Supporting consumers trying to get their heads round their new electronic device is a priority for global brands like Samsung at any time. How are you going to make it work when all your support team are having to work from home because of COVID?
That was precisely the challenge Nick White, Online Director for Samsung UK and Ireland, faced earlier this year. The context here is that White works for a company that says it's all about inspiring the world and shaping the future with transformative ideas and technologies. So if you're trying to redefine the world of TVs, smartphones, wearable devices, tablets and other household digital appliances, being able to hand-hold buyers wasn't something he was going to be able to put on the back burner during COVID-19 lockdown… even more so if your site gets 320,000 visitors a day.
White is clear on why this had ended up on his to-do list back in March:
What we try and do is make technologies to empower people, to make their lives better, and in return create a better world. I run our B2C eCommerce business, selling direct to consumers in the UK and Ireland. My team also looks after Samsung.com, in terms of all the content we publish, whether that's about new products or post-purchase support. We also work with our divisional colleagues to make sure we've got a good digital experience on all our channel partner websites.
So we're there for the full journey, from if you're looking to buy a new phone to purchasing a TV to if you've got problems with your products, you can come back and talk to us about it. We-as a team and as a business-are trying to fully embrace this and improve the end-to-end experience of customers buying with us, and trying to drive a digital transformation through that.
One of the things White and his team had been thinking about from the Samsung.com perspective is how it could better use its expertise, as the people who make the products, to bring that journey to life more effectively. This process was then clearly accelerated by early March, as the novel Coronavirus swept in and retailers were forced to shut down their physical stores. White explains:
COVID meant all the shops are shutting, but a lot of our products require a lot of explanation. People could no longer go into a John Lewis or a Curry's or whatever it might be for help; it's difficult to kind of share a compact product story on a mobile device.
White and his team say they found a solution via a partnership with a vendor called Go Instore. Its proposition is all about delivering live video-retail experiences, but for White, more importantly, had already been pre-COVID empowering retail staff to work from anywhere.
White stressed that looking to better support customers with digital was a direction Samsung UK & Ireland was traveling in anyway, but that COVID had definitely accelerated the move to start trying out this kind of support medium, so it became more and more of a priority in his roadmap than it had been late 2019:
What we liked was the simplicity of the proposition, and the fact it was going to be quick to market, which I think is important because quite often it takes a lot of integration to get bits of ecommerce tech talking to each other.
How this works in practice is simple. If a visitor is on a product page, looking at a new Samsung QLED 2020 TV, this potential customer will see a figure (not an avatar) of a human helper in the bottom left hand corner with an icon that says if they are available right now. The consumer clicks on it to experience what White describes as "effectively a one-way video chat" where you can see the expert, but they can't see you:
Then you have a conversation and can chat about the research you're doing… I've got a 55-inch TV, that's the space of my wall, what's the right product? Whatever it is, you can talk to this Samsung agent there and then, and get an interactive discussion.
At the moment, it's there as an assistance tool; we don't close the sale on the phone. It's purely to help customers with whichever saves their journey. It's meant to be more pre- than post-purchase, but I've found some people come in for post-purchase support.
A sense of authenticity
These post-purchase experts are Samsung's lockdown field force, who haven't been working in shops, because the shops have been shut.
These are our experts, though we're using them in a different way to how we were four or five months ago.
White is very pleased with this approach to working around COVID, with up to 20 staff available online at any one time. But intriguingly, he also detects inadvertent alignment with some bigger digital and social trends:
Whether it's social media or whatever, people are creating more video content at home rather than having high production values. So it's very authentic, and it's a great customer experience; the feedback has been tremendous. We get really high rating scores on there, and I think it's really kind of a critical part of our proposition now.
It's a natural enough question to see if this is also translating to more sales. White says it's too early to say-plus that COVID-period support was the main priority. But he does note that he's seen roughly three to four percent conversion from people who are engaging with an expert of our video to purchase in the immediate post-interaction 24-hour cookie window. In terms of next steps, he believes the opportunity is to join up Sansung's digital channels more effectively:
Our people have been working from home, but they'll go back to their retail jobs probably this week or the next week. What we're looking at is maybe using this in our training centre where you have access to all our products, or create a hybrid model whereby the person who is in John Lewis in wherever it might be can also answer online calls. I think it's here to stay, but what we've got to figure out is what the consumers want. Do they want live chat or video chat, or both?
A lot of people would probably say, ‘Do you want to talk to somebody on the web?' and they'd probably go, ‘Oh no, I'm sorry I'm working from home, or I've got kids,' or whatever. But I think with a one-way video, where you don't see me but I can see you, I think the proposition is pretty good.
This has given us lots of good insight, but the most important thing is that consumers seem happy. Which is what we're here for.