Great customer experience (CX) always drives revenue.
In times of rapid economic growth, it helps your business scale through customer acquisition. And in a downturn, you can rely on a good customer experience strategy for customer retention, loyalty, engagement, and low-cost, highly effective ways of generating profit.
The key to balancing great CX and maximum efficiency? Automation. Innovative e-commerce businesses that adopt it will now emerge from choppy waters stronger than ever.
Driving e-commerce revenue in uncertain times with CX
According to a nationwide survey, fast returns and personalization rank among the top reasons why US e-commerce customers stay loyal to a brand. On the other hand, those customers penalize brands for not delivering. Thirty-two percent of customers are likely to switch to another brand with just one bad experience.
Over the past five to ten years, rapid developments in conversational artificial intelligence (AI), especially natural language processing (NLP) technology, have accelerated the use of AI software in customer support, spawning a billion-dollar CX technology industry.
For support teams, that means they can now provide instant, 24/7, personalized support. Agents no longer need to waste hours on tedious administrative tasks and can handle issues that exceed a certain complexity threshold or require human empathy.
Reliably striking a carefully calibrated balance between operational efficiency and customer satisfaction is necessary for businesses. That predictability is particularly relevant in times of turmoil when uncertain outlooks lead to constricted budgets and frugal decision-making. Recent data backs this up. E-commerce businesses that adopted automation before or during COVID-19 became stronger than ever.
Let’s dive deeper into CX, e-commerce automation, and how they help e-commerce businesses not only survive tough times but thrive in the long run.
E-commerce automation: uniting great CX and maximum efficiency
Ecommerce automation is all about making your online store more convenient and user-friendly. Let's take a quick look at what it means and how it can benefit your business.
What is e-commerce automation?
E-commerce automation automates customer support tasks in the e-commerce space using software that analyzes customer data and manages customer interactions.
While many people may associate automation primarily with chatbots, they only make up a small part of the puzzle. Automated order updates, email triage, and ticket or case enrichment are all examples of support automation.
Most importantly, the newest and most promising automation tools are powered by conversational AI, which separates them from the clunky, hit-or-miss chatbots we’ve all grown to know –and loathe – over the years.
A headless automation platform that integrates into your existing tech stack and connects seamlessly with your customer relationship management (CRM) and back office software.
An automation solution that uses AI to tag, label, and route your incoming messages.
A voice recognition software
The scope of your automation journey depends on many factors, including ticket volumes and markets served. As with most things, the more you cut corners, the more you might hurt your ROI in the long run, especially in areas where your customers might take note.
In fact, AI automation is an investment that pays dividends. Done well, the effort needed to properly set up your team and tech for automation pays off within only a few weeks.
With the right support team, you can ensure your automation goals speak to your most crucial business needs. Automation platforms with robust analytics tools can help you track results consistently.
Benefits of e-commerce automation
The retail and e-commerce sectors have taken exceptionally well to automation. By 2023, it’s projected that the value of IVA transactions in e-commerce will reach $112 billion, and over 70% of chatbots accessed will be retail-based.
So why are e-commerce and automation such a great fit?
It comes down to the two basic cornerstones of customer satisfaction: efficiency and great customer experience.
Automation’s impact on efficiency is perhaps the most obvious. It lets customers help themselves, relieves customer service agents of administrative tasks, and cuts costs.
Cut costs with self-service tools
Any type of automation usually has a lower cost per interaction than traditional communication channels with a human agent. Investing in automation lowers your existing operating costs and reduces first response times (FRT), allowing your team to handle higher contact volumes overall.
During peak season, for example, automation eliminates the need to recruit, onboard, and train extra employees for those few times when volumes suddenly surge, producing savings in the hundreds of thousands in hiring costs alone. It’s an incredibly scalable tool.
And it’s particularly crucial during turbulent economic times because businesses are even more reluctant to outsource their support or hire extra agents since it’s not clear how much consumers will be willing or able to buy during busy seasons. Twenty-nine percent of consumers in the US say they plan to spend less this holiday season.
