The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the retail industry, forcing the closure of physical stores and causing uncertainty for the future of the in-store experience. These abrupt shifts have left many retailers scrambling to serve customers through other channels effectively. Digital-first and omnichannel retailers have recovered quickly, whereas the ones with face-to-face engagement stores are facing challenges.
Why Customer Experience Matters?
A survey by Bloomberg Businessweek found that "delivering a great customer experience" has become a top strategic objective. And a recent Customer Management IQ survey found that 75% of customer experience management executives and leaders rated customer experience a '5' on a scale of 1-5 (5 beings of the highest importance).
Builds Customer Loyalty
Loyal customers are critical to businesses of all kinds - it's way more costly and complex to acquire new ones than it is to retain existing ones. In retail, the competition is tough! There are exclusive brand stores, multi-brand stores and other smaller local retail shops, competing amongst each other and also with the e-commerce biggies, all selling a lot of similar products. Making your customers feel valued takes thoughtfully planned CX efforts to deliver a holistic experience across touchpoints in a buyer journey. Through personalized experiences, that are contextual to the customers and coherent to the stage of their buyer journey, make all the difference to their overall perception and continued association with a brand.
Boosts Sales and Customer Advocacy
Most people nowadays, share their good, bad and unfortunately, even ugly experiences with other people through word of mouth or on social media. A 2018 Customer Experience (CX) Index by Sitel Group revealed that 30% of consumers who have had a negative customer experience say they would share it on social media or post a negative review online. Nearly half (49%) of consumers who have had a positive customer experience say they would share it on social media or post a positive review online.
Strategies and Solutions for Great Customer Service
Strategizing retail customer experience is crucial to business outcomes, and here are some of the top strategies.
Create Customer Relationship Management
The foremost step is to set a customer-focused vision and principles which should be followed by the whole organization. For example, many online retail companies work under specific core values, and they also showcase the culture of an organization. It may include on-time delivery service, prompt attention to customer queries, being humble and embracing change.
Know Your Customers
Another most important element is to understand your customers which can be done through customer relationship marketing. It involves creating strong client connections to increase customer loyalty and brand affinity. The main focus should be on creating an exceptional customer experience and less emphasis on traditional marketing.
For examples, segment your customers based on their shopping pattern and send them personalized emails about various discounts and new products they might like to purchase.
Convey Relevant Information
Every customer has certain expectations from a brand, and any retail or ecommerce company needs to convey those expectations.
For example, if you offer free shipping on purchases above a certain amount, make that clear on your website before a customer places an order. Otherwise, they may choose low-cost items and may get upset with shipping costs higher than the number of their selected products, prompting them to leave without making a purchase.
Clearly mention the shipping terms and condition, refund policy, etc. on your website and adhere to it strictly.
Capture Real-Time Feedbacks
Use live chat tools to interact with customers in real-time and once done, send them to follow up emails, including post-interaction surveys. It creates a strong impact as every customer gets individual attention, and any loophole in customer service can be solved quickly. Also, quick response establishes trust and confidence in your company.
Educate Your Shoppers
If you're an expert in your field, adding helpful, informative content to your ecommerce site can be the difference between confusion and conversion. With a good content marketing strategy, your site can be a resource for customers researching a new product or an unfamiliar category.
For example, Revgear, a retailer selling clothing, gear and equipment for Mixed Martial Arts, maintains a blog to accompany their storefront. The blog features posts like how to choose the right strength and conditioning gear or boxing gloves for your needs.
One study found that 88% of customers feel more positive when they receive personalized products, emails, etc. from a brand. One element of personalization is addressing customers by name in your email communications. That's a great place to start, but don't stop there.
You can tap into the information you have about your customers to guide them toward content or products that are relevant to their unique interests.
AI technologies, including machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), can read, organize and utilize this centralized data at a scale that is beyond the capacity of humans.
For example, AI-driven customer experience can identify, map and track customer data down to an individual level in real-time and create personalized journeys based on patterns of choice and preferences.
According to a recent PwC research, by 2030, nearly 45% of global revenues will come from AI-driven customer demand due to hyper-personalization, improved affordability and variety in product choices, with a $15 trillion share of the worldwide economy.
Inject Innovation into Omnichannel
To adapt to new customer behaviors and preferences, retailers will need to evaluate their current omnichannel offerings and find opportunities to innovate and fill gaps.
Bring an in-store feel to the digital experience. The inability to engage customers in a physical environment has pushed some retailers to bring more of the in-store experience online. First, leading retailers have substituted in-store personalized interaction with offerings such as virtual appointments, where sales associates use video conferencing platforms to offer personalized attention to customers. For example, Taobao Live made it easier for brick-and-mortar retailers to join its live streaming channel platform, leading to a 719 per cent increase in participating merchants in February 2020. Trained staff can create content that entertainingly addresses customer challenges while promoting current products and new launches.
Focus on Digital Presence
COVID-19 has dramatically shifted more customer traffic to digital channels. The profound impact of the pandemic on consumer shopping behavior led retailers to expand their digital presence quickly.
This effort will require them to reallocate funds for offline media to digital channels. With more investment in online marketing, winners are adapting their strategies to account for shifts in consumer behavior. These adaptations include paying closer attention to paid search and improving the ad campaigns on social media networks.
Extend digital-channel presence and engagement. App downloads increased 11 per cent from January to April 2020 compared with the same period last year. Many retailers with established mobile apps have cited record downloads, while others sought to make up ground quickly. Around 45 to 50 per cent of retailers had plans to prioritize a mobile app or point-of-sale experience this year, and several companies have accelerated their efforts in response to the pandemic.
Meeting customer demands with the right product at the right time is crucial for retailers, as it directly impacts the customer experience. Amazon Prime has been a game-changer as its one-day delivery option has changed the perception of shoppers. Many shoppers abandon their shopping cart in the absence of a fast delivery option. To compete with Amazon's influence on buying behavior, retailers are increasingly exploring methods of improving order fulfilment.
With the increasing advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and mobile devices, data can be gathered in real-time at warehouses. Hooked with advanced data analytics, it can be used to manage inventory, predict customer needs and anticipate demand effectively. Autonomous robots that replace humans can reduce lead time and improve operational efficiency at warehouses for order fulfilment. Automation through AI and ML for repetitive tasks can shorten delivery time, and thereby keep up the promise of on-time delivery.
AR/VR for Impeccable Shopping Experience
Retailers are moving towards Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to provide superior customer experience both inside and outside stores. According to a Gartner report, about 100 million consumers will use AR as a platform for shopping and roughly 46 per cent of retailers have planned to provide AR/VR solutions to improve customer service by 2020.
Customers can get store-like visualization experience at their fingertips through smart apps. AR can help provide customers with in-store navigation making it easy to locate products. AR/VR can further leverage the upcoming 5G infrastructure to provide real-time visualization with zero response delay and convenient shopping experience.
Establishing and implementing strategies to improve customer experience takes time and efforts. To track your progress, create a set of metrics that align with your business model and keep updating them as per the market trends.
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