Tested For You: How Are European Retailers Performing In Online Customer Service?

Martin Stocker and Erica Vialardi

The sunny and warm weather has finally arrived. What could be more fun than having some cocktails and nice foods on your terrace together with friends? My colleague Erica and I decided to meet on a Saturday afternoon for a summer barbecue with our families. I would take care of the preparation of the barbecue itself, while Erica would look into the cocktails.

Since we both like good and innovative online shopping experiences, we decided to make it a little bit more challenging and ended up testing the online customer services of the top 10 European online retailers to get everything ready for the party. We were both confident that, in the golden age of online retailing, the whole setup would go smoothly. In reality, we went through quite surprising experiences.

What makes customer service future-proof

Finally, we met for the barbecue and had a very nice time with good food and fresh cocktails. In the kitchen, Erica took me aside and told me, “It was fun to do the cocktails stuff, but not all parts of it. I thought it would be way easier!” I shared the same impressions with her.

To test which of the top 10 European retailers would score best in terms of online customer service performance, we selected the two main criteria that, today, prove a retailer’s ability to walk down a future-oriented path in customer service:

1) the customer engagement effectiveness of their customer service

2) the availability of self-service channels

Each criterion got an assessment on a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 means “not available” and 10 means “extremely effective and innovative”. Are retail brands walking the walk, or just talking the talk of providing great online customer service?

Forward-thinking retailers don’t wait for a complaint

The first criterion we assessed was the level of customer engagement that retailers could provide on the customer service side. Leading retailers are aware that customer service is increasingly becoming an actual engagement channel and no longer a mere post-sale troubleshooting tool.

The differentiator here lies in the ability to provide customers with enough valuable product information so that they can have all their questions answered before they make the purchase decision, and in addition, are encouraged to increase the value in their shopping carts. The elements we analysed to assess customer engagement performance in service included: detail of product description; product advice and suggestions of use through service channels; cross-and up-selling; personalization tools; and re-marketing through service channels.

Testing brought its share of fun and sharing our experiences ended up in conversations like this one:

Martin: “I hoped that some online shops would support a much more intelligent and convenient way on how to find the items on my list. Take the new gas bottle for my barbecue: unfortunately, when I browsed the first online shop, the size of the bottle was not the perfect fit for my grill.”

Erica: “Do you mean that not only didn’t the store recommend products related to a specific grill, even a basic thing like a gas bottle, but they couldn’t even provide more product information through their service channels?”

Martin: “Exactly! I wished I could, for example, have immediately chatted with a store consultant when visiting the page of the gas bottle to get some product advice. Some of the online shops did indeed have a Service button, but when I clicked on it, I got the usual contact information via phone, email to address technical or delivery issues only. What held me back from purchasing was not getting a helpful answer fast enough about the product I wanted to purchase.”

Erica: “Frustrating! Now I understand why you had to drive to the next DYI store to talk to a salesperson.”

A multifaceted gem called self-service

The second criterion was about measuring the retailers’ performance in offering self-service channels, which enable customers to solve their service requests on their own and find answers with ease, without having to contact a service operator. The higher the number of self-service channels, the higher the score of the retailer. We analysed the presence of the following self-service methods at each retailer’s website: FAQs; buying guides; personalization tools; customer communities and ratings; and chatbots.

Here again, the two of us had interesting conversations, for better or for worse:

Erica: “I wanted to make everything ready to be the ‘hostess with the mostest’ that day, so I went on an online quest for cocktail items on two different home goods online retailers. When looking for barware, I heavily relied on self-service tools to guide me in my purchase. Through communities, peer reviews and Q&As, I could easily determine that a key differentiator in a cocktail shaker was the lid and felt confident in my purchase.”

Martin: “Now that’s what I call great service! Better than my experience with the gas bottle for sure. At least you found all the info on your own, directly on the website.”

