Mind the retail customer experience gap

26th Apr 2017

We all know that customers are getting more demanding across all sectors, but probably nowhere more so than in retail. But a new study by Eptica reveals a growing gap between what customers want from the retail customer experience across digital channels and what companies are providing.

93% of consumers surveyed by Eptica say they are more likely to buy from a retailer if they have a positive experience.  But on average under 50% said they were happy with the experience received on the web, email, social media and chat. Response rates and accuracy have not improved year on year across the majority of channels, with many retailers seeming to settle for ‘good enough’ service.

The Eptica 2017 Customer Conversations Study, which builds on similar research carried out annually since 2011, evaluated the experience provided by 40 leading UK retailers, in four sectors, mirroring consumer behaviour by asking routine questions via the web, email, social media and chat.  To add further depth the 2017 study also polled 1,000 consumers about how satisfied they are with the retail experience.

The topline finding was that UK retail CX is failing to improve with nearly 50% of queries left unanswered. Overall, retailers were unable to answer 46% of customer queries received on email, the web, Twitter and Facebook, with only 7.5% responding on all four channels - and a mere 2.5% providing a consistent, accurate answer across all of them.

Retail website performance drops
Many retailers seem to be losing their focus on providing answers and service via their websites, with the percentage of brands able to answer all questions falling from 65% last year to 62% in the 2017 study.  This is significant as it’s the first drop in website performance since we began researching this area six years ago.

Of the 40 retail brands studied 17 were found to perform worse, 8 remained the same, and 15 improved. While some retailers are excelling, many are settling for just delivering average service. This is supported by the consumer survey in which 44% of people said they were unhappy with at least half the retail interactions they had.

Email customer experience improves
While website service has deteriorated, retailers seem to be delivering a faster, more consistent and accurate experience over email. Even though the number of retailers offering email contact dropped slightly, from 88% in 2016 to 85% in 2017, those that provided it seem to have improved the processes and knowledge that underpins the channel.

In this year’s study 83% of retailers responded to email queries, while 74% provided accurate answers (up from 55% in 2016).  And average response time dropped dramatically, from 32hr 53m to 23hr 27m.

In the consumer survey 59% of respondents said they were either happy or very happy with the email customer service provided by retailers - higher satisfaction levels than for telephone customer service (57%).

The volume of social interactions is a struggle
Consumers are growing more comfortable with contacting retailers over social media these days, but it appears many retailers are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of messages they receive. While 98% of the brands in the study maintain Facebook pages and 95% are present on Twitter, response rates are either flat or worsening.  

Only 44% of all questions posted on Twitter were answered by the brands in our study and 39% on Facebook. No surprise then that only 32% of consumers are happy with the service they get on Twitter with 25% classing themselves as very unhappy. Similarly on Facebook 22% said they were very unhappy, and just 38% were happy or generally happy.

Chat comes of age
In the past few years, our Study has found a gap between retailer rhetoric and reality when it comes to chat, with many claiming to offer it and then switching it off when resources were tight. In 2017, however, chat appears to have come of age. 25% of retailers had it available when contacted as part of our research - up from just 13% in 2016.

85% of chat sessions successfully answered the consumer’s question (against just 60% in 2016) while the average length of a chat dropped from 9 minutes 40 seconds in 2016 to just 5 minutes 24 seconds in 2017.

Companies seem to be devoting more resources to chat, and arming agents with the knowledge they need to have helpful conversations with consumers. No wonder that 51% of consumers surveyed say they were happy or generally happy with the service through chat. This is good news because consumers increasingly want to have real-time conversations with retailers and chat is a popular way of achieving this in a more efficient way than the telephone.

Delivering an average customer experience won’t cut it in the long term
The retail sector is at a crossroads. While competition increases, margins decline and consumer expectations (and volumes of queries) accelerate, in many cases there is a gap between customers’ wants and what retailers can deliver. Too many retailers seem to be happy just offering average service, but they won’t be able to survive in the long term.

Consumers will only be loyal to those that deliver on their promises, time after time. They want to have meaningful conversations that answer their queries and add value to the relationship. Fail to do this and they will simply switch to rivals.

Those retailers that focus on customer experience excellence across every channel, are the ones who will thrive whatever part of the retail sector they are in. Technology is a key enabler that can empower their agents with the tools and information they need to do their jobs more productively.  Artificial intelligence and natural language processing for example can provide the backbone for successful customer service, allowing retailers to better understand customers’ questions and automatically provide relevant, consistent answers from a centralised knowledge base.

For more information of the study, read the full report at: https://www.eptica.com/2017-study-customer-conversations-state-uk-retail-digital-customer-experience

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