Deputy Editor Sift Media
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Is Amazon's Mayday a game changer for ecommerce service - and sales?

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26th Feb 2014
Deputy Editor Sift Media
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For a long while, the internet has been stealing away the High Street’s convenience-seeking customers in droves. In-store retailers have responded with an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them approach, finding ways to make brick-and-mortar shops more akin to that of their virtual equivalents in order to win back punters.

However, negotiations between in-store and online practices could well become more of a two-way (high) street, as ecommerce begins to mimic traditional retail in an attempt to please automation-hating, personalisation-loving punters.

Amazon is a prime example of an etailer incorporating High Street customs into its processes. For example, its innovative and speedy shipping ideas promise near-instant ownership; its automated recommendations offer the advice of in-store experts; and now the Mayday button on the Kindle Fire HDX allows interactions similar to that which you’d receive from hands-on support staff.

Indeed, the vice president of Amazon’s Kindle product management has confirmed that Mayday is “a way to bring tech support from the mall to your living room.” But how exactly does a virtual retailer propose to create an in-store experience?

Customer collaboration software expert, Igor Khalatian, shed some light on Amazon’s Mayday service for us, and discussed how it could drive change in the world of customer service.

The human touch 

One particular Mayday feature that’s been getting a lot of attention is video conferencing; once connected, the customer service advisor appears on the Kindle screen via live video link. It’s all impressively 21st-Century, yes, but when you get past the novelty value, you’re left with the question of whether being able to see your agent actually enhances the service in any way. “My initial reaction when I first saw the video feature was that it would probably just be a distraction,” admits Igor. It does have a faint whiff of gimmick about it.

However, when you consider the consumer’s growing desire for a more personalised, more engaged service, the importance of video starts to become clearer. “After talking about it some more, I began to think what makes it valuable is the experience of almost walking into a store and being greeted by a person,” reflects Igor. “So, although it’s in the virtual world, it’s like a real life experience.” Talking to a visible person and having that level of interaction probably comes as a refreshing break from automated phone systems and computerised email responses. Plus, the ever-important service with a smile doesn’t exactly work over the phone, does it.

The need for speed

Mayday has – in the three little months it’s been live – made real waves in the customer support scene. So, it’s surprising to lean that it’s not quite as technologically innovative as it may seem. “The main components of Mayday are co-browsing and video sharing, which are not new,” Igor reminds us. So why the fuss? “In my opinion, although it’s not revolutionary in terms of technology development, the speed of connection makes it feel revolutionary.”

It rings true; if you tried making people wait half an hour for a consultant to pop up on your screen to help, the novelty would probably wear off pretty quickly. However, in the time it would take to open a shop door and stride up to the counter, a smiling Mayday rep could be waving at you from your Kindle, ready to save the day. And you needn’t even leave the sofa. That’s service.

No time like the present

This sense of immediacy must extend beyond just the initial connection time for it to really rival in-person support though, and therefore be truly valuable. This is why, of Mayday’s video and co-browsing features, the latter is arguably the most vital by far.

“We believe that video is nice to have but not essential,” asserts Igor. “What’s really important is the co-browsing, the ability of the agent to help navigate applications and answer questions”. Co-browsing capabilities mean that customers can have their problems solved in real time, as opposed to conducting troubleshooting online or over the phone before going away to try the suggested solution, then perhaps having to return for more information. This real-time service is possible because the agent is able to guide you through the process of resolution, even taking complete control of the device to solve the issue themselves. For all intents and purposes, it’s like they’re stood right next to you.

Relevant recommendations 

It’s not solely customer service that Mayday enhances; its potential is pretty widespread, argues Igor. “I definitely think that this technology is relevant not only for support but also for sales. What’s interesting is that support can actually lead to sales.” Indeed, it’s been shown that happy customers are bigger spenders. However, this isn’t the only reason Mayday technology encourages purchases.

Unprompted sales pushes are almost entirely unconcerned with our actual needs; Mayday-type support can change all this. Being able to really get to grips with the customer’s device and how they use it helps agents identify products and services which the caller may actually find helpful. What’s more, with the added human element, users are more likely to place similar levels of trust in their advisor as they would in an in-store expert. This is what Amazon seems to be hoping, anyway: “We want to make money when people use our devices, not when people buy our devices,” CEO Jeff Bezos has been quoted as saying.

So the future of online customer service is set to be in-store - if only virtually. But is such a service attainable for companies other than the almighty Amazon? Igor thinks so; in time, he expects to see many following in its footsteps. “Amazon is just doing it on the kindle, but this one-click in-device access to live support, enhanced by visual conferencing, is the next step for customer service technology. Solving the customers’ problems quickly and efficiently is the goal for customer-centric organisations, and visual sharing technology is able to support this.”

Such a best-of-both-worlds type of service is surely a worry for our already waning high streets, which are looking increasingly redundant with time. Although our expert thinks “in-store will always have its place,” that’s not to say this technology won’t be a massive threat, with online retailers set to enter high street territory. “Amazon is doing this because, unlike retailers such as Apple, they don’t have any in-store support. So, it’s trying to mimic that experience with its Mayday service. And I have to tell you, it will get very, very close to it.”

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