Consumers want to look their best for all kinds of occasions — whether that entails taking holiday photos, the first day at a new job or going to a yoga class. Getting the right style often means turning to trusted brands to help them look and feel good.
For many U.S. consumers, the path to discovering better fashion is found online. According to a February 2017 survey, 32 percent of consumers prefer to purchase apparel and footwear on the web. Revenue from online apparel, accessories and footware sales reached about $93 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach $138.7 billion by 2022.
But making sure web sales move smoothly is no easy task. In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Mike Shay, senior vice president of global member services for fashion retailer TechStyle Fashion Group, said that retailers must provide robust and convenient customer support that combines human sensibilities with automation-enabled speed and convenience.
“The more you can automate, [if you] do it in a high-quality way, the less staff you’ll need to ramp up” to accommodate seasonal spikes in demand, Shay said. “But there will always be the need for people … to interact with other people.”
Incorporating digital and human elements is important to supporting TechStyle Fashion’s online subscription model — the firm’s primary sales approach — as well as its brick-and-mortar locations. Selling goods from the company’s various brands — whether from its athleisure brand Fabletics or its Savage X Fenty line from musician Rihanna — requires the use of automation and live agents.
Accessorizing With Automation
When customers contact TechStyle’s call centers, they often have a variety of questions. Some seek product-launch information, others wish to exchange or return their products and some need assistance with their subscription memberships, Shay explained.
“With the advancements of smartphones, social media and the digital age, people want options,” Shay said. “They don’t necessarily want to be on the phone. They want options for how to contact you. They don’t want to be tied up for a while — people have less patience.”
Technological improvements have changed approaches to ensuring fast service. Traditionally, a call center might use interactive voice response (IVR) systems to speed up processes. IVR requires customers to say keywords or press buttons to navigate through options and, ultimately, be routed to the correct destination. But technology is now better at parsing natural language, allowing customers to speak plainly and making the experience less frustrating, Shay said.
TechStyle Fashion also uses emerging tools to help customers more quickly. It offers automated support through artificial intelligence (AI)-powered traditional messaging and FacebookMessenger-based features designed to address customer issues.
Automation won’t fully replace live agents, however, Shay noted. Some issues are too complex, and many customers appreciate connecting with a live person.
But because automation can bolster agents’ efforts, the company uses AI, machine learning (ML) and a customized customer relationship management (CRM) system. These allow TechStyle to anticipate a customer’s needs, provide automated support and provide insight to agents so they can be prepared to help if automated support proves tobe insufficient.
“When a customer contacts us, we want to have insight about the reasons why they may be contacting us before we even start engaging with them,” Shay explained.“Depending on where they are in their customer journey, we can fairly accurately determine why they’re calling us.”
Outfitting With Omnichannel
The company also offers digital assistance to provide a seamless customer experience at its brick-and-mortar locations. Clerks in stores have handheld devices that let them access customer information, including data about online experiences, style preferences, purchasing histories or items currently in the customers’ online shopping carts. Retailers can also use this information to decide what to stock at its brick-and-mortar locations, Shay previously noted.
Additionally, digital tools in fitting rooms can connect with customers as they try on clothes. Customers can scan items at a kiosk in the dressing room or use it to ask associates to bring different sizes, colors or items.Customers who must leave the store before making purchases can place items they’re trying on into an online shopping cart instead.
Additionally, staying relevant to customers who shop at home means providing the right customer support channels.
“We want to be able to provide our members options and for them to be able to contact us with their channel of choice,” Shay said. “There are all these new exciting channels. A lot of these are emerging and we’re identifying a lot as [services that aren’t going anywhere] —things like Facebook Messenger will be around for a longtime.”
Shay explained that he expects channels such as FacebookMessenger and iMessenger to remain important over the next several years. He thinks voice assistants have limited customer-support practicality right now, but that they could become a more significant channel within two to three years.
Prepping For Protection And Perspective
While some companies use voice biometrics to identify customers, TechStyle Fashion doesn’t require that level of technology yet, Shay said.
Currently, identifying a caller’s phone number tells the company who the customer is 75 percent of the time, since most callers already have established memberships. And following that up with a request for the caller’s member ID or email address provides 95 percent accuracy, Shay claimed.
Low-tech approaches help the company support customers in other ways. In particular, some low-tech practices help agents give customers product insights and better understand consumers’ shopping experiences.
To bolster the human side of its customer support equation, TechStyle Fashion offers its agents monthly training about the company’s upcoming items, and agents are often physically shown the items. In addition, they can order three products for themselves each year, to get a better understanding of what customers are buying. This allows them to evaluate the customer’s experience, Shay said, by showing them every step, from delivery to trying an item on.
Whether through chatbots that can help customers order better-fitting boots or with live agents who can vouch for the quality of a cable-knit sweater, fashion retailers large and small are increasingly bolstering the support services needed to keep consumers coming back.