Hi, can I help you? – ecommerce bad practice

Last weekend I made the uncharacteristic decision to visit a shopping centre. In need of shirts, I quickly found a well-know chain of shirt-makers. Before I had put both feet inside the shop, I got the dreaded ‘Hi, can I help you?‘.

Now, I can accept that I probably looked lost and that the shop assistant was only trying to be friendly, but give me a chance. In fact, here is a question: is there anything more irritating than a completely irrelevant and wrongly timed ‘Hi, can I help you?‘ when you go shopping?

In fact there is. And it occurred to me about ten minutes later, when I had selected the shirt I wanted to try but couldn’t find the right size. Now ready for some help, I turned around half expecting the shop assistant to be hovering around only to find the shop completely void of shop assistants altogether. I waited for five minutes but saw no movement and decided it was time to leave…without my shirts.

It was at this stage I kicked myself for not having gone online to buy, but the reality is that most ecommerce shops are following their offline big brother’s bad example of non-existent customer service or irrelevant ‘Hi, how can I help you?‘s.

Most ecommerce shops have pretty dire customer service practices in fact. The majority don’t ask if they can help at all, forcing you to fend for yourself with only a ‘Help & FAQ‘ section to rely on. Only marginally better are those that offer a telephone number for you to to ring (in itself not very customer-friendly), which often means manically pressing numbers to get to the right help desk and then waiting, and waiting and…waiting.

And then there those that have made the jump to online chat and call back tools, but these are really the online equivalent of the badly timed and irrelevant ‘Hi, can I help you?‘. Popping-up whenever they please, they are never available when you need them.

Is it too much to ask to be treated as a customer rather just a transaction? Surely It doesn’t have to be this way.

The answer is intelligent interaction. By using real-time behavioural profiling and establishing the consumer’s ‘state of mind’, as well as their communication/channel preference, it is possible to engage with them when (and only when) they need you, and in a way that is most convenient for them. How radical!

The benefits of this approach include:

  1. Increased conversion – by engaging with them when they need you, you are more likely to complete a sale (as well as up-sell, cross-sell)
  2. Reduced abandonment – by helping them find what they need (or should be looking for) they are less likely to leave the shop
  3. Improved customer service – the right type of engagement makes the whole buying process quicker and easier
  4. Improved customer satisfaction – by being there for your customer only when they need you, reduces the uncomfortable feeling of being sold to and heightens their perception of you as a brand
  5. Reduced cost – and if the above wasn’t enough, intelligent interaction offers substantial ‘cost-to-serve’ savings, as it focuses your resources on those who need help, leaving the others to complete their purchases by themselves

The reality is that intelligent interaction is not new. In fact it was widely practised (and in some places still is!) by experienced shop keepers and assistants who knew perfectly when to engage with the customer and when to leave them alone. I suppose the high level of staff rotation, part-time staff and sheer size of the super-chains doesn’t allow for this kind of training. But there is no reason why we need to make the same mistake online!

Happy shopping!


3 thoughts on “Hi, can I help you? – ecommerce bad practice

  1. The real question is, was it bad customer service, or was it just a bad customer? Through a propensity to purchase online, have you lost the ability to properly interact within a face to face shopping experience? Did you miss the opportunity to have a knowledgable person help you with finding colour combinations you might be looking for, direct you to the right part of the store, and generally have a personable and personal interaction? Did you pre-judge the experience and give the message that you didn’t want to be interrupted and hence cut off your avenue for help when you wanted it? Whever possible I’ve returned to the High Street to shop. There is good and bad customer service, but generally it’s a far more rewarding experience than completely impersonal shopping online (whether interactive or not) if you know how to properly negotiate the exerience to your best advantage. If you don’t, probably best to stay online and not bother with real people – you’ll never get the fun of negotiating a multiple purchase discount 🙂

    1. Great point Graham. I also enjoy going shopping in the high street…in certain shops, especially those which care for their customers and give that extra TLC. And I suppose that was the point I am trying to make. As a digital professional I am always going to focus on the online world, and I believe that the current online shopping experience is, for the most part, poor. However, there is no reason why it should be. Why are online shops not engaging with customers and giving advice on colour combinations, styles or indeed give multiple purchase discounts when a particular customers deserves it (easy through personalised real-time promotions/vouchers). This is not an online vs offline argument for me but just a suggestion that online should follow the best (rather than the worst) example set by their offline older brothers.

  2. Most of the time I prefer to browse on my own until I am ready to interact with store staff, a hello or good morning when I enter is nice otherwise leave me alone.
    In Singapore there are a lot of clingy staff who even after being told you need space stand there commenting on whatever they think you are looking at or touching… These stores I exit fairly quickly. And yes, this does cross over to the e-store experience, and isn’t almost every website some kind of e-store even if it’s a blog selling ‘brand me’. The holy grail always seems to be pushing the call-to-arms button but surely the i-am-here-when-you-need-me button will increase customer loyalty more than just getting a product shipped. On-line chat has converted me to sales (linkedIn for example) and increased my loyalty when desperate for help in a world of FAQ’s which actually are normally the companies ideas of FAQ as opposed to real FAQ and don’t even get me started on automated phone systems for websites! Can you image going into a shop, wanting advice on your size and being told by the cashier to ring an automated number when you know there is someone behind the curtain who can help you!
    This wasn’t meant to be a rant but thank you Mike this has obviously been bottled up waiting for a chance to scream out!

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