Anyone who’s ever managed or operated an online retail/eCommerce business knows the challenge of keeping up with a high volume of customer queries. What’s more, most of these questions typically revolve around the same set of issues:
- Whether an item is in stock
- Follow-up queries on order status (e.g. Where is my order?)
- Tracking numbers
- Shipping fees
- Queries about shipping to specific locations
- Warranty policies
- Complaints and feedback.
Of course, some of these questions and their corresponding answers can always be placed in your website’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. But chances are, your customers will still contact your customer support team via phone or email with these queries.
And, as experience will have likely taught you by now, these calls and emails surge in number during peak shopping season — Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas — making it even more challenging to keep up with demand for customer support. And failing to respond to customer queries comes with a heavy price.
Research by Khoros shows that 83% of customers are more loyal to brands that respond to and resolve their complaints, whilst 79% expect a quick response to their questions.
Chatbots present a practical solution for retail businesses looking to better keep up with this customer service challenge.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with computers on digital devices as if they were talking with an actual person.
They use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing to automate responses to frequently asked questions and understand the context of words without human oversight.
At their simplest, chatbots use rudimentary rule-based programming to provide single-line answers to simple questions. But more advanced chatbots can “learn” from each conversation they process (allowing them to provide more accurate answers) and even answer queries in different languages.
Benefits of chatbots for retail businesses
1. Providing instant responses to common queries
Let’s face it, expectations for speed and efficiency in customer service have never been higher. According to Forrester, 73% of customers consider valuing their time as the most important feature of good customer service. Meanwhile, HubSpot research shows that 90% of consumers consider an “immediate response” to be important or very important when it comes to customer service.
Chatbots allow retailers to address this challenge by automating responses to routine customer questions. This means customers no longer have to wait in call queues or wait on hold for several minutes to speak to an agent.
2. Personalisation of the customer experience
Chatbots can create a personalised shopping experience for your customers in two significant ways:
- Chatbots can engage and authenticate visitors on your site or social media channels. After asking preliminary questions, chatbots can share personalised information about product offers, promotions, shipping and more.
- Some chatbot platforms come with a built-in data analytics backend, allowing retailers to gather customer data and generate insights on their shopping behaviours, popular products and needs.
For example, H&M’s chatbot uses these functions to give customers outfit ideas based on a user’s choice of clothing. If a user selects a top, the chatbot will then recommend a selection of matching pieces and outfits, all of which can be purchased on the H&M site.
3. 24/7 availability
A report by West Unified Communications Services shows that 74% of UK consumers are frustrated when a brand’s customer service lines are only available during business hours. Because chatbots don’t require human oversight, they can respond to and engage customers around the clock. They’re not affected by a high volume of queries either — questions are processed simultaneously without any lag.
Chatbots can be a major asset to retail businesses with international operations — think UK-based brands that ship to the US, parts of Europe and Asia. They can ensure your customers always receive timely support regardless of their time zone.