How e-commerce companies can deal with uncertainty in the post-COVID era

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The pandemic has created a huge divide between companies: those who had already embraced digital transformation and those who had not.

Companies that were equipped to go online were able to continue to sell their stock, respond to customers, and keep their business alive. Retailers that depended on physical locations, a large warehouse staff, and a co-located customer service team either went into full shutdown mode or scrambled quickly to try and keep up.

Even those businesses that had an online presence saw spikes in customer service volume, with inventory delays and a boom in ecommerce spending. Very few businesses were fully ready to deal with the chaos COVID-19 brought with it.

Going forward, there is so much uncertainty in what the summer season will look like. How much volume will continue to come from e-commerce? Will there be a second wave? A recession? How can e-commerce companies future-proof their customer experience going into holiday 2020?

There are ways to future-proof your business against uncertainty. The following four digital transformation strategies will strengthen your business in normal times, and help you stay afloat during times of volatility.

The time to prepare is now. Here’s how.

Three Digital Transformation Strategies For E commerce Companies

Focus on making it easy for customers
In a study based on incoming call volume during the pandemic, customers rated service interactions as “difficult” twice as often as expected during pre-pandemic times. This is bad news for businesses because “difficult” interactions tend to lead to disloyal behaviour.

Why the sudden spike? Matthew Dixon says that “issues related to the pandemic — from unexpected travel cancellations to appeals for bill payment extensions and disputes over insurance coverage — dramatically increased the level of customer emotion and anxiety in service calls, making a job that is hard for reps on a normal day far more challenging.”

These difficult, emotionally-fraught conversations are tough on customers and agents alike. But they also have an impact on your bottom line:

  • Difficult interactions had only a 6% chance of resulting in a cross-sell or up-sell, compared with a more than 80% chance that an easy interaction would.
  • Among customers threatening to defect, difficult interactions had less than a 4% chance of accepting the company’s “save offer,” compared to a 20% probability for customers whose interactions were scored as easy.
  • Customers are more likely to be disloyal (96%) when they’ve had a high effort experience, compared to those that have had a low effort experience (6%)
building the business case for an effortless customer service experience

Guard against traffic spikes by embracing automation

As volume spikes, it’s almost never possible to hire in time to keep up. The pandemic made volatility even more difficult to deal with by restricting the workforce to home and reducing their productivity. Relying on humans during times of uncertainty can be a potential hitch in your plans.

Instead, implementing AI and automation across the customer journey can greatly increase the capacity to deal with volume surges, without dropping standards – and in many cases, raising them.

Yan Krupnik noted this in his article for CSA discussing the divide formed during the initial stages of the pandemic between companies that had already undergone a digital transformation, and those that have not. “Companies that have already started to introduce supply chain automation and robotics were able to function efficiently while others were struggling with volatility in available workforce and safety concerns.”

To start seeing the benefits of automation, Yan recommends integrating key retail processes such as the supply chain, inventory, merchandising, and order fulfilment. By working off of a single version of the truth, technology investments will pay off across multiple workflows.

Automate customer service resolutions

Digitizing your inventory management and fulfilment operations also allows for conversational process automation (CPA). Many AI service software solutions only offer automated responses. For inquiries that require action (such as exchanges or order updates), AI solutions are ineffective and a human agent will be needed.

With conversational process automation, the AI can connect to your integrated backend systems, understand what the customer wants to do, and execute the process without any need for agent involvement. Common questions that CPA can handle include;

  • Refunds and Exchanges
  • WisMO or “Where is My Order?” questions
  • Sizing inquiries
  • Delivery updates

When ecommerce retailer On Running implemented DigitalGenius to handle incoming questions, 60% of all incoming inquiries were accurately resolved without human intervention. Thanks to CPA, they’ve been able to keep response times low over the course of the pandemic, even as their volume increased. By implementing AI, On can deal with spikes in volume and any future uncertainty without needing to grow their team or sacrifice the quality of support.

Invest in the customer experience

In uncertain times, it can be difficult to know where to focus your time and attention. But investing in providing a great customer experience future-proofs your business against any potential speed-bumps.

Not only will customers pay up to a 16% price premium on products and services, but 63% of customers say they will share more information with a company that offers a better experience. That information equips e-commerce retailers to offer a more personalized experience, alongside hyper-targeted campaigns.

As e-commerce market penetration is continuing to boom, the online retailers that can offer an “in-store” experience over digital channels will continue to win new customers. Customers are craving the connection that they used to have with retailers. Leaning into personalization as part of the complete customer experience will have a stabilizing effect on growth.

Additionally, focusing on customer experience during a recession is a proven winning strategy, according to research by Forrester. During the 2007-2009 global recession, customer experience leaders saw returns 3x higher than those of customer experience laggards. By committing to customer experience excellence now, you’ll be in a better position for whatever may come next.

customer experience leaders saw returns 3x higher

Preparing for uncertainty

As we continue to re-evaluate how COVID will impact businesses and ecommerce, it’s important to be flexible. Listening and responding to the needs of your customers will help you pivot quickly as things change. Focusing on keeping quality high, even when volume increases, will help your business succeed even during a recession.

Ultimately, implementing a strong automation and CX strategy will make your business model more robust and protected against volatility. The time to prepare is now. Embrace these strategies now so that you find yourself prepared for the next challenge that comes your way.

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