If you are thinking about expanding the range of communication channels to include short texts and you are continuously postponing the decision, or you have even rejected this idea for some reasons, we bring you an interview with Lenka Bartizalová, Customer Care Manager at Alza.cz, on this complex topic. Before the winter season, the well-known e-shop launched a solution for servicing client requests via WhatsApp as part of FrontStage. However, for Lenka and her team, which handles hundreds of thousands of requests per month on average, WhatsApp is just another piece to the collection within the family of short-text channels. Therefore, we believe that her experience will help you in your next decision about building your customer communication strategy.
Alza is the largest internet retailer and e-commerce innovator in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As a market leader, it is one of the largest e-shops in Central Europe. In 2014, Alza launched its expansion across Europe and is now active in many EU countries. To date, Alza has been active on local markets for 25 years and with a turnover over 1,2 billion EUR and millions of customers plays a key role in defining e-commerce in Central Europe.
Alza’s success is based on its strong customer focus. It reaches out to potential customers by using distinctive and attentiongrabbing marketing. The same focus on customer care is the driving force behind other business aspects – the most trustworthy e-shop, excellent logistics, speedy delivery, first class sales and after-sales care, plus a range of premium services.
Interview with Lenka Bartizalová, Customer Care Manager at Alza.cz
By Lenka Chmelová | Senior Business Consultant | FrontStage Technologies | January 24th, 2022
The first thing that comes to my mind is why WhatsApp only now? It has been the most used IM app on the Czech market for a long time. According to statistics available online, over 50% of potential customers in the Czech Republic use it.
Why only now? We think it's the right time for it 😃. WhatsApp as a channel has a lot of limitations compared to other "short-text platforms" in corporate communication.
Unlike those that work within social media platforms, WhatsApp is a relatively modest channel. In fact, it is only a chat, and for a company it still comes with the rather binding communication rules given by Facebook. Not to mention that there are a limited number of approved providers on the market that provide connectivity to WhatsApp's API. So it's not quite like you decide one day to get this channel and the next day you have it.
That's right. And it honestly took us more than half a year of research and negotiations with various potential partners before we found a reliable partner in the global market with whom we could create a solution that made sense both from the user's point of view and especially in terms of the business case of our clients. But as far as our existing clients are concerned, today we are already able to deploy WhatsApp in a figurative sense from one day to the next. In particular, if a client is already using the standard chat channel, it's really a matter of a few days.
Oh, great. Another important factor in the decision-making is that once WhatsApp is up and running, it's hard to stop it as a communication channel. Once you start it, you need to be sure you'll be able to manage it. That's why Alza may have approached it more cautiously than other social media channels. At the beginning, we want to get a feel for what the traffic entails. We will internally evaluate how much traffic needs to be handled within it and whether it is even possible. These new channels are specific in that the customer expects a response immediately, within seconds, and ideally they want to get everything sorted out right away. For this, however, you need really good operators. We do have them, but the level of traffic on this channel is hard to predict, which is why we are cautious about how quickly we expand it.
What proportion of Alza.cz's customer service communication goes through these “new” channels?
We have long used FB Messenger as our standard service channel, plus Twitter Direct and chat on all websites. At the moment, social platforms account for 4.5% of all communication traffic, which is not a significant volume. Right now, however, we would like to launch a kind of an “assault” of new channels, which should by the end of the year bring this share above 20%.
Above 20% in a year and a day?
That's our goal. 😃 We want to show that our service can be a class ahead again and that new short-text channels have a future. Currently, if customers write to us, we reply within hours, but we'd like to change it to minutes. We would like to start a global transition into social media. I'm not saying we're replacing any channel. But let's strengthen more the modern, fast and flexible one that suits and is closer to customers' everyday behavior. I don't know too many people around here these days who use anything other than a short-text medium for day-to-day communication with family, friends or school activities. And, therefore, the customer expects it in everyday business communication as well.
Is the short-text channel also the most effective way from the point of view of the company and the customer? It certainly addresses the speed of response, which has a proven impact on customer service satisfaction. Yes, it gets closer to the customer's everyday behavior, which is also definitely a big plus. But can it also be used to handle requests efficiently and to the satisfaction of customers?
