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UK consumers ‘contacting brands nearly half a billion times every month’

Research has highlighted the growing volume of consumer queries that UK brands now need to handle across eCommerce, complaints and the like, and the increasing cost this imposes on companies – estimated at £1.227 billion.

The average UK consumer now contacts organisations nine times per month, according to research undertaken as part of the 2018 Eptica Customer Experience Automation Study.

Across the adult population this means brands need to respond to 463.5 million contacts every month, and the figure is rising.

88% of those surveyed said they now contact companies more or the same number of times as five years ago – with 16% getting in touch more than twice as often.

Increasingly, consumers are happy to embrace self-service channels where they can find their own answers, without needing to contact brands through email, the telephone, chat or social media.

83% already use or are willing to use web self-service systems, which analyse queries and deliver automatic instant answers on a company website, while over half (54%) would use intelligent voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Siri from Apple to gain information. 64% also want to use automated, artificial intelligence-powered chatbots.

Using industry average figures from analysts Contact Babel[1], answering these queries costs the UK economy £1.227 billion across the telephone, web, email, social media and chat channels. This is made up of £440.44m (email), £236.98m (social media), £211.99m (chat) and £338.31m (telephone).

In contrast automated channels such as self-service, chatbots and voice assistants have a negligible cost per interaction once they are in place.

“Delivering an excellent customer experience is crucial to every organisation today. However, our research shows the scale of the challenge brands face, with consumers getting in contact nearly half a billion times every month in the UK,” said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-Founder, Eptica. “Clearly many of these conversations are complex and require the human touch, but others could be automated, speeding up the process for consumers and increasing efficiency for brands.”

Demonstrating the multichannel nature of today’s customer experience, on average each UK consumer used email for 27% of their interactions by brands, followed by web self-service, telephone and social media (17%) each, with 11% of contacts through chat and chatbots respectively.

“Reducing the number of contacts by 10% would save over £122 million – enabling companies to focus resources where they are needed most. Our research shows that consumers are open to embracing new AI-powered technologies such as voice assistants and chatbots, providing an opportunity to improve the experience and reduce costs at the same time,” added Olivier Njamfa.

For the research 1,000 UK consumers were surveyed online in Q3 2018.

The full report, including the study results, graphics and best practice recommendations for brands is available here.

An infographic on the results is available here.

AI Groceries

Artificial Intelligence comes to online grocery shopping

FACT-Finder has lifted the lid on its new approach to online grocery shopping using Artificial Intelligence (AI), which it says cuts online shopping time by up to two-thirds.

While FACT-Finder already holds a number of technology patents in the field of ecommerce and machine learning, the company’s latest patent introduces not just a new technology, but what it says is a whole new approach to online shopping.

By learning from each individual customer’s previous behaviour, and also from all other customers, FACT-Finder claims its solution is able to predict which regular items a customer will need in their shopping basket at any given time.

This means that instead of being forced to search for every item they want to buy, customers are automatically presented with their predicted shopping list for that day, without having to do anything. They then simply need to click through a short list, and all of their “boring” regular shopping – from toilet paper to milk – is done.

Carsten Kraus, CEO of Omikron Data Quality and FACT-Finder, said: “The need for this new approach is obvious when we look at the work of two researchers who have analysed consumer behaviour. Prof. Barry Schwartz’ research on “the problem of choice”, discovered that people presented with too many choices not only bought less, but were also less happy with their purchase than those who had fewer alternatives to choose from.

“Meanwhile the Baumgartner cube, the brainchild of Prof. Hans Baumgartner of Penn State University, is a three-dimensional representation of our approach to purchasing decisions. Grocery shopping fits in the subcube of ‘low involvement, planned, needed’. Here customers don’t want to ‘shop’, they just want to ‘have’.

“FACT-Finder’s Predictive Basket technology successfully addresses both these needs to enhance the overall online shopping experience.”

FACT-Finder’s Predictive Basket is currently in beta with the first European customers using it in live environments. Beta enquiries from the UK are welcome.

‘Terminator Generation’ wary of AI

No huge surprises as new research shows that older shoppers are less comfortable with Artificial Intelligence than Generation Z consumers.

But does their wariness stem from growing up with movies like Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey? Swedish ecommerce specialist Apptus thinks so, and commissioned a YouGov survey to look at shoppers’ views on the future of online shopping.

Under a quarter (24%) of UK adults aged 55 and over, would like to see online fashion retailers adopt online systems to tailor their shopping experience. In contrast, 56% of those aged between 18 and 24, known as Generation Z and the first to have grown up with smartphones, social media and Google, report they would like to see fashion retailers adopt online systems to tailor their shopping experience.

Commenting on the research, Andrew Fowler, UK country manager at Apptus, said: “The older generation has grown up in a world where there were no computers on desks at their first place of employment, they have seen technology replace jobs and, culturally, films like 2001 A Space Odyssey and Terminator have shown artificial or synthetic intelligence in a worrying light as machines go ‘rogue’.

“The digitally immersed Generation Z, on the other hand, has grown up with technology that, arguably, enhances their social lives, entertains them and is comfortingly omnipresent – try telling a Generation Z that there is no wi-fi.

“The truth is all the respondents in the survey will have experienced AI in action, they just don’t know it. As Steve Jobs said: Great technology is beautiful or invisible.”

Sales vs Customer Experience – more work to be done.

The survey went on to ask what respondents thought online fashion retailers’ main focus was: high sales or the customer experience? Of all UK adults, 62% thought the main focus was high sales, versus 10% who thought customer experience was the main focus. The remainder didn’t know (15%) or thought it was possibly something else (13%).

“The way I read this,” added Fowler, “is that while all serious online retailers understand that a great customer experience leads to increased sales, they are failing to translate that story to their sites. Allowing a shopper to wade through distracting sales promotions and irrelevant offers sends the wrong signals – this is an area where AI can step in to reduce the clutter and increase relevance.”

Don’t waste my time.

Finally, shoppers were asked what characteristics are most important on their ‘perfect online fashion retail website’.

Most shoppers, and there was no generational split, only want to see products that are in stock and in their size (53%). Their second choice is a wide range of products (35%). The least popular characteristic of a website is editorial content (8%).

Fowler is concerned about these figures: “If you show me items that are out of stock or not in my size, you’re wasting my time. While I appreciate the SEO benefits of editorial content, if I search for black jeans and the hero banner is distracting me by shouting about a lookbook for someone half my age, mine and the retailer’s time is being wasted. Clearly, I am not alone in thinking this.

“With conversion rates continuing to fall across all sectors, retailers just cannot afford to put roadblocks in the way of shoppers, sadly they often don’t mean to, but with massive inventories it is impossible for merchandisers to manually tailor each individual shopping experience.

But Fowler believes this presents opportunities for retailers: “AI solutions are not about to start taking over your company or summarily executing managers who don’t hit their target. But it can do the heavy lifting that is physically impossible for any sized team of merchandisers to do; to make sure that, in real time, only the right products are presented, only relevant promotions are shown and, crucially, we don’t waste customers’ time and lose opportunities.”