The pace of change, rising consumer expectations and emerging technologies give retailers a lot to consider as they try to create a just-right customer experience.
People are spending more time online as screens become larger and web connections faster, but according to Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet trends report, with more people now owning smartphones, growth is harder to come by and there are fewer new people left to connect. With so many online businesses vying for a customer’s attention, brands need to focus more than ever on making meaningful connections to stand out.
In the retail sector, consumers are loyal to brands that consistently provide the right experience — and increasingly those are digital experiences — that provide an element of human touch. The solution: retail companies should funnel more of their investments and resources into creating the best experience they can for people. Companies that singularly focus on digital tools but do not simultaneously invest in the customer experience can expect to fall behind.
Experiences Pay Off
Good experiences leave consumers feeling heard, seen and appreciated. It matters to the bottom line. Many consumers, particularly those that are digitally savvy, have high expectations for the customer experience, but they often spend more and are less price conscious, according to Power Base, a PwC report on consumers and technology found.
Other research from PwC’s latest Consumer Intelligence Series report, Experience is Everything, revealed that people will pay up to a 16% premium for excellent experiences. Just one bad interaction, though, will drive one-third of consumers to walk away from even a brand they love.
The bottom line: You can’t buy loyalty; you have to earn it by providing a positive experience.
According to 54% of U.S. consumers, most companies are not getting it right. While we know retailers must invest in data and analytical capabilities to uncover consumer preferences; technologies that will help solve consumer problems; and AI to improve convenience and create customization, there are a few core areas that will really shape a retailer’s customer experience.
Listen To Your Customers
According to the customer experience survey, 63% of consumers who would otherwise not want to share personal information are willing to share these details —if they’re dealing with a brand that has given them a good experience. Retailers have to listen with intention — systematically gather feedback and data, analyze it and then feed it into a customer-centric experience strategy.
In the case of Slack, a popular collaboration and project management tool, retaining 6 million-plus daily users starts with listening to customers.
“Our focus is on making Slack a great experience for individuals — our internal advocates, our ambassadors — since they are the ones who often start using the product, then share it with their teams,” says Ali Rayl, Slack VP of Customer Experience. “We respect our users’ opinions; we listen to their feedback and in turn they help shape the product.”
Rayl says that incorporating feedback helped propel Slack’s growth. As the company began working with larger organizations, listening to these customers helped Slack leaders realize they needed to offer a custom product, and they were able to build that into their experience, cementing loyalty.
Get The Basics Right
Retail basics can be extraordinary. The fundamentals of a positive retail experience — speed, convenience, consistency and friendliness — are challenging to get right. Touting a shiny new piece of technology or virtual reality dressing rooms is meaningless if a company isn’t getting the basics like delivery, payment and sourcing right.
Nearly a fourth of early digital adopters — who represent 20% of consumers today — expect same-day delivery of goods. And, this same group also expects to pay via mobile payment in stores. Analysts estimate that mobile payment will surge more than 16-fold between 2012 and 2020 as consumers adapt to the increasingly prevalent technology. Apps that offer mobile payment can boost loyalty and customer spending.
Create A Human Experience
Today, 64% of U.S. consumers and 59% outside the U.S. feel that companies have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience. Retailers will need to invest in ways to keep a human connection across channels — both in-store and online.
Walker & Company, a health and beauty products company geared towards people of color, uses a powerful combination of listening, analytics and AI to deliver a personalized experience.
“We have to deliver a shopping experience that equals or exceeds in-store experiences,” says Tristan Walker, Founder and CEO of Walker & Company. The company uses an online quiz to mine for data that will then provide a custom hair and beauty plan for a shopper’s lifestyle which, Walker says, “makes our customers feel like they are having a premium experience,” without needing to shop in-person.
Offline, retailers need to make larger investments in their people in order to improve customer experiences: 82% of U.S. consumers say they want more interaction in the future. So whether companies home in on training on new technologies or helping to build service skills, it’s a crucial investment.
Consumer engagement expert Bonin Bough, host of CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles and former Chief Media and e-Commerce Officer at Mondelēz International, argues that technology will only augment human touch. “That’s where most companies fall down — they want a completely automated experience but that will never be the case if it’s going to be a positive experience for the customer.”
Finding the “sweet spot” — where technology complements the human element of customer experience without creating new frustrations — is how retailers will win loyalty.
David Clarke is global chief experience officer at PwC. He leads the firm's experience consulting work and 32 experience centers worldwide. Clarke was recently recognized on AdWeek's 2018 Power 100 List.