We all know that person who is impossible to shop for — the rare coin aficionado, the stamp collector, the vintage comic book junkie — the type of person who would scoff if they found a generic gift from a retail mega-brand under the tree — the type of person who wants their unique tastes and preferences reflected in a unique, personalized shopping experience. Of course, those of us who find ourselves shopping for these types of folks often find ourselves in an internal tug-of-war. We want to find the best, most unique gifts possible that even our pickiest, most opinionated friends and family members will love — but, at the same time, we want a streamlined, efficient, end-to-end shopping experience that fits seamlessly into our on-the-go lifestyles.
Given the demands of our busy lives, convenience is king. The truth is, for most of us, there just aren’t enough hours to devote to the general hustle and bustle of our work and home lives, let alone running around from store to store, or frantically searching from site to site, to find tailor-made gifts. In fact, 86% of consumers say they would pay more for a better customer experience, with customer experience projected to overtake product and price as key brand differentiators by 2020. Up to this point, big brands and megastores have had an edge on providing a brand building customer experience — especially when it comes to online and mobile shoppers. That is, until now. Broadly available technology is leveling the playing field, making it possible for retailers of all sizes to create brand loyalty.
Shoppers want their loyalty reflected in a personalized, seamless customer experience that accounts for their unique relationship with the brand. But they don’t want to sacrifice the human touch, even if their touch point to a brand is digital. Retail isn’t simply a transactional experience that starts and ends at the point of sale. It’s a relationship. Building brand loyalty hinges on having a strong connection with the consumer, understanding their needs and meeting them where they are.
Even with automation — like bots and AI, for example — on the rise, the customer experience doesn’t have to feel like it’s “part of the machine.” In fact, counterintuitive as it sounds, adding automation and technology can help add a more human touch to the customer experience. The key here is personalization and context. Consumers will respond to communication as long as it is relevant and delivered, with the context of their shopping history and via their favorite communications channels — whether it’s SMS, messaging apps or voice. After all, it’s one thing to tell a customer you’re having a sale. It’s another thing entirely to tell them you’re having a sale on an item in their size, in the color they like, at the store location closest to them.
The same goes for customer support. As the world becomes more mobile, companies and brands don’t want to interrupt customers’ lives; they want to fit in seamlessly as their customers are out-and-about living their lives. There aren’t a lot of people who want to pause their day to wait on hold for a support agent in order to resolve an issue with an order. More often than not, customers want those interactions to happen anytime, anywhere. And usually, they want to be able to handle them discreetly, at their fingertips — without having to ask their questions aloud on the phone, or explain why they need to step outside or fire up their laptops to send a long email to a support agent. That’s why smart retailers are increasingly shifting their support strategy to alternate communications channels that fit into our busy, digital lives — from WhatsApp Business, to WeChat and SMS.
The trick is plugging into cloud communications software that lets you pull all of that information into one thread, organize it, and then send it out via your customers’ preferred communications channels. When businesses have easy access to their entire interaction history with a customer, it improves the customer experience and extends the customer journey. Instead of a relationship with a customer ending abruptly at the point of purchase, you can build a rich customer profile through your support pipeline. Suddenly, your customer isn’t just another name in a database. They’re a real person — with unique tastes and preferences whose purchasing past influences their buying future. And that’s a combination that’s just as powerful to the consumer as it is for the brand.
Plus, with advancements in cloud communications software, including no-code programs that can be used intuitively by non-technical teams, it’s easier and more accessible than ever for retailers of all sizes, even those without Amazon-sized developer budgets, to give customers the ease-of-use they need.
Case-in-point, SuitSupply — a retailer that helps men, and now women, find their perfect fit in tailored fashion by incorporating tailored technology into the customer experience. It starts with the Fit Finder app, where customers are led step by step as they select, size and style their looks. And it extends to the Box Office, a service that connects customers with personal stylists via whichever communications channel they prefer, whether it’s WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, phone and email. Based on the customer’s input, shopping history, and preferences, the stylist mixes and matches looks from the SuitSupply collection while handling ordering and shipping. It’s an approach that works — and scales. SuitSupply is now spread across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, with 31 brick-and-mortar stores up and running in the US, and a new brand for women, Suistudio, about to launch.
Or, take CataWiki — the curated online auction platform that helps consumers and collectors buy rare items and impossible gifts without an impossible shopping experience. CataWiki accounts for users’ unique tastes by leveraging real-time alerts via their preferred channels, so prospective buyers know the moment they’re being outbid for one-of-a-kind, one-in-a-million treasures, like a T-Rex jaw bone, the world’s most expensive Lego set,a lock of Napoleon’s hair or a 1982 DeLorean. It’s the same technology that Hugo Boss and Rituals Cosmetics use — not just to tell customers when products go on sale, but to tell customers when their favorite products go on sale.
The future of retail doesn’t have to be wrapped up in the same old box from the same handful of e-Commerce sites that deliver to just about every front porch and mailbox. In this new era of digital transformation, easy-to-implement agile technology is more accessible and affordable than ever for retailers, enabling them to provide the on-demand customer experience customers have come to expect from industries across the board. By adopting cloud communications technology, retailers can ensure the customer journey isn’t an impossible experience, even if a person is impossible to shop for.
Robert Vis is the CEO and Co-Founder of MessageBird, the Amsterdam and San Francisco-based cloud communications platform that connects developers and enterprises to customers in virtually any corner of the planet. Bootstrapped since its founding, MessageBird raised the largest early stage investment round ever secured by a European software company. MessageBird is trusted by more than 15,000 customers, from rapidly-growing disruptors to innovative enterprises like Uber, Hello Fresh and SAP.