One of the reasons the e-commerce space has taken so well to automation is that e-commerce customers’ most popular concerns lend themselves easily to automated replies and full self-service.
Among them are people tracking late orders and questions about shipment status and returns. Forty-five percent of customers feel they’re now more likely to self-serve than in pre-COVID-19 days, and automation is a great way to help them do that.
Identify frequently asked questions by analyzing support data unique to your business and customers. Then create a guide to an FAQ page or write chat dialogues that respond to clients' inquiries.
You can also help your customers turn that information into action. Using custom application programming interface (API) integrations, automation platforms can connect with order management software or shipment providers to help their customers instantly, and fully-self serve.
For example, they can link their automation platform with Shopify to send information about a return. Or integrate with UPS to send shipment information in real-time.
At the moment, delivery and returns use cases are particularly critical for e-commerce companies, with gas and oil prices, layoffs, and economic uncertainty for customers looming large. Many businesses are seeing return rates of up to 50%, losing millions in revenue as a result, with operations and conditional sales (CS) departments seeing the most losses.
Automation reduces the double hit on costs by deflecting return-related inquiries. Customers can generate a return label, trigger an automatic refund, ask about changing the time window for exchanges, and update their account data – all without needing a human agent. Think of API integrations as the self-service checkout in a supermarket, except the customer fully controls the buying and refunding process.
Automating frequently asked questions and API integrations to enable self-service improves efficiency because it saves time and money. It makes your customers happy because they get exactly what they need from you when they need it. Meanwhile, your team can deflect up to 20% of queries with just one API.
Save time with process automation
Another great way to increase efficiency in e-commerce? Process automation. Also referred to as ticket automation, this method is based on the ability to classify or label customer messages.
Integrating a virtual agent with your CRM software can automatically create a case or ticket and route it to the correct rep or trigger self-service options. Process automation software relieves agents of administrative tasks, saving time per customer interaction. They’re free to use their human skills for requests requiring empathy or more complex problem-solving.
Even when conversations are escalated, automated pre-filling and ticket enrichment provide your human agents with as much information as possible so they have all the context they need to solve, answer, or verify your customers’ requests. Process automation relieves your agents of tedious upfront legwork and keeps email and messaging backlogs at bay.
Meet your customers where they are with omnichannel messaging
While cutting costs and saving time with process automation is great news for businesses and their support teams, what’s in it for the customer?
E-commerce automation lets you serve customers whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. More agility means higher customer satisfaction and guaranteed revenue through brand loyalty. It’s easily done by integrating a virtual agent with a CRM platform that supports messaging. Here, messaging means omnichannel communication besides email or a chatbot on a website.
In good times, omnichannel communication helps businesses wow more new customers. More channels mean more opportunities to impress customers and more target groups to tap into.
Boomers prefer traditional modes of communication, whereas Millennials and Gen Z are more receptive to self-service and messaging. Yes, more interactions also mean higher ticket volumes, but automation is a great way to tackle planned growth within a broader CX strategy.
An omnichannel strategy is just as valuable for companies focusing on customer retention. New or returning, all customers hate having to repeat themselves. Automated support across channels makes it easy to contextualize your relationship with the customer and pick up on your last conversation seamlessly.
Combined with additional benefits from integrating with a CRM, like streamlined ticket creation, pre-filling, and enrichment, you also ensure speedy, seamless, and predictable customer interactions while driving up your resolution rates. In times of uncertainty, customers love counting on their favorite brands.
24/7 support for scalable customer-centricity
E-commerce automation makes businesses more agile in adjusting to their customers’ needs. A few years ago, trying to squeeze a phone call into a 9-5 timeframe was a commonly – albeit begrudgingly – accepted pain point for consumers.
