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!