Singapore’s retail industry is undergoing its worst hit on record, with sales plunging by just over 40 per cent amidst this year’s circuit breaker measures. Even as restrictions have been lifted, retailers remain less-than-hopeful for the ‘revenge spending’ that many predicted at the start of the year.
At the same time, with the pandemic driving everyone to e-commerce, customers now expect and demand more from brands online. They want quick responses and personalised interactions at every touchpoint. And they’re not afraid to take their business elsewhere if their needs are not being met.
The move away from physical stores to online, means one less channel to interact with customers, and with it, the loss of face-to-face engagement. But for savvy businesses in Singapore - blessed with a highly connected population - this is an opportunity to differentiate through the experience they provide. The opportunity lies in looking to new channels and digital tools to replace traditional physical interactions, and to find ways to engage and interact with customers all while adding value and being helpful.
Helping your customers find the answers they seek
Today’s customers are curious. They’re spending more time online and are actively seeking answers and assistance. Here, 61 per cent of Singaporeans noted that chatbots will help improve customer service. That's because self-service options, like FAQs or live chat on a company website, provide customers with faster answers that they can find on their own time.
While the chatbot is still a fledgling technology and adoption rates are just picking up within the region, the chatbot market is growing at a CAGR of 9 per cent in Asia Pacific — likely a reflection of the global shift online, with customers seeking new ways to engage with brands in the absence of in-store.
One option to support customer service departments is leveraging AI through the use of chatbots — which can be used to address basic customer support inquiries at any time of day. The efficiency and accessibility bots offer are helping conquer traditional challenges, like needing help outside of working hours or waiting in phone queues.
There are also features like lead routing in chat, which automatically directs customers to the right support representative or resource based on their question, providing a quick, personalised and relevant experience for customers.
These tools help customers and service reps alike win. Whether it’s FAQs, chatbots or live chat, customers with basic questions can have their inquiries addressed easily whenever they need. And reps aren't burdened with constant, monotonous, simple questions — giving them more time to tackle more pressing, significant issues that are impactful for the business. This is especially important in the current context when companies are dealing with an influx of COVID-specific customer inquiries.
Please mind the (customer service) gap
The power of customer service tools is clear, but there is a gap in the market. Businesses aren’t offering self-service solutions — which not only adds pressure to internal teams but can mean the customer experience is jeopardised. According to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO study, less than half of CIOs in Asia Pacific are focusing on the deployment of technologies such as chatbots to drive customer engagement.
Considering relationships are built through connectivity and making sure that customers' needs and feedback are considered, retailers are missing a trick without these tools.
Customer service in action
Most importantly, better digital customer experience isn’t just the realm of sexy young startups offering online-only services. It is something that every business can - and must - master.
Chuan Kok, a homegrown company that specialises in hydraulics hardware, would have been intuitively written off by many as an ‘uncle-business’ doomed to sink in the digital economy. In reality, however, it is a great example of an organisation that has taken steps to offer a much better customer experience by going digital. This has paid off for the team, which had the foresight not just to invest in the tools to allow them to take their business online, but also great pains to ensure that all employees followed through on these initiatives.
In the past four years, they have managed to use tools such as HubSpot’s customer relationship management platform to automate routine tasks, and create greater alignment and synergy across all its customer outreach activities. By cultivating the right skills within its team, it can now leverage data and analytics to better understand its customers. Furthermore, it was able to branch out to new markets such as the US and Canada and expand its footprint, tapping on platforms such as Amazon and Shopify.
Through these value-added activities, Chuan Kok was able to grow revenue by 22 per cent, and increase its productivity by an estimated 30 to 40 percent. Digitalisation has also allowed the company to stand steady amid today’s economic storm.
Today's most successful businesses have found out that happy customers are the secret to growth. They buy more, stay longer, refer their friends, and tell the world about you. It’s this flywheel approach, which places the customer at the centre of everything that keeps businesses spinning, and ultimately helps them grow better.
With e-commerce the new normal for retailers, it’s time to start seizing customer service opportunities. One thing is clear in this brave new world, effective customer service is best done in partnership — utilising the best of tech and people to give people what they want. What are you waiting for?
The writer is managing director, Asia-Pacific, at HubSpot.