Brick-and-mortar retail businesses of all sizes face today’s “multichannel” challenge: competing with their customer’s online alternative. Retail stores can lose the sale to e-commerce even after they get that prospect in the door, as anyone can tell you who has seen a buyer comparing prices with their smartphone, right between the aisles.
Physical stores have countered by stressing “personal” service – the give-and-take of actual face-to-face conversation between customer and sales associate – but such help is prohibitively expensive. We’ve all experienced the frustration of seeking well-informed sales help in the average retail establishment, whether small franchise or major department store.
Using Virtual Assistants
A few brick-and-mortar stores, however, have managed to deliver “personal” service via a virtual sales associate available across several stores or departments at once. They do this by adopting the same call center technology that lets the “next available agent” answer toll-free numbers or an online assistant pop up in a text chat window.
How do they accomplish this?
1) The salesperson is at a remote location and appears on the “sales floor” through a video call; on a touch screen in a kiosk enclosure.
2) The tablet inside the kiosk cannot be used for free-range Internet browsing but instead, limits access to a lightswitch-simple sales help application.
Although we’ve seen video-enabled customer service for banks as far back as the early 2000s, this service has only been made more widely available since the advent of Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC). This is a collection of APIs that embeds voice, video and data exchange into browsers. With it, there’s no longer any concern about which smartphones customers carry, or which unified communication (UC) application runs on that phone. On the other end, agents can be anywhere; they need only an Internet browser and webcam. Video works both ways, on the assumption that customers walking around a public place (i.e., a store) have already opted in to be seen.
With a bit more Web application programming, a chain of stores could provide a different touch-screen button for Spanish-language help, and route that video call to a rotating crew (or a single hire) of Spanish-speaking assistants. This could obviously get more sophisticated, in a touch-screen version of the interactive voice response menus customers are used to for routing their calls. Using desktop sharing, agents can also share floor plans as a map to direct in-store customers, or to provide additional product information support.
How It Works
LiveNinja is one of the service providers behind the video chat sales help. The platform connects video agents with online customers on e-commerce websites, on their desktops or phones. The kiosk version could provide significant savings over the cost of even part-time help in five or ten locations. And to keep that video connection possible after the customer walks away, the agent can give the customer a number to text, replying with a link to their conversation through their phone’s browser.
Other video chat providers include ClairVista, which offers its Live Expert (LE) Station on off-the-shelf tablets and kiosks or customized enclosures. LE Companion, also from ClairVista, is a video chat plug-in that brings live help to the aid of people using self-service stand-alones such as ATMs and check-in systems.
Kiosk-based call center technology such as this is also being used by telemedicine clinics, which videoconference patients with pools of doctors and nurse practitioners. The solution makes sense wherever expertise needs to be summoned from one remote “expert” or a pool of such human resources to many sites. It also brings this expertise to where it can be acted upon – where purchases are made, foot traffic is heavy or your dispersed employees are gathered for training (those not typically in front of desktops).