Ever looked forward to returning an item or tracking an order? Probably not. After all, most retail customer service interactions tend to be a complicated mix of waiting for someone to help, following convoluted instructions, and crossing your fingers that your problem will be resolved the first time around.
Plus, thanks to the pandemic, it can feel like you spend a huge part of your day using your smartphone to follow up on and manage online orders.
If it’s no fun for you as a customer, just imagine how not-fun it is for your retail customer service staff to handle hours of demands and complaints from dissatisfied, impatient people.
For brick-and-mortar retailers who are late to adopt digital tools, offering customer service from a distance could spell disaster: you risk losing loyal customers while you re-train staff, reorganize your customer support workflows, and scramble to manage customer communications.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As you’ll see in this guide, mobile-friendly retailers are thriving and increasing their customers’ happiness and loyalty thanks to the adoption of the right customer service tools, mindset, and approach.
What is Retail Customer Service?
Retail customer service exists to address and solve customer questions and problems. Traditionally, most customer service interactions center around refunds, exchanges, delivery status updates, and support for technical issues.
But in the age of smartphones, customer service goes beyond a desk in the back of a store for returns or an 800- number to call when you need to get the status of an order.
More consumers than ever expect retail brands to be ready and willing to help, no matter where they are in the world, which channel they’re communicating through, or which device they’re using.
More people than ever were using their smartphones to shop before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now that a majority of consumers are shopping from the safety of their homes, they expect retailers to provide excellent mobile and online interactions whether they’re passively browsing a store website or actively seeking help.
Why is Retail Customer Service So Important?
Long-term success as a retailer is all about winning trust, and you win trust by understanding customer needs and meeting or going beyond their expectations.
Retail customer service is important because:
- Great customer service powers customer retention. Each customer service interaction is an opportunity to win trust and loyalty and build upon the relationship you’ve developed with your buyer.
- Great customer service powers better business decisions. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about what your customers think so you can offer better products and services and develop on-point messaging to drive more sales.
- Great customer service powers retail sales. The more customers praise their shopping experience with you, the more you'll attract new customers.
Retail customer service also affects your bottom line. Wildly successful retail brands like Bombas as well as up-and-comers like Margaux see a clear link between investing in better customer service and generating more revenue. They follow a simple formula: the happier a customer is, the more loyal they will be, and the more lifetime value they will have to the retailer.
The State of Retail Customer Service today
Most retailers still consider customer service a cost center and use a variety of tactics to control it — many of which, frankly, are pains to deal with and undermine brand loyalty.
As more people use their smartphones to shop and interact with brands, retailers are struggling to catch up, and many are falling short on customer expectations for seamless support experiences from their call centers and checkout counters.
And when you fall short, you lose customers to competitors who have invested more into their customer service programs.
Today, 72% of consumers are using mobile devices to shop in stores according to the latest PYMNTS' 2020 Remote Payments Study. A report from mobile app marketing company Liftoff shows that retail apps have seen a 40% boost in engagement since last year, indicating the kickoff of a golden age for mobile shopping.
Mobile tech keeps customer service agents safe and efficient.
Customers aren’t the only ones relying more on mobile apps to handle their retail needs. Where customer service representatives work on the frontlines, companies are equipping their employees with the ability to serve customers from a distance by using touch-free payment readers, curbside pickup options, and text communications.
Meeting customers' needs is more important than ever.
Although customers are more motivated than ever to shop online, their expectations of how retailers should meet their needs haven’t changed. If anything, in a time of uncertainty, customers expect retail brands to be even more responsive and empathetic to their needs.
Mobile-first customer service experience is a competitive advantage
The brands that treat great customer service as an investment in customer happiness and loyalty and develop mobile-first experiences are more likely to be around longer – especially while customers are still cautious about in-person interactions.
According to predictions on post-pandemic retail trends by McKinsey, “[r]etailers should invest in training and equipping store associates to engage with customers online, so that store staff can guide customers at the start of the product-discovery journey and interact with them postpurchase. Retailers with a truly omnichannel mindset could also reward store associates for influencing online sales in local zip codes.”
Retail Customer Service Tips and Tactics for a Mobile-First World
Let’s take a look at the newest approaches to retail customer service strategy in a mobile environment, and how you can adopt them.