Erica: “Wait—unfortunately, the fun didn’t last long. When it came to the actual cocktail preparation, I would have expected at least something as simple as a link to a cocktail recipe book on the glassware section of the store, but it wasn’t available anywhere. This made it very hard for me to choose the right glasses and… guess what?”

Martin: “… you clicked away and ended up on Google.”

European retailers could serve themselves better

There is still a long way to go, but with our research, we could highlight some strengths and growth opportunities. Here is the final ranking:

The strongest performers overall were by far the UK apparel and home goods retailers. They showed very advanced service functionality, such as a striking 20-question personalization tool to select the best outfit, and in another case, sophisticated, searchable communities together with product comparison tools.

The two biggest German fashion vendors provided good service performances, the only ones with a live chat available on their homepages that also included a separate, product advice chat. A good experience, which combined the advantages of an online and an offline shop. No long waiting times, direct responses, and very uncomplicated recommendations.

The third and last cluster were the grocery retailers from France, who offered the weakest performance in terms of customer engagement and self-service capabilities and instead seemed to concentrate most of their service efforts on the delivery/pickup side, which may reflect the intrinsic nature of the fresh food industry, where convenient delivery is a priority.

The first takeaway of our research has been that good service is key to hold consumers from clicking away. Eighty-six percent of all consumers are indeed likely to pay for good service or pay more for their items on the shopping list. Another finding was that customer service should start transforming from solving “administrative” complaints to managing revenue-generating customer engagement activities.

In addition, it still seems to be hard for retailers in specific branches to move away from their product-based core businesses toward a more service-oriented offering, based on the usage/experience for the consumer. Here again, service will play an ever more discriminating role in customer retention in the future.

Conversational commerce is today

Probably inspired by the lavish dinner and cocktails, a thought struck us: Isn’t it a paradox that with today’s availability of sophisticated online, one-to-one conversational channels that brands could only dream of five years ago, those same conversational channels are still often used as mere “complaint centres”? Turn the complaints into opportunities, and you will transform those tools into powerful customer engagement gates, in times where boundaries between service, marketing and commerce are blurring.

For example, with intelligent chatbots, both authors are convinced, shopping will be much easier, faster, and more convenient. Even supermarkets could offer their customers a menu with the ingredients they are looking for and put these on their pick list. It is worth noting that of all 10 retailers we tested, not one used chatbots on their online stores yet.

One conversational commerce tool that is already existing and working is Chatbot Charly, developed at SAP Hybris Labs. It would be a win for both sides: retailers could serve their customer needs, increase the satisfaction and the revenue of their shoppers, and consumers could spend more time on the most important things in life: having a great time with their families and friends.

For a in-depth analysis of the evolution of customer service, shifting from strictly a post-sale approach to an entire end-to-end process, read the report “Supporting the Buying Journey with Customer Service” from Forrester.

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Martin Stocker

About Martin Stocker

Martin Stocker is Director of Global Programs Marketing at SAP Hybris.

Erica Vialardi

About Erica Vialardi

Erica Vialardi is the EMEA Audience Engagement Marketing Manager at SAP Hybris.

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.

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Sunny Popali

About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Social Media Matters: 6 Content And Social Media Trend Predictions For 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

Julie Ellis

As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.

Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.

Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.

1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines

Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.

However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:

  • Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
  • Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.

2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify

Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:

  • Sending and receiving emails and messages
  • Making purchases
  • Researching products and services
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or writing reviews and comments
  • Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
  • Visiting news and entertainment websites
  • Using social media

Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.

This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.

3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms

Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.

This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.

However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.

4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age

In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.

However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.

However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.

5. Content production must reflect quality and variety

  • Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
  • While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
  • The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
  • B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
  • Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.

Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
Small Business Video infographic

A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.

6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement

Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.

For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.

For a deeper dive on engaging with customers through storytelling, see Brand Storytelling: Where Humanity Takes Center Stage.

