By Kate Morris, founder

What does “good service” mean in today’s digitally-driven retail world?

20 years ago when I was a department-store sales assistant, we thought good service meant sitting a customer down at the counter, and either writing out a skincare prescription for her, or applying a full set of makeup products in either warm or cool colours. At the end of this consultation we would present our customers with the array of products (all from the same brand) that we recommended she buy.

But of course this approach doesn’t translate through to the digital world. For a customer who eschews the counter experience in favour of shopping online, how do we deliver good service?

Delivery options

Those in logistics might not realise they’re in customer service, but the truth is that online customers equate speed, accuracy and flexibility of delivery with a great service experience. So much of our customer feedback, when we ask for comments on our service, relates to speed of delivery.  When we switched to next-day delivery as our default option, we saw an immediate jump in our Net Promoter Score, which means many more happy customers.

Data-driven tools

One of the limitations of one-on-one customer service is the knowledge of the service assistant. Despite the many hours that brands and retailers invest in training their staff, it’s just not possible for someone with 6 months on the job to match the expertise of someone with 20 years of experience; and even the knowledge of an expert can never be perfect.

Data combined with technology helps a customer choose the best product for her. For example, Findation’s database of matching foundation shades helps match customers to a new product based on their old favourite, even if they don’t have a set of testers in front of them.

Chatbots vs real people?

No doubt you’ve seen that recent video demo of Google Assistant’s Duplex booking a hair appointment. (If not, search “google duplex haircut” on Youtube.)  It’s simultaneously amazing and creepy.

Judging by the proliferation of chatbots and Messenger-bots, many brands and retailers seem pretty excited about the idea of replacing online service staff with AI. For price-driven retailers who don’t offer any kind of person-to-person service, a chatbot could perhaps feel like a slightly more personal way to deliver canned answers to frequently-asked questions.

Our decision at Adore Beauty has been to go in the opposite direction and invest heavily in highly trained real people to staff our live chat, 7 days per week and until 10pm at night. We think it’s a way to differentiate ourselves by offering a personal touch. My guess is that in future, offering customers a chance to interact with a real person (instead of a bot) will be perceived as a premium feature.

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