Not necessarily the most efficient from the company's point of view, but the most correct in terms of what the customer needs. It is a fast channel, available at any time, at the same time customers can be there only when they want to be there. Short-texts are an acceptable, fast solution for them, which will also be easier to automate and sort in the future. In fact, our concept is not just about switching to new channels, but switching to specialization so that customer queries and requests are correctly sorted and distributed to the right experts for resolution in the near future. As Alza, we sell a huge number of products, and not every operator understands everything. The same applies to the individual purchasing processes. That's why it's crucial to get customer queries and requests virtually straight to the experts' desks without any further internal back-and-forth.
So you're already looking beyond that and thinking straight about automating short-text channels, including WhatsApp?
The key word for us is specialization, not automation. It goes hand in hand with that, of course, as the tool we use to efficiently sort requests. So voicebot, chatbot, topic recognition, etc., yes, but the key is specialization so that the right operator gets the right request and handles it comprehensively within minutes. It then makes sense to partially or fully automate some easy transactions, typically queries about opening hours, sales network or frequently repeated queries.
I clearly understand, all technology serves as a secondary tool to achieve the main goal.
Exactly. We are now launching WhatsApp without connecting the bot yet, with live operators only to see what kind of requests will come in there and if they will be significantly different from other channels, and we will start evaluating the data. Of course we have predictions, but we need to compare them with reality. Then we'll know exactly what we need and can choose the right solution for automation. It turns out that short-text channel solutions are the most technologically far-reaching and sustainable.
In addition, I am convinced that short-text will become significantly stronger. Not that it will trump voice in 5 years, but it will become a standard part of contact center business life. It's a fast channel, and if we can bring in the complexity of dealing with requests using specialization, it will become a customer service trend. That's why we need to work on it now. Companies that are not able to do short-texting well will be in trouble in five years.
So now that we've mentioned trends.... a short but I think interesting digression from the main topic. Where do you think the world of contact centers and customer care will go in the long run?
The future will go towards the fact that in one application customers can seamlessly switch between communication channels while they are connected to a company, i.e. from call to video, to send something via chat or email, and the company will have tools to queue and manage the distribution of communication from all these channels. Only with such an application will the healthy mix emerge.
Well, let's be surprised. If you were to advise your colleagues in the industry on choosing the right type of operator for the WhatsApp channel, or short-text channels, what would characterize it?
It takes a smart, already experienced operator with common sense, who can write grammatically correct texts, can get the point across and also understands the customer's need.
But this more or less applies to all channels
Yes, but doubly so for short-text channels. 😃 Moreover, the operator needs to be able to formulate everything into a relatively short text and manage communication with multiple active clients at the same time. We know from experience that an operator is able to have five active conversations at the same time via short-text channels. We do not bind them with any prescribed texts or templates, we coordinate only the greeting and farewell into a unified corporate speech. So being able to correctly identify the customer's need from those short messages and then formulating short, concise texts with a solution is really key for the operator.
So, now that the company has the operators ready, the technical implementation of the channel is ready and it's going live - how to manage the short-text traffic efficiently in the context of today's preferred unified request queue and how to set KPI goals?
The concept of a unified queue would be great if there was a technology that can really handle all the channels we serve. Especially on social platforms, this is very fragmented. Only specialized tools can handle all social media including, for example, comments on Google and others. So in practice, there are multiple queues in different tools. For us, a combination targeting 100% operator utilization has worked well so far, with part of the people servicing voice and part of social platforms, with both parts being busy with interruptible non-voice requests, assets, etc. when free. In terms of operational targets, the first response from a live operator must be received by the client within a minute at most. This does not mean that the matter will be handled within a minute, but the customer must ideally know within seconds that a particular person is starting to deal with their request. Subsequent responses must then come within units of minutes. Of course, it depends on the complexity of the request, but I consider more than 10 minutes to be too long an interval. The second metric, which is absolutely crucial for us, is the customer rating, i.e. the classic star rating that is understandable to everyone in all markets. We base all people management primarily on customer feedback.
Lenka, in conclusion, do you dare to publicly estimate how successful the WhatsApp channel will be among Alza customers?
It’ll be a surprise for me. I have my predictions; of course, I don't think they will be very significant numbers in the beginning. But we definitely intend to expand it further. Only when we have tested it, set it up and fine-tuned it will we start to expand WhatsApp more into the awareness of customers with the help of marketing.