Binning The Bots With Richpanel To Transform Customer Service

After 10 years of working in e-commerce, it was a run-of-the-mill personal interaction that led to the epiphany that would see Amit Rg and GDJ Dorai found Richpanel. The two-year-old business, which has offices in India and the US, is today announcing that it has raised significant new funding from Surge, the Sequoia Capital vehicle that backs early-stage start-ups.

“I was used to steeling myself for a painful 15-minute conversation whenever I phoned the customer service department of a business I had transacted with online,” Rg recalls. “Then I had an experience with a company that had automated its customer service and the whole thing took less than 60 seconds.”

Reflecting on the experience, Rg and Dorai realised that a handful of e-commerce companies, led by Amazon, had cracked customer service, using technology to ensure consumers could resolve their issues quickly and painlessly. But all of these companies had built their own bespoke solutions. What if they could design an off-the-shelf solution that other companies could plug into their own systems in order to provide Amazon-style customer service?

Richpanel, launched in January 2019, is the embodiment of this idea. Its platform enables e-commerce merchants to create and design customer service pages that sit within their own online stores. The service tracks shoppers’ orders and manages exchanges, returns and cancellations through an entirely automated process. “Amazon is consistently top-rated for its customer support, but when was the last time you needed to speak to someone at Amazon?,” Rg points out.

Richpanel’s approach to customer service is interesting. In recent years, many companies have embraced natural language processing tools as the answer to their customer service problems, offering customers solutions such as chatbots to resolve their problems. But these tools have often come up short, frustrating customers rather than resolving their issues.

Instead, Richpanel’s solution mirrors the approach taken by leaders such as Amazon. Its platform tracks the problems that customers most often report and then builds automated processes to ensure these can be dealt with. These use clickable graphical user interfaces rather than depending on chatbots or similar tools. “Customer service is all about resolution,” Rg says. “If you’re simply deflecting customer enquiries, you’re doing more harm than good; we’re an anti-chatbot company because they frustrate the customer.”

Rather, Richpanel’s aim is to automate the response process to the vast majority of the enquiries that consumers make – for most e-commerce merchants, these will actually be accounted for by a small number of very similar queries. Human intervention may be required for “edge” cases, that fall outside the routine, but over time the platform can evolve to deal with more and more of these. Right now, Richpanel believes its solution will immediately resolve between 40% and 50% of customers’ queries, but that it can get this figure as high as 80%.

For retailers, the attractions of such a solution are many. For one thing, it enables them to build scale at pace without having to constantly make new investments in customer support staff. The Richpanel platform also enables them to understand where problems with service are occurring, so that they can make adjustments to avoid these issues in the first place.

Above all, however, the promise of the platform is a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction. The value of this is difficult to over-estimate. Research suggests a third of consumers will switch companies after just one instance of poor service; 56% of people have stopped doing business with a company because of a poor customer service experience. In the US alone, companies are losing more than $70bn a year because customers are taking their trade elsewhere amid unhappiness with their service.

Richpanel’s customers recognise these challenges, and the platform has gained traction quickly. The company already has more than 1,000 retailers signed up and using its platform, with clients spread across North America, Europe and Asia. Its business model is based on a combination of a flat-fee charge – a $2,000 monthly subscription – that covers a certain number of resolved cases, and fees for additional resolutions above this level. The charging structure makes Richpanel affordable for small e-commerce retailers looking for solutions with which to rival much large competitors, as well as for the biggest players handling very large volumes of customer enquiries.

Rg believes the company’s funding round – Surge is investing an undisclosed sum – leaves it well-placed to build on the strong start it has made. The funds will support investment in new staffing resources and in additional marketing capabilities as it continues to expand into European markets ad aims to deepen its US footprint.

“People have lost confidence in the ability of certain technologies to improve customer service, because chatbots haven’t lived up to their promise,” Rg says. “But if you look at the reasons why people contact customer services departments, in 60% to 70% of the cases, they have the same sort of queries – we can automate the response to those queries to offer a much faster and better level of service.”

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