Given the current climate, retailers are relying on their e-commerce sales more than ever. Experts say this trend will continue, even after storefronts reopen. Providing your online shoppers with effective and efficient customer service will be vital to maintaining their loyalty.

The majority of online shoppers would rather utilize a chat tool instead of emailing when they  need customer service. These chat tools give online retailers the opportunity to provide helpful and efficient communication. However, they are not a “one size fits all” solution. 

Typically, online retailers choose between Chatbot and Live Chat tools. Although companies with a better understanding of customer demographics, buying behaviors, and the types of questions and concerns frequently raised on chats may have both. 

At InStore Design Display, we use a combination of chat methods. Last year, during our website overhaul, we considered our clients' buying journey then weighed how we could maintain our core values of being customer-centric while providing speed and quality.  In today’s day and age, customers demand prompt responses. IDD knew we needed to provide them the opportunity to connect with us using their desired outlet — not ours.

Based on historical interactions, IDD chose to staff a live chat with internal team members during business hours and a rule-based chatbot on nights and weekends. This method allows our team to meet clients' expectations and stay within budget constraints while providing an on-brand customer experience. As consultants, our initial conversations with prospects are often focused on decoding their needs. Engaging through chat to understand their needs allows us to expeditiously connect the client with the right expert at IDD.

The IDD team has been providing expertise in retail experience design for more than 100 years. Even though retail looks a little different right now doesn’t mean we aren’t passionate about helping retailers create an exceptional customer experience. If you are considering new customer service methods, the following is a breakdown of the different chat tools to help you better understand the options.

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Rule-based Chatbots 

Rule-based chatbots are the more cost-effective option of the two. However, the adage, you get what you pay for, definitely rings true with these. Rule-based chatbots are keyword-driven and act based on manually created rules. To optimize the bot’s performance, users have to clearly and consistently update their rules. This makes the bots tedious to “train” due to the endless rule creation necessary to accommodate different variations that one single question or phrase can take on.

For example, a user may create rules for the question, “where is my order?” But if the customer types “when is my package arriving?” the user may receive an error message. This type of repetitive and ongoing rule creation makes scaling difficult.

While rule-based bots have a less flexible conversational flow, they aren’t without their perks. The guard rails provided by chatbots are also an advantage because their scripted answers offer a sense of consistency. You can better guarantee the experience they will deliver, whereas chatbots that rely on machine learning (AI) are less predictable.

Additional benefits of a rule-based chatbot:

  • Integrates easily with legacy systems
  • Streamlines the handover to a human
  • Is highly accountable and secure
  • Can include interactive elements and media
  • Is  not restricted to text interactions

AI chatbots are more advanced (we will get to more info about them soon!), but they’re not always necessary. For smaller companies or those with specific goals, rule-based chatbots are a good solution. They are right for retailers that fall into these categories:

  • You know the goal you’re leading people towards
  • You’re interested in using a chatbot as an FAQ resource
  • Your chatbot funnels users to human agents
  • You don’t have a ton of example conversations to feed it

Conversational AI Chatbots

Conversational AI is often considered the more sophisticated of the chatbot options. It's the better choice if your company has historical data, which can be used to enable learning. This type of bot requires more effort on the front end to set up., However,in the long run, it saves a lot of time as they learn on their own. Plus, new rules don’t need to be created. 

Benefits of AI chatbots:

  • Learn from information gathered
  • Continuously improve as more data comes in
  • Understand patterns of behavior
  • Have a broader range of decision-making skills
  • Can understand many languages
  • Can understand spelling mistakes or short form

Regardless of which chatbot option you choose, you will find that your online customers appreciate the 24/7 support, instant responses, detailed/expert answers, and more. Chatbots are exceptionally useful when the nature of the customers’ questions is simple and repetitive, also known as Tier 1. 

These bots can decode buying behaviors at a high level and can even contribute to upselling. Nordstrom, for example, uses chatbots to deliver personalized shopping recommendations. This feature is perfect for influencing impulse buys.

Live Chat

Seventy-three percent of customers find live chat to be the most satisfying way to communicate with a business. Beyond that, 44 percent of online shoppers say that having the ability to chat with a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is the most important feature with an e-commerce website. This type of customer support is ideal if your customer conversations are often complex. 

The human to human contact also allows the necessary subtleties to come through so you can provide on-brand customer experience. For complex sales funnels, human agents also excel at helping consumers navigate the decision process, address doubts, and answer specific questions.

During uncertain times like these, one thing is clear—customers’ expectations remain high and retailers must strive to meet them

Technology now makes it possible to create touchpoints where there were none before. 

Chat tools and technologies like mobile apps, Alexa skills, Facebook Messenger, and other online tools have transformed the ability for companies to reach their customers in the moments they need them most. 

When choosing what option is best for your organization, there are many variables to consider. However, we recommend focusing on understanding your customer’s preferences by analyzing historical data and consulting your front line sales team, who have the most interaction with buyers.

Eventually, brick-and-mortar storefronts will fully reopen. When they do, IDD will be there to help create exceptional and safe in-store experiences.

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