Chatbot vs. Email vs. Voice: How to Communicate with Customers

Communication is key in any relationship, be it personal or professional, but discerning when and how to communicate with customers can make or break a retail business. Shopping behavior is changing quickly, and it’s not solely attributable to Amazon increasing its footprint. Uber and Lyft’s in-app trip tracking features have trained customers to expect constant updates on the progress of a product or service. Netflix’s personalized recommendations create the expectation that a business should know its consumers better than they know themselves. Within this technology-dominated landscape, it’s important for retailers to be thoughtful about how they can engage customers through email, chatbots, and voice shopping.

Email, the old standby.

Clicking the “buy” button is the beginning—not the end—of the retailer-customer relationship. Shoppers crave relevant information about their purchases, and want to receive updates about tracking and product availability. While most retailers think two or three emails following a purchase is pushing the limit, 83 percent of surveyed shoppers say there is no such thing as too many emails when it comes to the status of a package. Narvar’s internal research has found that most shoppers want updates whenever anything changes with an order status. Automated updates can pay off for retailers by drastically reducing the number of “where is my order” (a.k.a. WISMO) calls to customer service centers.

In addition to providing customers with information about past purchases, smart retailers are also using order status and customer satisfaction emails to introduce shoppers to new or complementary products. Because the customer already has an existing relationship with the seller, most businesses find that these types of emails have strong engagement metrics.

Chatbots are hit or miss.

Chatbots are not sophisticated enough to replace human customer service representatives for complex issues, but they can be useful for retailers who want to offer 24/7 support on basic data look-ups like store hours, locations, and package tracking.

For retailers, the decision to bot or not depends on the age and willingness of the customer base. Interestingly, Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers have been faster to embrace chatbots, probably because they have experience engaging with Messenger pop-up bots on brands’ Facebook pages.

People who like interacting with chatbots cite the convenience of the service: rather than waiting for a human representative to become available, consumers get answers immediately. Plus, 25 percent of people simply don’t want to talk to a real person. Conversely, 58 of shoppers prefer human interaction and feel a chatbot is impersonal. The best thing a business can do to combat that criticism is to set expectations up front for what the bot can and cannot do, and create a redirect loop to a human representative for complex customer problems.

Is voice a thing yet?

We’re still in the early days of voice-assisted shopping, but Narvar has found that consumers are embracing the trend at a rapid pace. Rates of both smart speaker ownership and shopping by voice increased by more than 40 percent, individually, over a six-month period between 2017 and 2018. The ways that consumers use technology like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri suggests that these voice shoppers are busy and need a hands-free means of multitasking: 51 percent of customers are using voice to research products, 36 percent use it to add items to their shopping lists, and 17 percent use it to reorder items—a promising statistic for retailers in the commodities and consumables business. Voice shopping may not be a practical means of discovering a perfect-fitting style of jeans, but it’s practical and convenient for customers looking to re-order toilet paper.

Mix it up.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to communicating with customers in retail. It’s important for businesses to offer a mix of approaches to reach potential and return buyers. For a more on the future of customer communications, watch our webinar, “Trends Shaping the Future of Retail Customer Communications.”

Robyn Hagan Cain

Lawyer-turned-writer-and-editor covering everything from law and policy to puppies and shoes. Founder of Occasional group fitness instructor. Organizational superstar. Morally opposed to unnecessary jargon.

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