By  on March 7, 2017

As consumers’ attention span continues to dwindle, retailers and brands are being charged with offering frictionless customer service in order to capture and maintain shoppers. Astound Commerce, a global digital commerce provider released the results of its 20th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, which discerned retailers and brands that are excelling in the customer service segment.Top performers included B&H, Gap, L.L. Bean, Lancôme, Moosejaw, Home Depot and Zappos. Here, Lauren Freedman, senior vice president of digital strategies at Astound Commerce, discusses the effects of shifting consumer expectations and new technology that's enhancing the shopper's journey.WWD: Online experiences were once driven by consumers' desire for quick access and general efficiency. This seems to be evolving to an emphasis on the quality of customer service. Why has this transition occurred?Lauren Freedman: I think there are two issues in play here. The web has moved from being simply surgical shopping to also facilitating experiential shopping and browsing, which changes the dynamic. Service has always been a factor in the customer experience and smart merchants realize service is and can always be a differentiator.This emphasis has occurred for a number of reasons including everything from the dominance of Amazon to the need for survival. Transparency means greater visibility into performance and shoppers are a click away from posting both positive and negative customer service feedback. Also customer service factors more into the overall experience and future selection of retailers, and includes expedited delivery times and heightened expectations in terms of response time.WWD: Customer service expectations range dramatically depending on the generation, how can retailers and brands ensure their approach will meet as large of a consumer base as possible without ostracizing a group?L.F.: Offer solutions aimed at a wide audience and let the customer make the choice particularly as those needs are shifting and convenience drives usage. Some needs are easily handled via self-service while others are better serviced by interaction. Live chat has helped bridge the gap.WWD: The study reveals that PayPal continues to be adopted faster by retailers. How is PayPal outpacing competitors? L.F.: In our research, PayPal is fully outpacing others, but was introduced in 1998. I think there are opportunities for others to play a significant role particularly with mobile adoption numbers accelerating. Both Visa and MasterCard are leveraging existing relationships with retailers who are now early adopters and advertising appears to be plentiful.WWD: How can chatbots address some of the lags in responses to customer queries?L.F.: They can serve as an efficiency model on standard questions. The ability to personalize and evolve based on learning to become more relevant over time will also be valuable to both the shopper and the retailer.WWD: What technology will bolster retailers’ responsiveness to customer inquiries via email? What type of solutions should they consider adopting to improve customer service?L.F.: It starts with deciding if the retailer wants to support an email channel and if it’s wise for them, while also factoring in their customer expectations. Knowledge bases coupled with training will be invaluable.

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