For the second time in the past eighteen months, retailers are managing the chronic disruption that COVID-19 brings to the industry. With waves of lockdowns and restrictions occurring across the country, Australian retailers are once again shifting into a world of ‘no-boundary retail’. As competition remains fierce and consumer expectations continue to rise, the importance of a strong customer experience strategy has never been more critical to success.
However, it’s imperative that brands aren’t sticking to the 2020 playbook, as what worked in last year’s lockdowns may not apply in 2021. Customer expectations and trends are continually evolving and a customer experience strategy must evolve alongside. While it can be easy to stick with what’s tried and true, especially in a volatile environment, the reality is that the market has changed. It’s critical that brands take advantage of new technologies to improve the customer experience.
The digital customer of today
We have seen an enormous shift in the business models of many brands. Aussie fan favourite Kmart has shifted to a Click and Collect model, with no in-store shopping available. Woolworths recently converted two Western Sydney stores into fulfilment centres for online orders. When brands change the method of consumption, consumers are forced to change along with them introducing new digital customers to the mix.
This change in digital shopping experience, from convenience to necessity, has diversified customer demographics. Those that may have reverted to old habits in the period of relative normalcy we enjoyed earlier this year, are now forced back online. With people of all generations, not just “digital natives”, now comfortable with online shopping, brands must consider this new and expanded range of shoppers in their strategies of today. With many brands facing supply chain issues and shipping delays in the coming months, customer transparency and communication will be key to maintaining positive customer relationships.
Personalisation remains a holy grail for retailers. Creating personalised experiences for customers is essential to remaining competitive, retaining existing customers and attracting new ones. The more varied customer base that retailers are managing today means it’s crucial for retailers to guarantee a seamless and personalised experience, with data analytics playing a central role in delivering this.
Brands must have the ability to meet and serve customers where they want, when they want, and how they want, with shoppers looking for products or services that are served to them in a dynamic way. This integration comes from cohesion in design to content and technology, with analytics key to a retailers’ ability to deliver rich, personalised content. These capabilities combined create an experience for customers that sets itself apart from others, directly linking retailers to customers and creating excitement.
Investing in technology that builds engagement
Data is an essential part of gaining visibility into customer behaviour, which can then be utilised to address individual customer needs in a systemised way – which in turn brings automation to the table. Introducing automation enables brands to improve efficiencies which, in turn, provides an enhanced real-time experience for customers. For example, chatbots are an important part of customer experience as they help streamline and speed up response to and resolution of customer queries. Chatbots can take a lot of manual strain off customer service workers, so while human interactions will continue to be essential to CX, the ever-expanding applications of chatbots present new opportunities to enhance the experience.
As retailers continue to adopt chatbots and AI-driven natural language processing bots, these will increasingly take a retailer’s first- and early-stage interactions with customers. This streamlining of the customer journey is key to securing and maintaining relevance (and sales) in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Adaptability is the key to success
If we can learn one thing from the last two years, it’s that the environment that retailers (and all other businesses) operate in is fluid and ever-changing. There is no standard rule book that we can apply year after year and brands must be prepared to continuously adapt their strategies to fit the needs and expectations of their customers.
The retailers who adapt their playbook, apply care, and invest in new technology will ultimately be the ones who create exceptional customer experience and build stronger relationships for the years to come.
Michael Slip is senior director of go-to-market customer experience Australia and New Zealand at NTT Ltd.