Christopher Colley, Customer Experience Principal, EMEA, Medallia
This year has seen unprecedented retail disruption. Where 85 percent of high street brands’ revenue used to come from in-store purchases, digital has now become central to consumer activity. Thriving retailers previously invested in methods to increase foot traffic. Now it’s all about lead generation, website traffic and the online experience. As brands have tried to adapt to this newly mainstream way of shopping, the industry has seen both big losses and gains alike. It’s the companies that have pivoted quickly and turned this disruption into an opportunity that have seen the greatest success.
With processes moving almost entirely online, consumers have grown more confident in digital interactions, and are expecting more from their brands. Any hurdles or pain points during online journeys have the potential to leave customers dissatisfied and more likely to abandon the process altogether, taking their money elsewhere.
Staying connected throughout customer journeys
During this turbulent time, brands should treat all customers as if they are new customers. Although many will have shopped online before, circumstances have compelled consumers to commit a larger portion of their spend to online purchases, which means a higher margin of error if anything goes wrong. For example, many customers may be trying out processes like discount codes for the first time, which could lead to lots of unconverted baskets if the code doesn’t work. Plus, the huge increase in ecommerce means retailers increasingly need to rely on third-party operators such as delivery companies. This dependence means the retailer cedes direct control over part of an increasingly large number of customer experiences, despite the fact that customers will often look to the retailer for answers or hold them accountable in the event of missing, late or damaged goods.
Retailers, then, need to stay connected with their customers throughout the entire experience. For this reason, legacy feedback is no longer relevant to well-informed decision-making. Even before the pandemic, there were trends of diminished response rates to surveys and less relevant insights being offered up by such post-interaction methodologies. With the arrival of the virus, legacy feedback became almost irrelevant overnight. How does a business pivot without relevant and timely insights into customer needs?
In order to make agile decisions that are focused on customer demand and ensure that customers’ online interactions are frictionless at worst, enjoyable at best, brands need to be able to access information about their customers much more quickly. And, in fact, there is an opportunity here. While it’s true that digitalisation is causing consumers to expect more from brands in a shorter time frame, nevertheless there is one major advantage that websites and mobile apps present. When transactions take place online, consumers are in a place where they are much more likely to provide real-time feedback.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, a retailer with 850 locations in the US, tested this theory when they launched a new ecommerce website. At key moments in the customer journey, they solicited feedback based on certain behaviors – pages visited, items added, time on page, etc. In one example, when customers were about to abandon their session, the brand intercepted them to assess their understanding of the company’s price match guarantee and one-hour in-store pickup option. This helped decrease exit rates by 40 basis points while simultaneously increasing add-to-cart rates.
Our current moment of change is a chance for companies to integrate emerging technologies into their everyday operations, to help them to gather real-time signals about the experience and stay more connected with customers. Continuous feedback and video are two of the most important and useful signals that brands can harness to engage better with customers throughout their journey:
- AI-powered messaging: Leveraging automation bots to connect with customers via messaging platforms (SMS, WhatsApp, etc.) can help to bridge gaps in the customer journey and restores the retailer’s control of the process. For example, if something goes wrong during delivery, a stage that’s typically third party-owned, then the retailer would already be in communication with the customer and can help to rectify the situation. Sure, the traditional approach of soliciting feedback after delivery is better than not asking at all, but it can create a recovery hole. In contrast, enabling a two-way dialogue throughout the process empowers retailers to act in live-time, and provides more customer insight to improve the digital experience.
- Open-ended video feedback: Video provides insights that are richer in both content and context, unlocking the potential of capabilities like speech-to-text, sentiment analysis and facial emotion recognition. The pivot towards working from home means customers now inhabit a video-powered world, and, with video set to make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2022, brands need to meet their customers where they are. Video makes it much easier for customers to provide direct feedback in the most efficient way possible, encouraging more detailed responses. Furthermore, when you are able to show internal stakeholders video footage of customers describing what they want, think and feel, that’s a surefire way to establish deeper human connections, break down organisational denial and inspire a brand to act.
Streamlined, holistic view of the customer experience
Using such technologies enables brands to capture far larger volumes of experience signals in real-time and makes data analysis easy, accurate and fast, engaging more people throughout the organisation and driving more meaningful decisions. Even better, harnessing these signals alongside other unstructured feedback such as text from comment fields and social media, as well as sources like call centre notes, will provide a much more comprehensive view of customer experience. Indeed, we are seeing investment in text analytics capabilities, to enable the analysis of unstructured feedback, rise to the top of many brands’ priorities for 2021.
Pulling all these signals into a single, streamlined customer experience platform means any issues or customer pain point can be remedied quickly and efficiently. To return to our example from earlier, if a discount code doesn’t work and a customer’s basket is not converted, do you really need to wait for a survey to tell you the customer had a bad experience? Instead, an operational signal should be automatically escalated – say to the contact centre and to a rapid response web team – to fix the problem and make sure the customer is supported throughout the rest of their transaction and journey with the brand.
While many organisations were already taking advantage of digital transformation, the pandemic has accelerated the process. The brands that have thrived are those that have implemented technology thoughtfully into their business models to make truly customer-focused decisions. In these turbulent times, executives need to know which choices and investments are going to help their business the most, and the only way to do this is by understanding the holistic customer experience in real-time. The fact that digital transformation means a broader proportion of consumers are now leaving instant feedback is a golden opportunity to gather more signals in-the-moment, to drive timely, impactful decisions and actions. This will continue to be the case even after COVID restrictions have lifted, and so brands that have not already embraced this new paradigm would be well advised to revisit their customer strategies now, to avoid falling behind.