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Julie Ellis

About Julie Ellis

Julie Ellis – marketer and professional blogger, writes about social media, education, self-improvement, marketing and psychology. To contact Julie follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Jenny Dearborn: Soft Skills Will Be Essential for Future Careers

Jenny Dearborn

The Japanese culture has always shown a special reverence for its elderly. That’s why, in 1963, the government began a tradition of giving a silver dish, called a sakazuki, to each citizen who reached the age of 100 by Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Elders Day), which is celebrated on the third Monday of each September.

That first year, there were 153 recipients, according to The Japan Times. By 2016, the number had swelled to more than 65,000, and the dishes cost the already cash-strapped government more than US$2 million, Business Insider reports. Despite the country’s continued devotion to its seniors, the article continues, the government felt obliged to downgrade the finish of the dishes to silver plating to save money.

What tends to get lost in discussions about automation taking over jobs and Millennials taking over the workplace is the impact of increased longevity. In the future, people will need to be in the workforce much longer than they are today. Half of the people born in Japan today, for example, are predicted to live to 107, making their ancestors seem fragile, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors at the London Business School and authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The End of the Three-Stage Career

Assuming that advances in healthcare continue, future generations in wealthier societies could be looking at careers lasting 65 or more years, rather than at the roughly 40 years for today’s 70-year-olds, write Gratton and Scott. The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

It will be replaced by a new model in which people continually learn new skills and shed old ones. Consider that today’s most in-demand occupations and specialties did not exist 10 years ago, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum.

And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, the report notes.

Our current educational systems are not equipped to cope with this degree of change. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is outdated by the time students graduate, the report continues.

Skills That Transcend the Job Market

Instead of treating post-secondary education as a jumping-off point for a specific career path, we may see a switch to a shorter school career that focuses more on skills that transcend a constantly shifting job market. Today, some of these skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, are taught mostly in the context of broader disciplines, such as math or the humanities.

Other competencies that will become critically important in the future are currently treated as if they come naturally or over time with maturity or experience. We receive little, if any, formal training, for example, in creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change. (No wonder the self-help marketplace continues to thrive!)

The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

These skills, which today are heaped together under the dismissive “soft” rubric, are going to harden up to become indispensable. They will become more important, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will usher in an era of infinite information, rendering the concept of an expert in most of today’s job disciplines a quaint relic. As our ability to know more than those around us decreases, our need to be able to collaborate well (with both humans and machines) will help define our success in the future.

Individuals and organizations alike will have to learn how to become more flexible and ready to give up set-in-stone ideas about how businesses and careers are supposed to operate. Given the rapid advances in knowledge and attendant skills that the future will bring, we must be willing to say, repeatedly, that whatever we’ve learned to that point doesn’t apply anymore.

Careers will become more like life itself: a series of unpredictable, fluid experiences rather than a tightly scripted narrative. We need to think about the way forward and be more willing to accept change at the individual and organizational levels.

Rethink Employee Training

One way that organizations can help employees manage this shift is by rethinking training. Today, overworked and overwhelmed employees devote just 1% of their workweek to learning, according to a study by consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. Meanwhile, top business leaders such as Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight spend about five hours a week reading, thinking, and experimenting, according to an article in Inc. magazine.

If organizations are to avoid high turnover costs in a world where the need for new skills is shifting constantly, they must give employees more time for learning and make training courses more relevant to the future needs of organizations and individuals, not just to their current needs.

The amount of learning required will vary by role. That’s why at SAP we’re creating learning personas for specific roles in the company and determining how many hours will be required for each. We’re also dividing up training hours into distinct topics:

  • Law: 10%. This is training required by law, such as training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Company: 20%. Company training includes internal policies and systems.

  • Business: 30%. Employees learn skills required for their current roles in their business units.

  • Future: 40%. This is internal, external, and employee-driven training to close critical skill gaps for jobs of the future.

In the future, we will always need to learn, grow, read, seek out knowledge and truth, and better ourselves with new skills. With the support of employers and educators, we will transform our hardwired fear of change into excitement for change.

We must be able to say to ourselves, “I’m excited to learn something new that I never thought I could do or that never seemed possible before.” D!

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