Navigating the Future of Customer Service

The Retail Hive: Members Morning, 22nd March
Lifting the lid on outsourcing, AI and clienteling

The Retail Hive team made their way to The Ivy, Tower Bridge for an intimate breakfast meeting with our members and Teleperformance.

Attendees represented a range of well-known brands, coming together to swap ideas in order to overcome the same challenges as their peers. Discussion topics included:

What are the benefits of outsourcing customer service vs. in-house teams?
Workflow management tools. How can AI and automation help?
Clienteling tools. How can the level of customer support experienced in-store be replicated online?
Chatbots, automation and AI. How are retailers personalising their approach to cater for a diverse customer base?
What is the future of WhatsApp as a customer service tool? What new channels are emerging?

Through the generous sharing of our members and Teleperformance, we’ve pieced together lots of actionable insights from the meeting to help you navigate the future of customer service…

Outsourcing Customer Service

Outsourcing is more than just a cost-saving exercise; it has helped some of our members to really build resilience during peak. Members honed in on international call centres, sharing that UK employees don’t always see customer service as a long-term career and regular customer complaints can quickly wear them down. Therefore, outsourcing to international call centres can ease the burden of having to recruit solely in the UK.

When choosing an outsourced partner, consider whether they have a wide enough talent pool to source from in case you need to scale quickly. It is key to assess where the outsourcer is based, i.e. are they based in a vibrant city filled with young professionals?

It is also important to look at leadership teams within these centres, ensuring that they match your brand guidelines and expectations. Individual centres may have different styles of working, perhaps falling short of your customer service standards. A good tip here is to ask what development opportunities are available to their employees, so that your in-house and outsourced teams are on the same page and have clear growth plans in place—with shadowing and on-the-job training to encourage staff to stay.

A game changer for staff retention is closing the loop back to the team by reporting on progression, highlighting wins and showing how their actions have made a difference. Do this on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis, demonstrating just how integral customer service teams are to your operations. Members voiced that outsourced teams aren’t always brought into this closed loop, but for the best results, they should be.

Additionally, outsourced providers work across multiple other brands, and can bring that knowledge to your service. This can broaden your perspective and prevent against insularity.

AI and Chatbots

Customer interaction with your contact centre team is a key moment to show the customer they are valued and win loyalty. Whilst AI is becoming increasingly advanced and able to complete more complex tasks than ever before, it’s so important to keep your customer service teams close throughout the customer journey to humanise interactions. Members agreed that customers highly value the nuanced care that human interaction provides that current AI cannot yet replicate.

That being said, AI is here to stay and is already utilised in almost everything brands do. To dispel fears and get customer buy-in, retailers need to carefully consider how they present AI to their customers, so that it depicts a faster, customer-friendly service that can bring essential product information to the customer’s fingertips.

Teleperformance elaborated on this with the group. To ensure brand guidelines are met, build your AI language model from your data warehouse. This will set parameters as the AI cannot operate outside of the data you give it, thereby reducing the risk of it going outside these guidelines.

Clienteling and Reaching the Regional Customer

The group agreed that email marketing is at saturation point. Consequently, a hot topic was using WhatsApp as a new way to interact with your customers and stand out in a crowded market.

Aside from the fact WhatsApp is available in hundreds of countries, one huge benefit to this is that logs remain on a customer’s phone—unlike live chats, where customers are often left scrambling for copies of the thread when the chat closes.

However, when launching WhatsApp as a customer service tool, retailers must be aware that there is a cost per ticket volume. The more you scale, the more likely you are to incur costs from this service. Moreover, WhatsApp is popular in Europe, but has not been adopted unilaterally across the globe, with US customers preferring the telephone and SMS, and Chinese customers preferring WeChat.

Above all, never lose sight of what your customer is telling you. If they prefer to communicate with you over the phone, you should meet them there, and if you need clarification on what they want, focus groups are a recommended way of doing this. Despite being labour-intensive, they can yield strong results.

Final Thoughts

Members reflected on the evolution of AI. The first chatbot was invented in the 1960s, but according to Gartner, AI will be seen as augmented CX by 2026.

It was agreed that retail is now in an era of customer service transformation, with the VoC and loyalty becoming ever more important. Arguably, AI is going to free up time in customer service, so that teams can provide quality interactions, increase conversions and drive loyalty. AI is not taking jobs, but redirecting roles.

Discover More…

During the breakfast meeting, Teleperformance showed three examples of how generative AI can be genuinely transformative. They had a product support demo, a look at what GPTs are and what they can do (no coding required!), plus OpenAI‘s revolutionary text-to-video platform, Sora

Join Our CX Exchange!

We’ll be continuing the conversation at our upcoming CX Exchange, bringing together senior retail professionals to collectively soundboard, benchmark and learn from each other—assisted by Hive Recommended partners—in a closed, vetted group.

Across two days, you’ll have a curated content and networking experience moving through roundtable discussions, workshops, small-group think-tanks, and one-to-one meetings centred on your priorities—all whilst relaxing in style in the sumptuous surroundings of Luton Hoo!