Understand your customers’ expectations.
The better you know your customer, the better you can deliver on what they need to feel cared for. With your customer being a text message away, you have more opportunities to get to know them. Many retailers are using mobile technology to communicate one-to-one.
Define your customer service principles.
Your customer service principles are the promises you make to your customers so you can meet or exceed their expectations. In a crowded retail industry, good customer service principles can be a huge differentiator for your company.
Let’s say that you’ve discovered through surveys that your customers expect quick turnarounds on orders and requests: a customer service principle might be “same-day delivery” or “never wait for help.”
Design your internal processes for your customer service principles.
If you’re making a promise, you need to back it up with action. Map the actions your company needs to take to come through on the principles you’ve defined.
For example, if you’re setting the expectation that customers will never have to wait to be helped, what steps will you need to take to ensure you can consistently deliver on that promise?
Match your tools to your customer service objectives.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a system that keeps crashing while you’re looking up customer information across multiple databases, you understand the frustration involved in having the wrong tool for the job.
Treat customer service as an investment.
Well-known retail brands like Amazon, Zappos, and Bonobos as well as up-and-comers like Margaux and Koio, have shifted their focus away from customer service as an operational cost. Instead, they invest in developing customer service skills and improving retail customer experience as channels for customer growth and retention.
Center your retail business on delighting customers.
There’s nothing better than feeling taken care of by a brand and returning the favor by publicly applauding a job well done. It’s the stuff glowing social media posts are made of.
With more people turning to their smartphones to shop, you have the opportunity to bring a sense of joy and excitement to their day, no matter where they are.
Go beyond delivering customer satisfaction. Give life to your customers at a distance by having sales associates follow up with helpful texts or infusing your social media support responses with personality. If your customer needs to be placed on hold, be clear about their wait times and entertain them while they wait with funny or interesting hold messages. A little delight goes a long, long way.
Adapt customer service to the pandemic era.
The global pandemic has proven to be a gamechanger for retail customer service. Those who will come out the other side of this crisis are no longer defining service as support for sales and as bland reactive efforts like handling complaints and managing returns.
If you want to stand out and survive, you’ll need to proactively anticipate customer needs by clienteling.
Impress your customers and let them know you care by communicating known issues across all channels. Offer free personal shoppers or tech consultants via video call. Update your return policy and give customers the ability to try out products at home. Follow up on purchases or questions using one-to-one outreach.
3 Examples of Exceptional Retail Customer Service
Best Buy’s One-on-One Consultations
In response to the COVID pandemic, Best Buy adopted a groundbreaking policy that not only helped protect their employees but also helped boost high-ticket sales for things like appliances: appointment-only shopping.
Customers book their appointments online via the Best Buy website or mobile app. Before their in-store visit, a Best Buy representative calls to better understand and cater to their needs. When you arrive at the store, you get tailored one-on-one service to help you quickly find and purchase the perfect tech gadget and answer any questions.
As pandemic restrictions are lifted and retail stores reopen, the in-store concierge service is still an option. Best Buy associates can also do in-home installation and set ups – while wearing a mask, of course.
Glossier’s Individualized Product Follow Ups
After a customer purchases a product, a member of Glossier’s “gTEAM” (their customer service team) personally reaches out to see what they think and answer any questions. It’s clear that the gTEAM emails aren’t canned – these are live human beings taking the time to make sure the customer is getting the most out of Glossier’s products.
Glossier treats customer service as an opportunity to collect customer feedback to fuel their brilliant marketing and build stronger relationships– and it shows with every piece of content they create.
Imperfect Foods’ Timely Texts
Imperfect Foods' excellent customer service text communications make it super simple to customize boxes and track shipments – and in some cases help prevent people from getting sick!
Recently, Imperfect Foods sent out a recall alert to all customers who had a certain batch of salmonella-tainted onions in their boxes. One little text helped thousands of people avoid an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office. Now that’s service!
Customer Service Is Your Competitive Advantage
With a little creativity and a lot of dedication to delivering results for your customers, retail customer service can be the winning edge over your competition and the driving force behind your customer loyalty.
We have the tools to make retail customer service easy and enjoyable. Check out Endear’s one-to-one customer service messaging tools so your customers can keep in touch and stay informed.