This is Part 1 of The Holiday Readiness Series, which will feature tactical tips and takeaways from experts that retailers can still apply to rev up their sales results. Looking for even more data and insights to power your approach? Check out the Retail Strategy & Planning Series on-demand.
Offering excellent customer service is a business basic at any time of the year, but it’s particularly vital during the holiday season. One big reason is that the nature of holiday shopping — with many consumers shopping for others and making purchases across multiple categories — gives retailers a golden opportunity to impress, and possibly retain, new customers.
Unfortunately, the nature of holiday shopping also makes customer service issues more problematic. “The holiday season is a stressful season — it’s more, more, more — including customers shopping for more product categories simultaneously,” said Jackie Walker, Head of Retail Experience Strategy for North America at Publicis Sapient in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Holiday is the one time of year when a predictably large percentage of customers are not shopping for themselves, meaning they’re shopping brands and retailers that are outside of their usual pattern.”
Employees’ Major Role in the CX Equation
The tight labor market of the past few years adds another complication for retailers determined to ensure their customer experience (CX) is top-of-the-line. Not only is it tougher to provide stellar customer service when associates are responsible for multiple tasks, but fewer workers overall means the employee experience (EX) also suffers. “We’re getting to the point where EX puts a cap on how good your CX can be,” said Walker. “Until we actually start to improve the EX, especially in retail, quick service restaurants (QSRs) and in telecom, you’re limiting how good your customer experience can ever be.”
Walker, who advises many QSRs, gave the example of an associate working the drive-through who is also responsible for quality assurance as well as handling interactions with Uber Eats drivers. “This employee is in a nearly impossible position, and if they can’t execute, everything else falls apart. If the wrong food is in the bag [that’s given to the customer], your CX is shot.
“The same is true in retail with BOPIS experiences,” Walker added. “If you wait 45 minutes for an associate to get your order, the associate isn’t happy, because they know they’re providing a bad CX.”
Technology may be able to alleviate the problems of multi-tasking associates, but only if retailers invest more in employee-facing solutions. “Our employees are our customers too, in almost all cases, and their expectations have risen as well,” said Walker. “When they’re asked to check on inventory, check out customers or look for products, they ask ‘Why can’t I do this on my phone?’ That’s why retailers focusing on EX are building mobile apps. The good news is that many investments made in backend systems to improve CX, like better inventory visibility and transparency, can immediately be leveraged to improve the EX as well.”
Key CX Pain Points
Walker also identified four areas that require special attention during the holiday season:
Holiday pricing and promotions
“Customers are doing a lot of deal-seeking, so how do you avoid bad experiences around that? Ensure that your crew understands your price match and coupon policies, and get ahead of coupon redemption issues, whether online or in-store.”
Inventory (and the lack thereof)
“If you don’t have the item [a customer wants] in the store, how can you make it as easy as possible for the customer to find it? It’s also interesting that some of the big brands have opened marketplaces, so they need to help customers navigate through that [experience] as well.”
“This is a favorite pain point in retail, so retailers need to ensure things like mobile wallet [acceptance] are super rock-solid.”
Fulfillment and the last mile
“It’s all about transparency, transparency, transparency about when a package will arrive, as well as [the retailer or shipper] knowing if hiccups are occurring,” that might delay a delivery.
Provide Immediate Value in Exchange for Customer Data
Retailers can take advantage of the holiday influx of new customers by gathering data such as an email address, but they must handle these requests carefully. Walker advises retailers to start small, because gift-giving consumers are often shopping at retailers that are unfamiliar to them. “Getting them to download an app or join a loyalty program is too high a climb,” she said.
“The question becomes, how do you provide them with value right away?” she noted. “That could be an on-the-spot discount or talking about frictionless returns and easier order tracking, to show a shopper how easy it is to shop with you. One example is Target, which began rolling out curbside returns, but only with the Target app.”
During both in-store and online shopper journeys, retailers must “emphasize lower-commitment channels to get someone’s email address or phone number,” said Walker. “Retailers also need to make sure they’re planning ahead from a marketing and CRM perspective as to how they will re-engage with that customer. Even simple requests for feedback get you top-of-mind with that customer.”
And as is true year-round, retailers also need to ensure their digital and physical CX align as seamlessly as possible. “The days of designing channel experiences within the four walls of a store are coming to an end,” said Walker. “Retailers need customers to buy more and different things with more frequency, and that means changing how customers behave, so focus on physical and digital connections and how they work together.”