d like to participate in a satisfaction survey.

Through all of this, two things are critical for a winning customer experience: the contact center agent and the information that is available to them. With a centralized CSP, agents across all channels can track the customer journey in real-time.

Compare that experience to what a customer could get frustrated with if there’s a lack of an integrated, omnichannel customer service system. They could get frustrated with the lack of options online, or the inability to ask a customer service rep questions. They could get frustrated with having to tell customer service reps the same information multiple times – once online, again over the phone, and still again once in-store. They could get frustrated with how difficult it is to return an item in-store that they bought online. Even worse, they could get frustrated at how difficult it can be to get an answer to their question before they’ve even made a purchase. Putting an omnichannel system for customer experience in place helps brands avoid the possibility of these frustrations.

Use Excellent Retail Customer Service to Go Beyond Individual Transactions

“Great retail customer service is about more than just single interactions. It’s about delivering a big picture experience,” says Ana Athayde, EMEA General Manager at innso. “Incorporating a clear strategy and system for customer service is critical for success in retail – particularly with digital channels rising and in-store popularity not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Here are a few tips to connect onsite customer service to the bigger picture:

#1: Use automation and templates
Keeping things manual is a good way to quickly get overwhelmed with the process. Instead, take advantage of modern tools like chatbots for your site and automated escalation and routing for requests made in a physical store.

#2: Integrate with all of your processes for an omnichannel approach
If a customer makes a request after making a purchase in-store, the last thing you want is for that request to have nowhere to go. Instead of keeping customer support in silos, based on physical store locations and a digital team, introduce a centralized CSP that tracks customer service requests regardless of where or how they were opened. Customer conversations should remain consistent and up-to-date – and a good CSP can help with that.

#3: Don’t forget about the importance of data
Just because a customer service interaction is in-person does not mean it can’t play a role in improving your processes over time. Use these interactions to inform your metrics and form a more holistic picture of how satisfied your customers are with their in-store interactions.

In general, customers choose retailers based on price, product and service. If you’re a clear winner in customer service, you’re already one step ahead of the competition.