SA e-tailers must Invest in Contact Centres

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As South Africa’s retail sector continues to expand, and product and pricing continues to converge – customer experience (CX) has become the most crucial factor in gaining, and retaining, customer loyalty and market share. A Q2 consumer survey carried out by customer experience partner, Merchants, shows that an omnichannel customer engagement strategy is critical in creating a positive CX. 

This year it was reported that poor CX is costing South African e-tailers R30-billion annually, with 96% of respondents to the 2021 South African Digital Customer Experience Report indicating that they would increase their online spend if the business in question provided an improved experience. “The customer journey is not only about the act of purchasing goods via the website, it includes the experience in dealing with the brand itself – such as logging queries or seeking after-sales service,” explains Mathew Conn, Merchants Group Chief Revenue Officer. 

When asked about their preferred method of contacting a brand or business, 74% of consumers chose email – up from 68% in 2020. Interestingly, email far surpassed social media (48%), chat functions (47%), and even websites (39%).  Conn notes that many consumers opt to email a contact centre before they make a call, especially in the online retail industry – where queries often include attachments like product images, for example. 

“Consumers often prefer to have their question or query in writing, so they have it on record should they need to refer back to it. Email has certainly become a more popular option in the last year, as face-to-face interaction has decreased drastically. In our experience, these emails are usually followed up by a phone call,” he says, noting that while email is the most popular method for communicating general queries and questions, contact centre agents remain key to timeous problem solving. 

The survey showed that 87% of respondents want to speak with an agent when contacting a call centre, and problem solving remains the number one trait they look for in an agent. “It is human nature to want a problem or issue resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. While digital channels like chat, for example, definitely have their place in the e-tail customer experience – human connection remains incredibly important to the consumer in this regard. Consumers want to feel heard and understood, and an agent is trained to do that,” explains Conn. 

According to HubSpot, 92% of consumers say they will stop purchasing from a company after 3 poor customer service experiences. “CX can no longer be a second priority for retailers and e-tailers – it is even more important than product and pricing. Those e-tailers who do not prioritise their strategies around this are at serious risk of losing business to their competitors who do,” concludes Conn.