Speed of service and omnichannel strategies are two of retail’s megatrends, both rooted in consumers’ ever-rising expectations to get what they want, where, and how they want it, right now.
To continue reaching the next bar, retailers are rushing to get the right processes and infrastructure in place. To achieve tighter fulfilment windows, they’re making considerable investments in the supply chain. To attain true omnichannel customer experiences, retailers are pushing through faux omnichannel workarounds to implement flexible, integrated platforms.
But the way they communicate about these goals—both internally and with customers—continues to languish back to the 20th century.
That means merchandisers collaborating with overseas suppliers on a fast-fashion design are playing the extended telecom scheduling dance, trying to establish a video connection to plan their next line. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Inquiries from a shopper go back and forth via slow, asynchronous email, so by the time the customer gets the information they wanted, their interest has faded.[/inlinetweet] It simply takes too long to turn a social media comment into a customer service rep driven e-commerce buy.
The lack of a modern communications platform costs retailers in both speed and omnichannel capabilities.
The problem with email
Email is the most entrenched of the old-school means of communication in this fast-moving digital age and perhaps the biggest productivity killer. Harvard Business Review reported that the average employee spends 23% of their workday working on emails, and the average employee sends or receives 112 emails per day. Business Insider revealed that workers check emails an average six seconds after they arrive, and then it takes approximately 25 minutes for those employees to get back to maximum productivity. Many companies have launched campaigns to reduce email use or curtail it all together.
Businesses using unified communications grow 2.4 times faster than non-users and achieve 2.9 greater growth in customer lifetime value. Click To Tweet
A lot of time and energy is devoted to an arguably ineffective form of communication. Conversations are asynchronous, slowing communications even as the pace of work is picking up. Threading results in unwieldy files with key data buried deep in the string. And endless CCs result in untenably large groups that slow decision making.
Contrast that with modern unified communication platforms designed around real-time communication and collaboration. These tools work at the speed of retail, overcoming barriers such as time and distance that slow things down. Via a modern unified communications platform, a supply chain manager can organise a quick conference call or a video conference with its 3PL (Third-party logistics). A store manager can instant message a product expert to get quick answers to a customer’s question.
Crossing channels of communication
Internal communications are not the only place retailers are feeling the impact of email and other inadequate communications tools. Just as customers expect transaction history and activity to cross channels, they assume their communications will as well. The busy mom who called the contact centre last night now wants to follow up via a more discreet chat window from work. The Millennial who commented on a Snap expects the store assistant to be able to lead her to the item she saw online.
And yet, research conducted by Retail TouchPoints for Ring Central found email is retailers’ most commonly used method of customer communications (84%), followed by phone (60%). Newer media are much less common, including online chat with a customer service representative (30%), SMS text messaging (26%), and online chat with a chatbot (14%).
Email is fading
Evidence is mounting that consumers are tired of email. When PwC’s 2018 Consumer Habits Global Insights Survey asked consumers where they went online to get inspiration for purchases, 37% chose social media and 34% cited individual retailer websites, while just 14% named emails from brands or retailers. “That mode of outreach doesn’t resonate with consumers rejecting intrusive sales pitches and searching for authenticity,” the report concluded.
Customers who are anxious to pick up a mobile order via click-and-collect aren’t stopping to check email. They want that notification to pop on their phone. The logistics team responding to a diverted intermodal shipment can’t stop and wait for the carrier to email them an update.
Consumers avoid email for help too. American Express found that for simple inquiries, more than six in 10 US consumers say their go-to channel is a digital self-serve tool such as a website (24%), mobile app (14%), voice response system (13%), or online chat (12%). But, as the complexity of the issue increases, such as with payment disputes or complaints, shoppers are more likely to seek out a face-to-face interaction (23%) or a real person on the phone (40%).
Seamless unified communications close the communications loop
Modern retail organisations must be able to connect with shoppers at their channel of choice, which is less likely to include email today. Retailers also need to be able to use the most effective channel based on the specific question or issue. It all has to happen in real time, and the communications loop must be able to easily transition from one channel to another without losing data or missing a beat. These capabilities come from a unified communications solution.
Businesses using unified communications grow 2.4 times faster than nonusers and achieve 2.9 greater growth in customer lifetime value according to Aberdeen Group. By evolving away from old-school, problematic, siloed communications methods like email, retailers can align their communications with the fast, personalized, and omnichannel interactions that today’s digitally savvy consumers are demanding.
Originally published Jul 19, 2018, updated Jan 16, 2023