How will you communicate during the next bomb cyclone?

Falling shining transparent snow. Christmas snow with snowflakes.
Retailers need to plan how they will communicate with consumers during winter weather shutdowns.

Bad weather and store closures are a reality of winter. But how retailers communicate these unexpected changes with consumers can greatly affect customer loyalty. 

FierceRetail spoke with Joshua March, co-founder and CEO of Conversocial, to get tips on communicating with, engaging and winning over shoppers during a winter storm.

FierceRetail (FR): When stores have to close due to weather, how should they first attempt to communicate with customers?

Joshua March (JM): Social media offers real-time updates to service disruptions. Often a pinned tweet will do the job. 

FR: How often during closures are retailers expected to communicate with consumers to keep them updated?

JM: There are no determined expectations here—posting on social platforms are key. Given the public nature of social, it is critical that retailers address their customer issues head-on. Owning the issue (in this case, a store closure), responding in a timely manner and trying to solve in-channel are essential.

FR: You repeatedly mentioned social. How important is this channel in 2018?  

JM: One of the defining characteristics of the modern consumer is the extent to which they are in control of their message. Consumers now have a voice and a choice! They have a voice across messaging channels with their immediate friends and family and they have a voice with total strangers across public social media platforms. While most companies are responding to customers over social, only a handful have been able to take social customer care from the initial “test-and-learn” phase to its status as a highly repeatable and profitable revenue generator. The future of customer service will be driven by delivering effortless engagement. Companies that are able to achieve this will reap fruitful gains, and companies that aren’t will continue to perceive their contact center as a cost center.

FR: How can retailers harness bad weather to their advantage?

JM: Consumer expectations for service via digital channels will only continue to increase. According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report, customers born after 1981 (today the largest generation, beating out even baby boomers) overwhelmingly prefer customer service via social and mobile channels to classic contact methods such as phone calls. But while today’s customers are less likely to call a business, they’re actually more anchored than ever to their phones. In 2017, social and mobile are virtually inseparable, with over 80% of daily active Twitter users being mobile, and roughly the same for Facebook. The benefit is clear, you can actually have real one-to-one conversations with your customers. 

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FR: What is the role of chatbots in 2018 and is that role changing?

JM: While the launch of the bot platforms in 2016 caused a lot of hype (and a lot of bots that turned out to not be very useful at all), we’re now starting to see brands figure out how to use the bot platforms to add real value to customers. In the commerce world, simple transactional bots (for example, enabling customers to order flowers or book an appointment) have proven successful. In the customer service domain, it’s much harder to automate full conversations—there are just too many variables that a customer could ask. Instead, automation should be used carefully to augment human agents.

A great first place to start is to use the automation capabilities within the messaging platforms to build a “Visual IVR” system. In any service conversation, the first few messages are generally used to identify the type of issue the customer is facing, and then to collect relevant information needed to resolve the issue. Generally, this routing and data collection is incredibly simple to automate, without needing to make use of any natural language processing that could go wrong.

FR: Can you give an example of a brand that you think uses chatbots successfully?

JM: Abercrombie & Fitch. Both Messenger and Twitter enable you to have automated welcome messages with button navigation options (instead of a keyboard). This functionality can be used to discover what kind of issue the customer has, then ask them for relevant information—and only then take them to an agent. A Visual IVR like the one above can immediately save 15% to 20% of messaging volumes—huge savings in agent time—while improving routing accuracy and accelerating resolution time for the customer.

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FR: What can be the challenges of communicating via chat?

JM: It's not asynchronous. You can't take (the majority) of chat conversations with you. You can take Messaging service inquiries with you. Messaging—which includes both the private messaging capabilities of the major social networks as well as standalone platforms like WhatsApp—is quickly becoming the default way that everyone communicates. Indeed, Activate predicts that by 2018 at least 3.6 billion people will have at least one messaging app on their smartphone, catching up with the total number of internet users and eclipsing pure social media users.

FR: What else can you tell retailers about preparing for the next bomb cyclone?

JM: Create a digital care playbook. A social customer service playbook details processes for how different departments should transfer knowledge seamlessly to one another, and how service agents should engage securely in social conversations with customers. An effective service book should include the most common scenarios seen in social media inquiries and how to respond appropriately. The playbook provides consistency across your team and creates processes that can be measured, refined and scaled.