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A Retailer’s Guide to Using Video Chat for Customer Service

Written on 30th May 2019

Anyone who works in customer service can tell you that their job isn’t easy. They regularly deal with confused — sometimes irate — individuals who need help solving problems or finding the right product.

And while support platforms have come a long way, and retailers today can provide customer service over a variety of channels (i.e., phone, live chat, email, knowledge base), these options don’t always do the trick, particularly when it comes to complex or really specific customer issues.

This is where video chat comes in. When implemented correctly, video can enable you to streamline your customer support practices and ultimately boost shopper satisfaction and loyalty.

In this post, we’ll talk about the ins and out of using video chat for customer service. Specifically, you will:

  • Learn the benefits of using video chat for customer service
  • Discover examples and case studies of other retailers using video in their customer service efforts
  • Wise up on tips and how-tos when it comes to providing video chat for customer support
  • Get the lowdown on the platforms you can use for your video chat initiatives

Let’s dive in.

Why offer video chat: 6 benefits to consider

Can video give your customer service reps a competitive advantage? Absolutely. Consider the following benefits:

You can capitalize on video’s growing popularity

“When it comes to real-time interactions, customers want experiences that are as IRL (in real life) as possible,” says Chris Guillot, Founder at Merchant Method.

“In the retail industry, the demand of video-centric customer service isn’t as prevalent as it is for online services but I predict a notable shift over the next year or two. As customers and merchants continue to use IG Story features in a call-and-response fashion, the demand of video-centric customer service will develop.”

Guillot has a point. Research shows that video continues to gain steam. As GetVoIP points out, in 2018, regular usage of live video chat has increased by 171% and 1 in 3 people are using it at least once a week. What’s more, 2 in 5 consumers stated that they video chatted more in 2018 than they did in the previous year.

That increase in video chat adoption can also be seen in businesses. Transparency Market Research is predicting the global video conferencing market to have a compounded annual growth rate of 7.9% from 2018 to 2026. This growth is largely driven by “an increasing trend among organizations to ensure the availability of video conferencing services without the need to employ and maintain a permanent in-house technical team for the purpose.”

These numbers tell us that that video is on pace for tremendous expansion in the coming years. More people and organizations will undoubtedly adopt video technology in the near future. If you get in now, you’ll be in a great position to capitalize on that growth.

Video can help you solve problems faster

The needs of your customers aren’t always clear-cut, and there’s only so much you can do when you’re speaking to them over the phone or typing words in an email or chat box

As Sebastian Go, Director of Marketing & Sales at the window treatment company Chicology, says, customers can have detailed and specific questions that are hard to explain using just words.

“For example, one customer asked how to shorten a beaded chain on a roller shade. Another customer wanted to show me his window frame, and how it was unusually deep, and how he can still use our brackets to mount the shades inside.”

During such situations, it’s much more efficient to hop on a video call, says Go. “When you see something on video, it can usually solve a situation very easily” instead of going through multiple back-and-forths.

Rickard Månsson, Customer Experience Business Developer at IKEA Sweden echoes this and says that certain processes are time-consuming for their customers. “Customers need to send photos, emails, and so on,” he explains.

“With video, it takes us seconds to analyze the situation.”

If you can relate to Chicology or IKEA in that you and your customers spend a considerable amount of time describing issues and solutions, video could be just the thing that can take your customer support efforts to the next level.

You can connect better with your customers

Customer service platforms such as phone support and live chat are efficient, but they can never match the level of service that in-person interactions can offer.

Enter video chat, which paves the way for face-to-face customer support. Being able to see your customers helps you connect better with them because you can read their facial expressions and gauge their reactions. This helps you adjust your approach and provide a more personalized experience.

“Video chat is vital for helping create great customer service because of its capability to solve issues and to create deeper client relationships,” says Steve Forcum, Manager of Cloud Solutions Engineering at Avaya.

“Video adds a non-verbal dimension to communication that clarifies and amplifies meaning, expresses emotion, and, quite frankly, tells what someone is really thinking—good or bad—and their level of engagement. We all get a deeper understanding of each other through visual cues and body language.”

