Constellation Research Zeroes in on Five Trends Putting Retail Consumers in the Driver's Seat

Thanks to social media, customer reviews, and other tools that give consumers the power to shape brand dialogues, companies have had to improve how they deliver service. Increasingly, expectations for customer service are extending beyond traditional call center and support experiences to include in-store support, delivery, and product consultation. According to a recent report from Constellation Research, five trends are shifting power to retail consumers. These trends have key implications for brands.

One of the biggest trends that Constellation Research observes is the growing need for "always-on" service. "Shoppers are no longer constrained by the hours a particular store may keep or when the call center may be open," Guy Courtin, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, wrote in his report. For customer service teams, this means that customers should have access to quick, effective support regardless of the time of day or night. Self-service resources should be thoroughly developed to ensure that customers can troubleshoot most issues independently and not have to wait for a call center to open.

Courtin always points out that consumers are not only shopping on their smartphones more often but also engaging with brands through other devices, such as wearables. "Wearables represent the next leap forward with the introduction of smart watches such as the Pebble and Apple Watch," he says. "Retailers must now deal with the reality that their customers and potential customers could come knocking on their storefronts from anywhere at any time." When it comes to mobile support, brands have made a major push to improve the experience for smartphone and tablet users with in-app support, chat capability, and tap-to-call tools, but these features are still limited for wearable devices. As the space matures and consumers dive deeper into "m-commerce" through their wearables, there will be a growing need for more sophisticated support solutions for these devices.

Because customer expectations are so high, brands are constantly pressured to add variety to product offerings and make improvements to them on a regular basis. "Procter & Gamble, for example, produces 41 variations of Crest toothpaste, [while] consumer electronics giants like Samsung and Apple are constantly shortening the time between releases of versions of their mobile phones, tablets, and wearables," Courtin explains. Powerful knowledge management tools are critical for ensuring that support teams keep up with the evolving inventory and can pull up the right content for the right product when customers reach out.

Service is also becoming a product in its own right, and customers expect a growing number of services as part of their brand experience. "E-commerce and the digital retail supply chain have created an atmosphere where consumers not only expect their inventory but the ancillary services that surround transactions," Courtin says. "Ease of payment, returns, exchanges, and other services are expected." For service teams, this contributes to broadening job descriptions and a bigger scope of responsibility.

Finally, delivery is emerging as a pivotal component of customer service and experience in the e-commerce arena. It's the last process before customers get the product in their hands, and a misstep here could spell tremendous disappointment. Eventually, "the possibility of delivery tools such as drones could make consumer's mobile devices, with geolocation capability, the delivery point, not a traditional address," Courtin wrote in the report. As a result, customer service providers must prepare to handle complex delivery questions and be in tune with the logistics side of the business more than ever before.

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