Customer experiences are the backbone of successful retail. Today’s consumers are hungry for experiences that rise above the noise of the marketplace and improve their relationships with the brands that are important to them.
As a result, retailers face constant pressure to stay ahead of the curve and create tomorrow’s customer experiences today. The most urgent challenge currently facing retailers centers on the race to capture customer feedback across all channels and leveraging it as a catalyst for the creation of experiences that connect with consumers on a personal level.
On the whole, retailers are doing an excellent job serving their customers and delivering merchandise that meets the high expectations of the marketplace. But more than ever before, customer experience management trends will directly impact retailers’ bottom lines by shaping their ability to translate customer feedback into meaningful and improved retail experiences.
Omnichannel is more than a buzzword — it’s a reality for aggressive retailers interested in delivering the same, high quality customer experiences across every available channel. This year, leading retailers will extend the omnichannel concept to the capture of customer feedback, consolidating the feedback collected from various, disparate sources into unified customer experience insights.
Brands can no longer afford to treat feedback captured from online and offline sources independently, and will rely on technology to track the customer experience through the entire purchase cycle. This will enable retailers to create more consistent customer experiences and engage consumers on a true, omnichannel level.
The consequences of disconnected customer insights are harsh. Retailers that fail to adequately address omnichannel feedback run the risk of experiencing what is quickly becoming the greatest sin in retail: disjointed customer experiences.
Solicited and Unsolicited Feedback
In the past, many retailers viewed solicited feedback (e.g. online customer surveys, call center data, etc.) as the primary drivers of customer experience improvements. But while these data sources can and do highlight areas for improvement, they can’t be isolated from feedback captured through other channels.
Unsolicited feedback from customer product reviews, social media mentions and other sources can be just as valuable as solicited feedback. In fact, unsolicited feedback is often more beneficial to consumers because it directly influences their buying decisions.
Going forward, retail brands must improve their listening capabilities by bringing solicited and unsolicited feedback together. Leveraging both types of feedback, retailers will then have the insights they need to avoid inconsistent customer experiences.
Effective retail is about more than product quality. Progressive-thinking retailers now recognize that service and atmosphere are just as important, and are creating experiences that make customers feel happier, healthier or more attractive.
However, retailers typically struggle to quantify these feelings and make local customer experience improvements accordingly. So for many retailers, one of the top priority Customer Experience Management tasks will be the implementation of technologies that help them understand the branded behaviors that elicit these feelings.
By improving their ability to understand their social currency, retailers will then be able to amplify consumer sentiments through reinforcement and validation, or adjust branded behaviors to create a different customer experience.
Big Data at the Local Level
Big data, or data collected from large and diverse data sets, holds great promise for providing insights for customer experience improvements. But so far, the utilization of big data has been ineffective at the local level, primarily because location managers lack the time or skills to distill big data into actionable intelligence.
Instead, retail managers need to have access to general customer insights and be equipped with tools to understand how those insights apply at the local level. Top performing retail brands are providing local managers with research-based advice and local coaching to help them convert these insights into improved experiences for local customers.
It’s also important for retailers to understand that technology has changed expectations about the brand-consumer relationship. Increasingly, consumers are demanding transparency from retailers and are rewarding brands that are willing to engage in open, honest dialogues.
For most retailers, the big lesson will be that customer feedback drives customer approval as well as the creation of highly personal and consistent customer experiences. Regardless of how well they have performed in the past, retailers will need to step up their games and become more adept at leveraging the full range of feedback – regardless of the source.
Gary Edwards is Chief Customer Officer at Empathica, a global provider of Customer Experience Management (CEM) solutions. He is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, account management, marketing science and retail insights. Edwards is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. He has served a key leadership role during program design, implementation, and ongoing development with clients for the past nine years at Empathica.