Customer satisfaction is like quicksand: brands can’t stand still. To put this into context, let’s look at one retailer which has arguably remained static for a little too long, Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2015, the global retailer was ranked as the most disliked brand in the US, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Consumer complaints included problems with merchandise, checkout speed and staff helpfulness, leading to a comparatively low score (65 points on a 100 point scale). Wider industry trends show this brand is far from alone in falling short of customer expectations.
It’s blindingly obvious that the retail industry can’t afford to stand idly by as we step further into the digital age. Ubiquitous mobile access, social networks and the Internet of Things has facilitated the commercial ability of retailers to provide seamless customer journeys. Customers expect a personalised, tailored and accurate experience, all delivered by a friendly human persona. However, many are failing to pick up the tools at their disposal and make it work.
The digital age has given rise to a new age of customer service, one which bids farewell to benign pleasantries like the universally despised ‘how can I help you?’ persona of customer call centre representatives. Our tech capabilities have the potential to take us far beyond this point; Amazon’s existence is testament to these advances.
So how can retailers follow in the footsteps of tech-fluent brands and create lifetime loyal customers?
Data facilitates conversation
Customer-facing employees in stores and call centres are on the frontline of customer interaction. Often, these areas are sore points for customers who face long wait times or feel an issue hasn’t been resolved properly. People want clear, concise information in real-time; this grinds down to an intelligent use of data collected across multiple touchpoints. Brands need to arm their staff with a rich pool of data ranging from insights on customer location, device, time of day, season and so on, prior to any interaction with a customer.
Data captured from all channels must be funnelled into a single storehouse. This can prove to be a difficult task in businesses riddled with silos that create hiccups in the user journey, but with the correct structures in place it can be done. It requires the dismantling of channel silos and replacing them with a single retail model owned by a chief customer officer and supported by a customer-centric board.
Leverage the physical footprint
A big frustration for many consumers hinges on the arrival and delivery of purchases. Once the above steps have been taken into account and all channels are successfully integrated into the strategy, department stores can be just as agile as e-commerce giants. Savvy retailers can deliver items into customers’ hands faster and make returns even easier. We carried out some customer research which reinforced the continuing desire for consumers to test out products first with 59 per cent saying they like to try items ahead of purchase. Make sure your physical retail environments and employees all support interactive experiences with product showcasing and comparison.
To achieve the omnichannel goal you will need to develop a unified commerce capability that provides a single view of inventory and orders across the enterprise. By putting in place real-time, accurate inventory awareness across all channels, distribution centres and stores, brands will be able to co-ordinate the movement of goods to provide services that accommodate a whole range of options, from buy online to pick-up in-store.
Merging data and technology
Once customer experience and operational improvements have been evaluated, they can be plotted onto a roadmap. In today’s fast-paced times, brands can’t afford to wait around for IT to catch up. This roadmap must combine multi-year, multi-phase strategic planning with tactical execution, analytics and iteration. The end result should be an intuitive and quick response to evolving customer demand.
As a key facilitator for situational and behavioural personalization, you need to identify the customer as early as possible in each interaction. By using a combination of in-store location proximity technology, cross-channel loyalty programmes and process re-engineering, brands can gain a more holistic view of each consumer and ensure that their product, employee and online interaction is tailored specifically to the individual.
Retailers faced with looming competition can’t afford to wait around for change; they must quickly lay the groundwork to push the boundaries and anticipate the customer’s needs. Taking into account these tactics across a variety of channels, touchpoints and devices, brands can hope to see the kind of customer satisfaction of customer service winner, Amazon.
St John Dunne is managing director and client partner at digital agency Rockpool US