You can stand out from your competitors and win more sales

Video chat — at least in the world of retail customer support — is still relatively untapped, so getting in early could help you stand out from your competitors.

This is particularly true if you spend a lot of time describing your merchandise to shoppers or helping them select the best product for their needs. By using video to answer their specific questions and then literally showing them your best selections, you stand a better chance of winning the sale.

It can aid your customer service training

Videos featuring your customers and CSRs in action can be invaluable training content for your team. It’s one thing to read about common customer questions and concerns, but seeing and hearing a video call in action can provide insights into the customer’s state and situation.

It also lets your support team see the right and wrong ways to deal with customers, which in turn helps them improve how they interact with patrons.

It can help with marketing and customer education

If you have permission from your customers, you can potentially repurpose your video recordings for marketing and customer education. According to Go, they’re planning to record their video sessions and publish an edited version for future Chicology customers.

Who’s using video chat for customer service? 

Now that you’ve learned the top benefits of using video chat for customer service, let’s put the spotlight on the brands that are currently incorporating video into their interactions with shoppers.

IKEA Sweden

IKEA Sweden is testing video as part of their customer support, sales, and shopper consulting services. According to Rickard Månsson, Customer Experience Business Developer at IKEA Sweden, they decided to test video to:

Address geographical issues – “Our stores cover large geographic areas, where our co-workers sometimes need to travel to customers to check installations, product errors, etc.,” he shares.

According to him, since these practices are time-consuming and aren’t eco-friendly, they decided to experiment with video to aid the process.

Streamline customer support – As mentioned in the previous chapter, the IKEA Sweden team found that resolving certain customer concerns can often require a lot of effort, particularly when people need to send photos or emails.

Video lets them get to the bottom of issues much more quickly.

Fix language barriers – According to Månsson, video has helped them serve shoppers who don’t speak the same language as the staff in-store. “We can meet this customer from another store or contact center via video as an interpreter,” he shares.

How IKEA Sweden is experimenting with video

Månsson says that while their video chat services haven’t officially launched (they’re planning to do it during the summer), he and his team tested the platform and have seen great results.

“From the beginning we used a white-label app, just to keep it simple and secure,” he explains.

“In most cases, when we get a call from a customer, the co-worker would ask them to be part of the test and if they believed that video would help them in that situation. [If the customer agreed,] we asked them to download the app and the meeting could take place.”

According to Månsson, the experiment has so far been a success. “It has been like a dream. Our customers love it and our co-workers love it as well,” he adds, saying that he and his team appreciate having a more personal connection with their customers.  

“What has been great as well is that the co-workers have been very active in the development; me and my team have been very open to all participants. We listen to them, we support them when things go wrong, and we hail them in all communications. We created ambassadors.”

Poopsie’s

Poopsie’s, a gift and toy store in Galena, IL offers Poopsie’s Live, a service in which a store associate (known as a “Poopette”) would hop on a call with a customer to help them select the right products for their gifting needs.

Poopsie’s Live has an interesting story behind it. According to the store’s co-owner, Alana Turner, they decided to implement the service after winning a contest on helping entrepreneurs come up with new ideas.

“We came up with the concept, won the contest and figured we better implement it then,” she recalls.

How Poopsie’s Live works

The process for getting on a Poopsie’s Live call is simple. Customers can call to make an appointment or fill out an online form with the following details:

  • Name
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Preferred day and time for the call
  • Info about the gift recipient (i.e., name, age, gender, interests)
  • The occasion for the gift
  • Approximate budget

A Poopette (i.e., personal shopper) will then put together some gift ideas based on the provided information, and then connect with the customer via Facetime or Skype. Once the shopper has decided on what to buy, they can either pick up their purchases in-store or have their items shipped to their doorstep.

https://youtu.be/bOYGoxeVzHc

Cadillac

In March 2019, Cadillac Canada launched Cadillac Live, a “digital showroom” that enables patrons to video chat with an agent in real-time. The service lets shoppers ask questions live and view Cadillac models based on their needs — all from the comfort of their own home or office.

