Snow Boots and the Warm Handoff: Improving the Channel Shift Experience

I was holiday shopping for my son this weekend, comparison-shopping for a new pair of snow boots (full disclosure: snow boots are not a gift that thrills my son). I looked up initial options and prices on Google, then narrowed down to three options, visiting each retailer’s website in turn and reviewing photos, technical information and customer reviews. After further consideration and style guidance from my son, we decided on the Wildcat boots from L.L.Bean.

More full disclosure: I’m a big fan of L.L.Bean, identifying strongly with the brand and its core values. Although my wife would disagree, you can’t have too much flannel. Further, I actively engage with L.L.Bean across multiple channels: store, web, catalog and call center.

So, it caught me off guard when I experienced a less than satisfying sequence of events in my shopping experience.

The rich trove of onsite customer reviews included a running disagreement on sizing, so I wanted to talk to someone to discuss my situation and receive some assurance that I was making the best choice.

First roadblock to progress: no call to action for assistance within the shopping experience. While the product frame was well-organized, the only “next step” for me was to add product to my cart. It is true that limiting calls to action within an experience generally leads to improved comprehension and response by the consumer. However, in a multichannel retail environment, customers know they have engagement options. L.L.Bean’s opportunity here is to present these options as possibilities for the consumer to have another positive interaction with the brand.

Second roadblock: creating consumer angst regarding next steps. So, I did finally locate the 800 number. It’s in the header, in tiny font, and labeled “Customer Service”. My immediate reaction was, “is this the right number to call?” For the consumer, the term “Customer Service” brings to mind a range of previous experiences—most of them unpleasant. The term also suggests that the person calling has already made a purchase (i.e., they are a “customer”), and is looking for assistance with an owned product. Given L.L.Bean’s brand identity, there is clear potential to better position this interaction in terms of brand voice, and make it clear that L.L.Bean is here to help.

Final roadblock (and most critical in a multichannel environment): missing the warm handoff opportunity. After snooping around to see if there was some other number I should call, I threw caution to the wind and called Customer Service. Joyce answered, and assured me that I had called the right number. If only I could provide her with the product number, she would be glad to help.

Ouch—a cold handoff. The multichannel equivalent of being bounced between multiple sales associates in-store, and re-explaining your needs each time. This is a major stumbling block for many multichannel retailers, and it stops the purchase cycle dead in its tracks. Luckily, I was still sitting at my computer and could retrace my navigation back to the boots to get the product number. But it took time and further reduced my enjoyment of the experience.

What’s ironic is that retailers can make significant progress towards a “warm handoff” (i.e., sharing shopper context real-time across multiple channels) between online and call center without extravagant new investments in technology. There are a wide range of solutions (SaaS or premise-based; point or CRM-integrated) that provide for click-to-chat, click to call, co-browsing, history passing, etc.  Organizational changes, training and change management are required in the call center, but the technology itself is fairly low-barrier. Piloting to prove a business case is even easier.

Of course, you can spend a lot on CRM to drive a fully integrated experience from online to call center, and build competitive differentiation; the truth is that retailers can go a long way towards removing roadblocks and providing a warm handoff without breaking the bank. The statistics also point to the clear value of building warm handoffs between online and call center:

  • E-Tailing Group reports that 72% of online shoppers consider online live support “very important” when buying gifts online;
  • Jupiter Research found that companies implementing online live support see an average 15% uplift in sales vs. non-chat enabled experience;
  • Acquity Group clients have seen increased “call to action” response across a number of industries and scenarios, just by adding an online live support option to the experience. Simply having the added confidence that assistance is available helps people make the cognitive shift from interest to engagement.

Ultimately, I got the sizing information I needed and was able to order the boots online. Joyce missed a final opportunity to help recover my enjoyment of the experience; there was no offer extended to help me complete my transaction (I am, after all, a long-term customer), but I was not to be deterred.

You have to wonder, though; how many opportunities to create long-term customer relationships are being lost amongst the roadblocks? Acquity Group can help you identify and understand the cold handoffs that exist in your multichannel customer environment, and design strategies and solutions to heat them up.

About Steven Beauchem

Director of Digital Strategy at Acquity Group

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