Marc Erra is the CEO of Oct8ne, a customer support service provider originating from the United States. With tons of experience in marketing and e-commerce businesses, he knows his way around the online world. Erra has been leading the launch of Oct8ne in Spain and Italy, and is currently focused on expanding the business to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. We meet up in Barcelona, Spain, to talk about the importance of experience in e-commerce.
Text: Nico Hoeijmans // Photos: Nathalie van de Leur
What is your vision of today’s global e-commerce market?
‘I believe that e-commerce is one of the key pillars in the global economy right now. In many economies, people buy more frequently online every day. In fact, 19% of Spanish consumers say they shop online on a weekly basis. In the United Kingdom, this statistic is 50%. That’s quite a lot!
When we talk about current e-commerce trends, it is very complicated to pinpoint just one. There are so many specific, specialised e-commerce fronts in the market. Changes will appear year after year after year. Without a doubt, though, I believe that the main change will come with the increased possibilities and accessibilities in smartphones. For example, mobile improvements in the purchase processes, automation processes with bots, new payment and logistic opportunities. And all without losing sight of the experience and quality of service.’
“Customer experience” is a heavily discussed hot topic right now. What are your thoughts on its influence on e-commerce?
‘Customer experience should be one of the main focus points for any e-commerce organisation – seller or service provider. It is an extremely cut-throat market, and it certainly is difficult to stand out from competitors, who offer similar products and prices. To make a difference, it is very important to offer an excellent service. This way, you can compete with big companies that are well-established. For instance, we believe that, even though bigger competitors may be able to deliver better conditions, it is very rare that they can top the likes of a shop that adopted Oct8ne in terms of customer service.
I believe that most e-commerce companies obsess over generating higher traffic volumes. Yes, that is important. Of course, it is. But what is equally – or even more – important is how to make sure that all of that traffic is converted into sales. On top of this, there is also a matter of keeping customers loyal to your brand. Without any doubt, I would say that volume is good. However, volume without good conversion and great customer service means nothing at all.
Please make sure that this is not just a bold statement. We can back it up with data we collected from an Oct8ne study in 2019. We detected that the average percentage of conversion, once a customer had been helped via our Co-viewer functionality in Oct8ne’s software reached rates around 25% to 35%. There’s more. The percentage of customers who came back a couple of days later, after being unable to make a purchase on the first session, to actually make their purchase was around 50% to 60%. That is an outstanding statistic if you ask me.’
Customer experience can be improved by speaking the same language as the consumer, both visually and communicatively. Why is that so important?
‘Speaking the same languages is very important. Perfect communication is needed to generate the empathy and confidence needed for a consumer to make a purchase. The advantage of having a system like Oct8ne is that, even if you do not have an agent that knows a certain language, our integrated simultaneous translating tool allows you to understand what a customer is asking. On top of that, you can respond in the same language. It helps the client feel more comfortable and more confident to finish their purchasing process.’
The translation tool you mention, it is a technique to take customer service to a new level, making it easier for customer service employees to understand the customer better. What else do you do?
‘Our main focus has always been to push the boundaries of what a customer service agent can provide. With the many tools we utilise, we can not only give an agent additional customer service tools, but we can also give them the power to sell. Our visual Co-viewer functionality is perfect for the online world. We are filling the visual gap that is missing from standard chats that are used to engage with customers.
A big benefit is that we can analyse all the actions of each visitor as they enter an e-commerce site. This allows us to tell the difference between each user. Most of all, it shows an agent everything that a customer has been looking for. This way, an agent has all the information needed without even having spoken to them. An agent can have a better understanding of the customers’ needs and wishes and can be more efficient at providing a satisfying solution to a problem. A big bonus is that customers do not feel like they are wasting time explaining everything.’
Tell us more about this Co-viewer functionality?
‘Well, a visual process is a fundamental cornerstone in any sale. It is always easier to sell a product when it can be properly demonstrated. Surprisingly, something that is as obvious as this was barely – no, never – used in e-commerce customer service before Oct8ne was formed. In the past, when looking at customer service channels that were available, the customer and the support agent never had the chance to view the same product together. They were purchasing “blind”.
