by Nathan Sykes, the founder of Finding an Outlet

When eCommerce first reared its head — or online shopping, in general — it changed the state of retail as we knew it. Suddenly, shopping was more personalized, more efficient and that meant businesses needed to find new ways to market their products and offerings.

Brick-and-mortar retail still exists, of course, and it always will. However, eCommerce and other forms of digital shopping have emerged as not just a subset of conventional shopping, but as entirely new experiences in their own right. Take smart assistants like Amazon Alexa or Apple’s Siri, for example. People can now order products from a variety of devices — such as a smartphone or smart speaker — using just their voice.

But digital and eCommerce technologies have changed so much more than just the way we shop — they’ve completely altered the way we interact with brands and businesses, too. That means both customer service and the average customer experience are very different today.

Reintroducing the human touch
In person, it’s much easier to communicate what you want, need or are potentially looking for. Salespeople at a company offer incredible insights in this regard and can often anticipate your needs. But there’s also another component to this interaction — the human touch or emotion. Your body language, for instance, will tell staff right away if you’re happy, confused or even frustrated, and they can respond accordingly.

That’s not the case with online or digital customer service channels. It’s remarkably flat and even faceless, where a computer or programmed system has no idea what you’re feeling or how that affects your overall experience.

Modern digital technologies can be used to alter this significantly, however. Texting and instant messaging channels can be used to communicate openly with customers, and they don’t necessarily have to be manned by human workers.

Instead, they can be powered by chatbots, AI-driven chat and text solutions that use contextual processing and natural language to communicate. Sure, it’s more faceless than, say, in-person interactions, but it has so much more emotion and warmth than a corporate or lingo-laden email.

AI will be a mainstream customer experience investment over the new few years, with 47 percent of organizations turning to chatbots for customer care, and an additional 40 percent deploying virtual assistants.

Anticipating a consumer’s needs
Digital also brings a multitude of new datasets and insights which we can use to improve and optimize the average customer experience. More importantly, the idea of total personalization is suddenly viable — where an experience or recommendation is tailored to each customer.

Currently, only 37 percent of shoppers feel like retailers know them. That needs to change, and digital technologies — especially mobile — can certainly make that happen.

Beyond simply delivering what a customer wants or needs on a basic level, you can really dive into the particulars and leverage omni-channel, cross-platform profiles that truly build a picture of who you’re serving.

A great example of this is how social media networks and search engines mesh to provide more relevant ads. Searching
for a type of product on Amazon or Google, for instance, will show ads for that particular item in your Facebook feed. The same can happen across mobile apps, messaging and communication channels, proprietary experiences — such as a store’s official site — and more. It can even be brought into the brick-and-mortar world to build upon the in-person experience.

Rethinking customer support for a digital world
Conventional support channels have also changed considerably, forcing companies and businesses to approach their service campaigns in new, innovative ways. Many companies, for instance, now use social media networks like Twitter as an extension of their standard customer support channels.

Not all changes are solely digital either. The ability for consumers to get service and treatment faster, more effectively, means businesses must upgrade their conventional game, too. They’re looking for new ways to ship products to consumers faster, thus making their experience better. They’re also brainstorming unconventional areas to make improvements, right down to the product packaging used to house goods and items. In fact, more than 75 percent of people are more likely to revisit an online retailer if they are happy with the speed of delivery and quality of packaging.

Ultimately, digital hasn’t just changed the structure of customer service and support — it’s changed the entire world of retail. Most importantly, it’s changed how businesses interact and satisfy their customers’ needs.

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