How Cadillac Live works

Cadillac has a dedicated site for Cadillac Live, on which customers can schedule a call, preview a session, and get a 360–degree virtual tour of the showroom.

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Just like with Poopsie’s, booking a session starts with the customer filling out an online form with their basic contact information and preferred day and time for the call. If the shopper already wants to check out a specific vehicle, they can specify that on the form.

On the call itself, shoppers will see a Cadillac Live Agent and get access to on-screen tools such as a menu button that brings up options for vehicle models, colors, trim, wheels, etc. There’s also a tab which lets shoppers preview the capabilities of whichever vehicle they’re looking at during the session. Then there’s a chat box that customers can use if they prefer to type in their messages.

If the call is disconnected, Cadillac will email the customer with a link to either reconnect or re-book a new session.

After the call, the customer can choose to book a test drive at the local dealership and proceed with the purchase.

Those unsure of what to expect can also preview a Cadillac Live session on their website. This session is pre-recorded and will give shoppers a glimpse of the experience.  

https://youtu.be/EikqhvyThN0

Chicology

The window treatment company Chicology is another great example of a brand putting video chat to good use. According to the company’s Director of Marketing & Sales, Sebastian Go, the decision to offer customer service via video chat grew from a need to serve their shoppers better.

“When I started at Chicology, I wore many hats — from e-commerce management to customer support, even orders picking and shipping sometimes. While doing customer support, certain issues were challenging to solve just by email or phone. There could be many issues that live video helped.”

Such issues include:

  • Product installation
  • Questions or concerns around adjusting or fixing their products
  • Highly specific, tricky, or unusual situations

How Chicology uses video in their customer service

“We took the initiative to just Facetime customers on our own phones to help them troubleshoot,” shares Go.

“Customers often struggle with picking the right size, design consultation, choosing the right fabric privacy/color, and installing the blinds. We create videos and written content to help with all of this, but a VIP video chat can help the customer like no other,” he adds.

The solution worked so well that Go said they decided to incorporate the service together with the launch of Chicology’s new website.

According to him, they intend to use Skype with an iPad. “That’s the simplest yet best setup we came up with. We are using a simple form submission tool to let customers book 30 minute blocks.”

While the video chat service isn’t officially live yet (it will be once their new site launches), Go says that they’ve given it a try a few times and have received positive feedback. “They [the customers] are blown away and very appreciative that someone would take the time to provide genuine help like that.”

How to provide video chat for customer service: 6 tips

The right video strategy depends on your customer support practices as well as the needs of your shoppers. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all platform or strategy, so it’s important to take the following steps to ensure the success of your initiatives.

Get clear on your objectives

Firstly, recognize that video isn’t right for everyone. If you do decide to incorporate it into your customer service strategy, you need to iron out the appropriate times to use video. For instance, while video calls are great for addressing unique and complex customer situations, they’re not the most efficient medium for answering basic and common questions — that’s what FAQs are for.

Part of figuring all that out involves getting clear on the purpose of video in your customer service strategy. Can video showcase your collection better? Do you constantly find yourself having to “show” customers how to do something? Specifically, how will video help your CSRs and shoppers?

Aside from helping you gain clarity into why you need video chat, answering the questions above will also help you determine the features and capabilities you need in a platform.

And this brings us to our next point…

Know your audience

“I think there’s an opportunity for all types of retailers to use video in service to their customers but they need to know their customers in order to understand which types of videos will be most meaningful,” says Guillot.

“Does your customer prefer to self-navigate or do they prefer a high level of guidance? The former will like pre-recorded knowledge videos while the latter might like real-time video chat. Often a blend works best and it’ll take some experimenting to find an effective mix.”

Audience demographic can also be a factor.  According to Statista, 61% of cell phone owners in the US aged 18-29 have used video chat or video call services, while only 9% of those 65 years and older have used them.

If you cater to younger consumers, then video chat can be a huge hit. However, the same thing can’t be said when you’re dealing with customers in their 50s or 60s.