With the Co-viewer, we make two things possible. First, the agent can see the same product as the customer in real-time. Second, the agent can browse the site’s catalogue and visually show the customer a product they recommend. As a bonus, they can not only just show the product, they can even interact with the image, draw on the image to highlight a specific part, zoom in and out and even add the product to the customer’s cart.
For customers, it is very beneficial that they can show their own images of products that are not in the site’s catalogue. This helps the agent to better understand what it is a customer is looking for. This particularly allows the agent to be a lot more effective to realise a direct sale, as well as upsell and cross-sell. An agent can recommend products much easier as it is no longer needed to send any links.’
Services provided by customer service agents as you describe above focus on reactive communication. What is your opinion on proactive service?
‘I believe consumers are very open to this, and I think it has impacted negatively how some companies are handling their basic bots. Basically, the only thing they propose is triggering a chat after a customer has been on the site for a specified number of seconds. Without a doubt, this can be intrusive and not welcomed by some customers.
Using segmentation rules, we create the opportunity to analyse what stage in the purchasing process a customer is. We can then detect when they have questions or if they are facing any problems. That way, it is sure we can achieve a bigger engagement with those clients and, therefore, have a direct influence in the purchasing process.
This is, in fact, not new. It is the same behaviour that we see in the offline world. Image these two scenarios. One: you go into a store and see a seller standing at the door waiting for you to enter. Two, when you enter a store and the seller lets you have a look around the store for a while and then decides to approach you to help assist you. What would you prefer? I believe there is no doubt the second experience can be a lot more positive than the first.’
Okay, so you say that personalised customer service is the future of online shopping?
‘Yes, of course! In this era of automation, users expect a personalised answer for any difficult question they may have. It is going to be even bigger, as every customer will want to be taken care of in every single moment, on every possible channel, depending on the urgency of the query.’
What developments in this field can we expect?
‘Well, the biggest challenge any online e-commerce business will face soon is making sure they are giving their best possible customer service on any channel, depending on the urgency of the query. What is important is that we need to understand that there is no customer that will use all of the following: chat, telephone, email or social media. The same customer will use a certain channel depending on the urgency of the problem at hand.
So, what we do is that we are obsessed with putting the client at the centre of everything. That is the field of personalisation. I think we will go on to integrate more and more different systems. There are many different types of software for customer service out there. I would dare to say that none are the best at everything. One will excel in CRM, another in ticketing and a third in chat. We will need to have to lay-out a bigger integration between us so that every customer can choose the best part of each software they want to utilise.’
What other expectations do you have for e-commerce in the upcoming years?
‘For 2020, we are going to focus very hard on our new conversational bot system. In February, we launched a new chatbot module, based on the unification of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the rules of decision. Customers can configure it 100% to their pleasing. This will allow our customers to personalise their own bots easily and efficiently without the need for technical knowledge. This helps them to create their own bot for marketing, e-commerce or customer support without depending on their IT department. The new chatbot module is fully integrated with our visual chat solution. We believe that the best experience for our clients should always be a hybrid bot. This is because the dual bot is extremely efficient in answering complex questions.
In some situations, though, it can be better for a bot to direct a customer to an agent. A chatbot is by no means a way to replace humans. They are a cool tool that allows humans to focus on other tasks of more importance. It provides them with more time to focus on those customers that are having difficulty looking for a product and need the power of a pair of co-viewing eyes to make their purchase.
Another thing that I am excited about is our application for IOS and Android. It allows agents to attend the chat at any time and any place. In the last few years, a lot has been said about the retail apocalypse, about how there is less and less traffic in physical stores. Our app allows the in-store agents to attend online customers, show them products directly from the store and, therefore, take advantage of their free time and optimise the global resources of the company. A lot to look forward to if you ask me!’
This article was previously published in Cross-Border Magazine 13.