Today, one of the biggest challenges for retailers is bridging the gap between online sales and in-person brick and mortar sales. Customers certainly have no problem doing it for themselves: they may shop in a physical store while browsing a company’s Web site on their phone, or reading online reviews. They might research a product online before they leave for the store. They might use QR codes on their phones to learn about the features of a product in a store.
But while customers have made the jump, it’s been harder for companies. Many retailers tried bold “BOPIS” (buy online, pick up in store) models only to watch them fail miserably. Customers complained that promises or good customer service they got online didn’t translate to the retail store. They often found themselves waiting in long lines, or speaking with brick-and-mortar store personnel who simply weren’t knowledgeable. The companies that managed to put a great BOPIS model in place are far fewer than the ones that are struggling.
In a recent blog post, Aspect’s (News - Alert) Evan Dobkin noted that a bridge between digital and retail store presence is necessary even if the bulk of a retailer’s sales take place in a store’s physical location. Customers may still seek online assistance, and if it’s provided properly, it can actually increase buyers’ likelihood to buy, increase upselling, and provide an experience worthy of word-of-mouth referrals. This is where “chatbots,” or virtual assistants, could play an important role. Thanks to predictive analytics, chatbots can actually be smart enough to anticipate customer needs.
“The most effective chatbots are the ones that not only assist you at the specific time you need them, but could also anticipate where you could use some help based on things that the business already knows (CRM data, contextual data, customer journey data),” wrote Dobkin. “As a shopper, a customer service chatbot could pop up (always make it easy for people to engage and disengage with bots) after I’ve looked at a few items without adding anything to my cart or saving it for later. It could take into account what I’ve looked at, ask me a few more pointed questions, query its vast repository of customer reviews and product descriptions and provide a set of highly targeted product options for me to choose from.”
Customers that use chatbots can easily answer the most basic questions customers might have: “Is it in stock?” “How long would shipping take/cost?” “How much are replacement parts?” Doing this would reduce customer support costs, as it would free up store personnel or contact center agents for more complex queries. Customers often prefer answering their own questions if they can, and chatbots are always available, never cranky and forgive you if you don’t make polite small talk.
“While a customer might be reluctant to pick up the phone and navigate an IVR to explain the question to an agent, they might be willing to give an on-screen chatbot link a try,” wrote Dobkin.