Humans, Not Bots, Will Convert Browsers Into Buyers

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On a recent Saturday morning filled with ambition and perhaps a smidgen of naivete, I corralled my four young children, high-intensity-interval-buckled them into our minivan, and happily bounced down the road to the local grocery store. Just as we were approached checkout, having successfully escaped the siren calls of frozen breaded and sugary things, I saw it: one single cashier…at the “15 items or fewer” register. 

Now, on any routine visit, I would have whizzed through the self-checkout register, rewarding myself with a conveniently placed Twix on the way out. But on this day, manning four insanely energetic children and a shopping cart filled with barcode-devoid produce (told you I was feeling ambitious), self-service seemed like more work than convenience. 

Today’s shopping experience is largely measured by instant response, 24-hour service, and one-click purchasing. And don’t get me wrong—those are must-haves for businesses in today’s digital age. But there are instances when customers prefer and even need a human. Even when customers can get by without human assistance, as I somehow did during my grocery escapade, many times their experience could have been immensely improved with a bit of human involvement—and the right human involvement. 

We’re constantly improving and adding automation tools online and in stores, but the human touch of business is taking a hit. Research shows that consumers like convenient and quick tools such as chatbots, but the majority still prefer human interaction. So how can you give shoppers both? Here are a few ways you can augment your existing customer experience efforts with humans. 

Give Shoppers the Option to Speak with a Human as Soon as They Arrive

Do you remember the first time you ate at The Cheesecake Factory? I would love to know the data on how many first-timers confidently order from the restaurant’s spiral-bound declaration of a menu without first asking for the server’s recommendations. During the browsing process, especially for new visitors, shoppers want to interact with a human. In fact, 84 percent of customers say they seek advice or recommendations from sales associates before making a purchase.  

Human-to-human interaction is comforting, engaging, and personalized. This option should be available to shoppers as soon as they enter your store or website. Don’t require browsers to jump through hoops or navigate a lengthy phone tree in order to speak with a knowledgeable human. Just as you wouldn’t rely on Siri to advise you on which driver is best suited to your particular golf swing, you shouldn’t expect your customers to successfully navigate a store or website with the use of automated tools alone. You also shouldn’t put all of your trust in an outsourced customer service representative to appropriately narrow your shopper’s choices, but more on that in my next point.

Wait, I Don’t Mean Just Any Human

Okay, so let’s say you’ve got the first point down: Customers can easily connect with an actual human as soon as they walk into your store or go to your website. Now it’s time to ask yourself if you’re connecting browsers with the right human. Hint: If the human is a call center agent (especially an outsourced call center agent), the answer is probably no.

The average annual turnover rate for agents in U.S. contact centers ranges between 30 to 45 percent, which is more than double the average for all occupations in the country. Factors such as high turnover and abbreviated tenures can seriously inhibit a company’s ability to effectively recruit and train customer service agents. While agents may be able to quickly grasp the ins-and-outs of a brand’s return policy, it’s impossible to “learn” aspects such as firsthand experience with a particular product…and this is precisely what browsers want. 

Leave your call center agents to resolve issues and logistics. If you want to effectively engage with browsers and convert them into customers, you need to connect them with the right people—people who already appreciate and love your brand and use your products every day.

Let Your Customers Do the Talking

The concept of letting customers speak on behalf of a brand is not a new one. Just take a look at the hashtags #sponsored or #ad on any social media platform. For years, brands like Nike have implemented brand ambassador programs, encouraging fans to post and submit unboxing videos and product reviews for a commission percentage of sales. And these tactics work to direct consumers to a brand’s website and sell products (typically “Instagramable” products). 

But what about browsers who, by entering your shop or site, have already shown a higher propensity to purchase than the general population? What are you doing to keep shoppers engaged once they’ve arrived and help narrow their purchasing decision? Most importantly, who are you connecting browsers with once they’ve arrived? 

The best people to connect with shoppers who are on the path to purchase are customers who have walked the path themselves. Your brand’s true value should be communicated by the people who understand it most. And you should create an environment where your customers can connect with shoppers in real time as they’re browsing. No matter how world-class your training and recruiting systems are, there is no true way to teach authentic, genuine brand advocacy. It’s organic, and if you’re a brand that sells anything, chances are your brand advocates already exist in the wild. 

Give browsers the option to connect with a knowledgeable human rather than leaving them to fend for themselves with automated tools and scripted responses. Not unlike me on that fateful Saturday morning, sometimes shoppers would rather ditch their cart and head for the hills than self-navigate their shopping experience.

Brandon Anderson is the CEO of Needle, a company that finds retailers’ most passionate fans (advocates) and connects them with shoppers in real time. Anderson, who has more than a decade of e-commerce experience, lives in Utah with his wife and four kids and can often be found enjoying family time with a side of games, pizza, and adventures in the family camper trailer. Reach him on Twitter @Brandon_A.

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