If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that an online presence is arguably more important than an in-store one for retailers.
When the March 2020 lockdown was announced, the vast majority of retailers were forced to close their stores to the public. Those who already had an online presence were well-prepared for this shift, but smaller businesses that couldn’t afford one struggled. Customer service went digital, and many consumers and businesses haven’t looked back.
An average of 50 physical stores closed a day in the first six months of 2021 due to a mix of businesses closing down, reducing spend on retail space, or prioritising their online experiences.
Businesses that have historically operated face to face may be concerned that closing physical spaces will affect the level of customer service they’re able to deliver. Remote and digital customer services may feel impersonal and lacking in a human touch, but they needn’t be.
Here, customer service expert Kura discusses why businesses closing physical spaces shouldn’t mean diminished customer service.
Multiple national lockdowns accelerated the trend of customers interacting with businesses digitally, which had already been on the rise pre-pandemic. With limited to no options to speak with customer service advisors in person and long waiting times on the phone, many consumers turned to digital self-service options out of necessity.
The number of customers who want digital-only contact methods doubled between 2019 and 2020, highlighting the effectiveness of digital channels and their importance over physical-only interactions. An omnichannel experience is important to consumers, especially given that older consumers and those on low incomes are more likely to be digitally excluded, but a digital-first strategy will allow you to meet growing customer demand.
Businesses can still deliver a high level of service over digital methods, as long as they’re still meeting customer demands. The biggest frustration for customers is not being able to reach a human advisor, so it’s essential that this is an option digitally – even if you encourage them to self-serve with chatbots or online accounts first.
With every generation comes a bigger group of digital-savvy consumers. Millennials and Generation Z make up more than a third of the UK population and are considered digital natives because they grew up with advanced technology at their fingertips.
As these younger generations take over, the number of people who aren’t digital natives dwindles, which leaves us with a bigger proportion of tech-savvy consumers who expect digital interactions as standard.
Some of the biggest and most successful brands on the planet right now, including Amazon and Instagram, are almost exclusively digital. These businesses highlight the fact that digital-only customer service can keep customers satisfied and be hugely successful. They also appeal to these younger demographics who’ve grown up with companies that have never had a physical presence.
Of the many contact methods available to customers, digital channels ranked the highest in terms of satisfaction. Chatbots, email, Facebook Messenger, video calls, and mobile apps were the channels ranked highest in terms of customer satisfaction in November 2019. Furthermore, the January 2022 UKCSI report shows that digital channels including text messages, social media, and web chat experienced the highest increase in satisfaction since January 2021.
Many businesses who are used to dealing with customers face to face might be concerned that fewer physical interactions will result in a less personal customer experience, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Argos, which has long been famed for its in-store cataloguing experience, has branched out to become one of the most successful ecommerce companies in the UK. It has achieved this through a number of initiatives, including its stock-checking feature and extensive click-and-collect function, which includes a Fast Track option – the perfect blend of digital and in-store experiences, delivered at speed.
In a world of online shopping and omnichannel customer experiences, more retailers are shifting to a digital-first strategy. For those who’ve built a brand on in-person or in-store experiences, this can feel daunting. But as we can see with the likes of Argos, closing stores doesn’t mean jeopardising your customer experience. The human touch is still vital to digital experiences, and advisors will always have a huge role to play in delivering outstanding customer service. Ensuring you have the resources to deliver this remotely, like a large internal team or taking advantage of customer service outsourcing, will be more important than having a physical presence.