A study of online shoppers from Simplr shows 72 per cent rate a brand’s responsiveness just as high now as they did before the pandemic, and the “COVID-19 excuse” won’t be enough to mollify them if they don’t get service in a timely manner.
The San Francisco-based firm, which offers virtual support teams that use AI to replicate a brand’s tone, released its State Of CX study earlier this week, though the original research began prior to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus in March.
Besides the survey of 500 online shoppers, Simplr also employed a third-party firm to act as “mystery shoppers” to close to 800 direct to consumer (DTC) brands, rating them not only on responsiveness across digital channels but also the reliability to solve challenges on the first try. The mystery shoppers were also asked to score based on relatability — the degree to which they showed empathy, kindness and some kind of above-and-beyond consideration for customer challenges.
Overall, less than half of the DTC brands mystery-shopped, or 41 per cent, scored high in terms of relatability, and dropped even further when the service interactions involved the use of chat.
Perhaps given the increased volumes of customer service requests as online activity increased amid the pandemic, meanwhile, brands were able to deliver reliable service on the first try 52 per cent of the time in June, a 13 per cent drop since February. This wasn’t true across the board, however: those that scored the highest ratings on overall customer satisfaction got a 73 per cent reliability rating.
“Never underestimate the power of human interactions,” the report’s authors wrote. “The more your CX can be relatable, empathic and personal, the better your chances of delivering excellent customer experiences that delight in the moment and strengthen the loyalty for the long term.”
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While the Simplr study is obviously intended to help make the business case for the kinds of technology-enabled but human-driven services it offers, the research may help guide best practices in how service channels need to evolve, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
Using a tool like chat may be helpful, for instance, but not if it creates a mere illusion of availability and gives customers who use it an auto-response, followed by a long wait before they actually hear back from a brand.
One of the best parts of the study, in fact, was a sidebar about a women’s apparel retailer called Annie Bing. Though it saw a 75 increase in web traffic during March and April, the brand achieved a five-star rating.
“The company’s chat had a bot that immediately acknowledged and routed the customer’s pre-sale question then a human joined shortly to answer the question kindly and straightforwardly,” the report says (though it wasn’t clear if it was actually a Simplr customer). “The mystery shopper also sent a separate pre-sale e-mail and received a thoughtful, informative response within 15 minutes.”
This is in contrast to the average overall response time of top-performing companies at more than a day, and 48 hours overall.
In promoting the research, Simplr emphasized the finding that 27 per cent of online shoppers said their brand loyalty has wavered during the pandemic due to long wait times. Of course, there’s a big difference between “wavered” and “I’m switching.” Customers may be getting fed up with companies who act as though they should be more understanding because of the pandemic, but it could still be too much effort to find an alternative brand.
Besides a run-down of the mystery shopper’s scores, Simplr peppered the report with actionable advice throughout. Some of it may be common sense, but it’s common sense that may well be worth repeating as organizations race to keep ahead of customer expectations. Take this one on relatability:
“Customers notice when agents bring personality realness,” the report says. “Don’t be afraid to let the brand’s (and your agents’) personalities show. The most ‘relatable’ interactions we saw include personal anecdotes about a product, first-name sing-offs and emojis.”
Organizations will have a tricky balance to strike between addressing higher volumes of service requests and keeping interaction times down, but the Simplr data indicates it’s worth taking a few minutes to make sure every one is a truly human experience.