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Online customer service key to retailers' success

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Report finds people are unhappy with customer service online but in-store shoppers prefer online support

Singapore's e-commerce market today is a multi-billion-dollar industry, reflecting the dramatic shift from in-person shopping to online retail, a trend that has been boosted in 2020 with the restrictions on movements forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online shopping has become a new national pastime in Singapore, with giants such as Shopee and Lazada reporting record sales year after year.

Retailers of all sizes and guises are faced with competition like never before and find themselves in need of developing strategies that can help them build a loyal customer base.

Interestingly, the answer for retailers here may be to look more closely at one of the most important fundamentals of their industry - customer service - but give it a digital twist and take it online.

The new Customer Conversation Report from artificial intelligence (AI) company LivePerson found that while Singaporean shoppers are increasingly keen to take their shopping dollars online, many remain unhappy with the level of customer service they receive while there.

In a survey of more than 500 Singaporean consumers, the report found that 87 per cent have abandoned an online shopping cart in the last 12 months because the right customer service option was not available.

For online retailers, the estimated cost of these lost sales is an eye-watering $1.56 billion.

In today's digital landscape, consumers want answers to their questions in real time, wherever they are, and through whichever channel they prefer.

Technology is the solution to this challenge for businesses as modern advances such as AI are equipped to improve customer experiences.

Moving customer service online

Developing a well-functioning online customer service program can deliver tangible benefits for retailers and improve the overall customer experience for shoppers.

The report found that even those Singaporeans who still enjoy in-store shopping prefer their customer service support to happen online rather than in-person.

Data from the survey showed that less than one-third of shoppers today want in-person support when they have a question.

With customers demanding service on the fly, businesses can enhance their consumer experience by engaging directly with them through their preferred communication channels.

This means interacting through fast and productive online conversations that resolve needs and concerns.

These conversations can occur on a wide variety of platforms including SMS, e-mail or third-party platforms such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Giving customers access to conversational solutions at their fingertips and throughout their customer journey reduces the amount of friction and creates a more pleasant experience overall.

Meeting customer needs

When customers feel that their needs are met, they enjoy the shopping experience more fully, developing stronger brand loyalty and purchasing more from their favourite companies.

In the report, customers said they would like retailers to: improve the range of communication channels available (49 per cent); employ more locally based customer service agents who have specific knowledge of the Singapore market (48 per cent); employ "in-line shopping" (44 per cent); use technology to allow questions to be answered in store by virtual assistants (35 per cent); and allow shoppers to make purchases via social media and digital channels (35 per cent).

With conversational analytics, businesses can learn more about their customer service cycle and leverage data to improve user experiences.

Businesses can assess the quality and effectiveness of their customer service, gaining insights and developing actions that then improve their support.

As we move into a post-Covid world, enhancing customer service online could help kick-start a whole new era in Singapore's long-standing love affair with the art of shopping.

The writer is the regional director for LivePerson in South-east Asia, a global technology company that equips businesses with conversational AI and messaging technology to have conversations with customers at scale.