Select the right video solution

The video platform on which you conduct your calls is an essential consideration. You need a reliable solution that’ll enable you and your customers to easily converse. At this stage, you’ll want to come up with a list of requirements you need in a solution.

For instance, do you just need to speak to your customers using their camera or is screen sharing required? Do you need additional bells and whistles like on-screen chat or a gallery featuring your products? Do you need your own branded video solution?

These questions will point you in the right direction and help you figure out the best solution for your needs. Depending on your requirements, one or more of these solutions may be a good fit:

Facetime

If you don’t need anything beyond basic video chat, then kicking things off via Facetime is a good way to go. It’s easy to implement and you don’t need to develop your own software to get up and running.

There’s also the fact that many people already have an iPhone, so you won’t have to ask your customers to download another app.

Skype

Not everyone has an iPhone, though, so you can’t rely on Facetime alone to power your video chat services. You’ll want another widely-used video platform for those who aren’t Facetime users.

Our recommendation? Use Skype. With more than 300 million monthly active users, you can bet that most people will either have the app installed or at least be familiar with the software.

Whitelabeled or custom solution

If you have needs beyond basic video conferencing or if you prefer to deliver customer support via a branded platform, then you’ll need a more sophisticated solution. We can see this in action in Cadillac Live, which has added features like an on-screen gallery, live chat, vehicle showcase, and more.

If you’re looking to offer similar or additional features, get in touch developers who can build a solution for you. Another option is to find existing video solution providers that offer whitelabeled products.

Have a fast and reliable internet connection

Having a spotty web connection can diminish the customer experience, so see to it that you have a fast and reliable internet service. Take a leaf out of Poopsie’s playbook and upgrade your Internet Service Provider and/or equipment if necessary.

“Our biggest hang-up was our internet speed. Our store is in a 150+ year old brick building and therefore the internet reception isn’t always what we’d hope it to be,” says Turner. “So we have switched up our router, how we have broadcasting, and we switched to fiber internet instead of cellular.”

Consider the right environment

“It’s important to know where your worker is located whether that be remote or in the office,” says Steve Forcum at Avaya. “These factors will affect backgrounds, branding and lighting which can affect a customer’s rating of help. The use of remote agents with video creates additional obstacles to supportability. Factors many times outside of the retailer’s control including quality bandwidth, noisy backgrounds, and poor lighting can deliver substandard results.”

Forcum stresses the importance of having the right appearance. “Video is able to show much more about the company compared to chatting over the phone. The industry needs to evaluate if it’s more of a professional or laid-back setting and how that can affect the demeanor of the video. In other words, does your agent’s appearance and their surrounding environment reflect your business values?”

Promote the service and educate shoppers

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is having a “build it and they will come” attitude towards your video chat efforts. Remember that video is still a relatively new thing in the world of retail customer support, so you’ll need to constantly promote the service to get people to use it.

As Turner puts it, “The other part that hasn’t been easy is getting customers to remember that we have the Poopsie’s Live service so they will utilize it regularly. Humans are creatures of habit and it just isn’t a second nature type service to customers yet. But I truly believe it is coming our way fast. So until then, we’ll keep telling people and we’ll use it every chance we get.”

So, how can you get the word out about your video chat customer service? Like Poopsie’s, you should make it a point to constantly remind shoppers about the service. Poopsie’s even created a couple of videos encouraging people to try it out.

https://youtu.be/PQybpf5fLuM

In some cases, it may make sense to do an explosive launch of the service. When Cadillac unveiled Cadillac Live, for example, they invited guests to a mansion to preview the experience.

Now, you probably don’t need a mansion when unveiling the service, but try to make a splash, nonetheless. Publish a press release or reach out to relevant outlets in your niche to make the announcement.

And don’t forget to inform your existing customer base. Send out an email to your subscribers and dedicate a section on your website where people can learn more about the service.

Bottom line

We’re operating in an increasingly video-centric world. The adoption of video chat continues to increase, and we can expect this trend to continue in the coming years.

If you’re looking to capitalize on video’s popularity, consider incorporating it into your customer service strategy. When implemented correctly, your customers and CSRs will thank you for it.