But bots have made it possible to serve customers around the world, around the clock. 24/7 support is another obvious win-win-win for customers, support teams, and business ROI. It lets you increase the number of customers you serve and smooth out buyer friction, driving down cart abandonment rates and keeping your support backlog in check.
Any requests that need to be escalated outside office hours can be prioritized and routed to the agents working the next shift.
Automation allows you to recall your customers’ past preferences and detect their location or the device they’re using. One of the best ways to employ this information is to proactively suggest products based on previous purchases. Many automation platforms also offer rich messaging to pair suggestions with interactive and engaging ways, like moving carousels.
Moreover, AI-powered automation can serve your customers in their preferred language. When powered by a multilingual AI model, a virtual agent can identify your customers’ language of choice and reply in that language. Virtual agents can also switch languages mid-conversation and learn that language to improve the AI model’s accuracy over time.
It’s also a quick way to serve additional markets with predictable success. If you’re already automating 40% of inquiries in English, you’ll automate a very similar amount of inquiries in Spanish – without needing to hire an extra Spanish-speaking support team.
A small caveat: multilingual support only leads to customer satisfaction if it’s AI-powered. Beware of automation platforms that use external translation software for multilingual support, as it will lack the ability to grasp the context and understand natural language.
Omnichannel messaging, 24/7 support, and language options are all ways personalization boosts customer satisfaction while your team enjoys all of the efficiency benefits automation offers.
Measuring e-commerce automation’s impact on efficiency and CX
With companies tightening their belts, reducing risks and focusing on hitting the right numbers is essential. One surefire way to maximize ROI with automation is to design your business key performance indicators (KPIs) carefully and track your results closely.
Automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; it needs to be customized to your unique needs to maximize value. That’s why any provider worth their salt makes sure that you receive immaculate onboarding and guidance to guarantee a quick, seamless setup. This includes discussing your most important business goals and aligning them with measurable automation metrics. Let’s discuss some examples.
First response time and customer satisfaction
Customers want instant responses; if you keep them waiting, they’ll head to a competitor’s site. That’s why first response times are crucial for customer satisfaction (CSAT) and customer retention strategies. With 24/7 support, expect an immediate impact on your FRT and long-term appreciation by customers that feel immediately seen and taken care of.
Agent handle time and end-to-end automation rate
E-commerce lends itself to self-service. High end-to-end automation is a win-win because your team has deflected a query, and your customer has most likely left the interaction with their problem solved.
You can shorten agent handle times with upfront data collection even without end-to-end automation. A typical example of this is a damaged item request. Your virtual agent can determine the type of item and ask for an image upload, leaving it to your human staff to initiate the returns process and decide on the next steps.
Any time saved here translates into the less real-person effort and allows you to calculate how much you can save on additional staffing costs.
When communicating with customers across different channels, measure resolution times over handle times. This is especially relevant for asynchronous messaging like email or WhatsApp, where conversations might stretch hours or days depending on when is most convenient for your customers.
This might skew your handle time averages. The important thing to measure is how often your team resolves client issues. Since customers can contact their brand in many ways, resolution rates are likely to increase.
Don’t expect dramatic increases in CSAT directly linked to automation, but do count on automation to keep your CSAT scores up indirectly by monitoring the above metrics. Remember that customers value speed and personalization the most – anything that improves one or both of these will be reflected in your customer satisfaction metrics.
Emerging from uncertain times stronger than ever
E-commerce automation is absolutely worth the investment. By driving low-risk revenue, balancing great customer experience with operational efficiency, and building a forward-facing, digital-first strategy, automation will help you through uncertain times. In fact, you’ll emerge from them stronger than ever.
Dylan Long is an enterprise account executive at
Ultimate, the world’s leading virtual agent platform for customer support. WIRED listed Ultimate as one of Europe's Hottest 100 Startups, and Forbes named them one of the Top 100 Most Innovative Companies. Dylan is passionate about helping businesses control costs, increase joy with AI-powered support, and provide agents with the freedom to focus on what matters: the customers.
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