E-commerce and the next stage of modern customer service: That Extra Something Thanks to Artificial Intelligence
The e-commerce business is booming. Sales are rising, as are the expectations of customers. Where is customer service in e-commerce headed?
The figures are impressive: depending on the product and the seller, e-commerce growth rates of up to 30% per year are possible. In 2016, about € 44 billion was spent on e-commerce in Germany, compared to around € 49 billion in 2017. And this growth will continue, driven largely by the new communication channels connecting merchants and customers.
For instance, digital voice-activated assistants such as Alexa or Cortana are opening up another channel directly into consumers’ living rooms and making shopping easier than ever before. Products can literally be bought on demand. The internet of things is also helping to free e-commerce from conventional devices. A popular example is the smart fridge, which orders food on its own. The food is delivered directly to the freezer, even if the residents are not at home. This is currently being tested by Walmart in a pilot project with the home automation company August, whose products ensure that the delivery personnel have access to the home and can be supervised while there. The car is also increasingly becoming a communications channel (see The Automotive Industry and Digitization).
Crucial: the sales influenced by e-commerce
Despite all these developments and the continued growth, strictly speaking, e-commerce is still a relatively small market, accounting for about 10 percent of retail sales. The sales that are influenced by e-commerce are much more important than direct online shop sales, especially for “classic” retail companies. As a rule of thumb, ten to twenty percent of the products that customers have viewed on the website or online are later purchased in-store. This rate will be higher in the future, because customers are using a wider range of information for their research, in particular social media, as well as Google search and the portals of the online providers. Then they decide whether they would like to buy the product online and have it delivered, or go and collect it in-store. Other options are buying it directly in-store or trying it there, before choosing to have it delivered.
The new opportunities have also changed the expectations of consumers. On the one hand, they would like to find out information themselves and are increasingly using self-service options. On the other hand, they expect the process to be as fast as possible — service should be provided in real time or at least very quickly, regardless of the channel or touchpoint throughout the customer journey. Ultimately, the ability to compare prices and services at any time has also led to a decrease in customer loyalty at many shops.
Customer service today and tomorrow
The current solution to these challenges is rigorous omnichannel communication, where the individual channels and touchpoints blend seamlessly into one other, so that the experience of the customer is consistent and, insofar as possible, excellent at every point. Customer service plays an important role in this. Fast, friendly assistance — ideally with “that extra something” — ensures a positive experience and helps to increase customer loyalty. Good service and a strong social media presence can turn potential customers into buyers. A powerful analytics solution ensures that these potential buyers receive the right offers at the right time.
In the future, automation supported by artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role in providing outstanding service in an efficient manner. An intelligent interactive platform, such as Arvato Conversational AI, can process customer requests automatically via voice assistants (e.g., Alexa), through a chatbot on the website or on messenger platforms.. In the case of more complex topics, the platform forwards the customer directly to a customer support specialist who can quickly find just the right solution for the customer thanks to analytics technology (see analytics in customer management). Backend processes, such as the processing and delivery of an order, can be optimized to a great extent with robotic process automation (RPA). This allows e-commerce companies to deliver a unique customer experience, where customers get the right offers through the right channel at the right time, and take their service to the next level.
An intelligent interactive platform like Arvato Conversational AI can process customer requests automatically via voice assistants (e.g., Alexa) or via a chatbot (website/messenger platforms).
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: vege – AdobeStock