CATEGORY

CUSTOMER

 

 

Brands are constantly fighting for consumer attention, relevance and profitability against a backdrop of intense disruption and competition. It would be superficial to claim consumer’s today are easily influenced or swayed, when the reality is that most are looking to be impressed by seamless accessibility and browsing, won over by considered brand values and communications, and excited by excellent customer service and stand-out experiences. Capturing their attention is a crucial part of the journey, but strong Customer Engagement strategies should also be sustaining engagement, retention, and advocacy to truly reinforce profitability and performance.

Successful loyalty programs develop Customer Engagement beyond transactional relationships which are incentive focused but weak on lasting engagement. This is often due to the overall offering lacking personalisation, relevance, or user centricity. Customer Engagement strategies that do well in hooking and retaining their audiences provide a richer, multi-faceted offering that directly appeals to user needs and drives.

To deliver this, you of course need a strong technological foundation to support seamless, omnichannel accessibility. You need an attractive product or service offering, well showcased through intuitive and creative design work. You need an insightful understanding of the end user or customer, in order to provide communications and touchpoints that build trust. But how can you enhance the experience, in a way that still authentically represents your brand, to help the customer fall just that bit more in love?

63% of loyalty members say that if they enjoy an experience, they will use it more. Great Customer Service: 75% of loyalty members say they would stop using a program if they experience poor service. Brand Values: 70% of consumers feel it is important that brands uphold values that they have an emotional attachment to.

A strategy that can make a big difference to sustainable user enjoyment and effectively transmit information is Gamification: the application of game design, game elements and play in non-game contexts – such as brand apps or member schemes.

Why Add Gamification?

At first glance, Gamification could be easily sorted into the camp of shallow gimmicks. Is the idea not to move beyond just incentivising? However, as with AI or VR or any innovative functionality you’re looking to design into a process or experience, the result is highly dependent on the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. So let’s break it down.

Fun and enjoyment seem such obvious elements to include in your offering to customers, and yet so often aren’t designed into experiences. If you want customers to love your brand, if you want to be the first place they look, if you want to bolster recurring purchases, you need to seriously think about how to find ways to make them enjoy the relationship more.

Games, by nature, are fun. Everyone will have types they prefer more than others, and some that they really dislike, because games create emotional and behavioural responses within us. Who hasn’t seen their competitive side suddenly awakened by a game? Or maybe you love building or exploring new worlds? Gamification is often misconstrued as ‘just adding a game’ to something. The theory is actually about applying game elements or game-like design into non-traditional settings in order to make them more enjoyable, or to create more of an emotional reaction from participants. We have all seen how games can create buzz, but gamification can also make a program more attractive or even teach critical messages in a fun and engaging way (learn through play).

Techvalidate showed that 30% of companies using gamification improved registration conversion rates by upward of 50%. Tapping into people’s need for enjoyment, or even curiosity to see what the fuss is all about, is a really easy starting place for applying gamification to a loyalty or membership scheme. For example, attractive but short games can be hosted seasonally to encourage exploration of new collections or messages, as fun, exclusive, personalised experiences that exemplify the brand values and bring the customer just that bit closer.

Keep Them Coming Back For More

Of course, many loyalty programmes already use a very simplistic gamification strategy to encourage interactions: points and rewards. Rewards schedules are essential to any loyalty scheme but consumers today expect more from their customer experience than “spend more to get more” point systems. Plus, through these purely transactional approaches, you’re not actually rewarding loyalty, you’re rewarding spending. Some customers will desperately want to be part of a brand’s circle because they’re inspired by the brand values or imagery but may not always have the cash to splash frequently enough to be rewarded. Loyalty schemes can immediately become more personal by remembering and recognising special occasions, such as a customer’s birthday or membership anniversary. Game design can then also help members understand what behaviours can be rewarded or give them the chance to boost points or bring themselves closer to new membership levels or treats.

Random rewards, like Easter Eggs, can also add elements of surprise and delight and give customers a reason to log into their account to see if they’re in luck that day. Random promotions, offers and communications that speak to them can help energise the connection between customer and brand.

Gamification can also be applied to boost social connection within a programme, allowing and encouraging and rewarding people for inviting friends to join. Programmes that allow you to create teams or groups can have two benefits – while it obviously helps to bring new members into the scheme, more importantly for the customer it creates a bond and shared experience with friends. Just like games are always more fun when playing with a group of friends, either playing against each other or competing together for a prize helps foster natural and enjoyable ways to improve interactivity within a loyalty scheme.

Creating Emotional Reactions to Drive Behaviour Change – RAMP

Appealing to Your Audience

More ways to boost the social element within a program, that have become increasingly popular – providing seamless connections and pathways to social media platforms. Encouraging customers to share their shopping experiences with their networks and actually rewarding and recognizing their Instagram posts, Tweets or Facebook reviews/recommendations, is a fast way to nurturing brand advocates or at least a much more meaningful connection between customer and brand. Furthermore, people are always more inclined to purchase when they can relate to the ambassadors they see on the brand website, apps, and of course social media. In the age of the influencer, incentivizing and enabling people to share their own positive experiences will help build communities and foster a sense of belonging and exclusivity for members whose feedback or interactions get featured.

Game elements that can enhance the sensation can be quite simple but effective, such as tiered reward systems where members unlock different experiences, offers or access, or even a more personalised approach where members can choose the membership or profile that suits their style, needs or requirements. You can even take this further by allowing customers to fully personalise their reward system, offering not only rewards related to the brand but more experiential rewards – leisure activities and the like. Again, this makes them feel they have more control of their preferences and options within the loyalty scheme, making it more tailored to them as individuals.

Ultimately, it is important to design with the user in mind. No one is interested in playing a game where they’re not able to succeed or participate fully, or that feels it is weighted against them. If you just apply a game with no meaning or relevance, you’ll risk abandonment, just like designing an app without considering how people need to use it. Considering what will drive them to brand loyalty and advocacy, or how to improve the journey to purchase, but also making sure they feel they’re in control of their membership rather than at the mercy of an elusive brand, or just another number on a platform.

 

 

The opportunity to buy almost anything from anywhere without needing access to a desktop device has been a transformational development to the world of online commerce. So much so that mobile currently represents a 72.9% share of total e-commerce spend, up from 58.9% in 2017.

Whether hospitality, retail, or mobile banking: M-Commerce apps are levelling up and developing more paths to take customers from inspiration to sale as efficiently as possible. Through functional improvements, deep linking, and influencer marketing, social media has started shaping a new approach to ‘window’ shopping, and m-commerce strategies are recognising the need to intertwine and integrate across platforms we use all day every day, especially those most frequently accessed via mobile devices. Through the click of one interactive “buy button” on sites such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, we can make in-app third party purchases without even having to leave the platform.

The benefits to investing in and curating m-commerce are evident.  Through direct, push-notification style communications companies can reap the rewards and leverage more accurate location tracking utilising GPS and cellular connections through mobiles rather than solely depending on computer IP addresses to provide more targeted communications and experiences. Consumers benefit from the added convenience and immediacy – but is it enough to keep them interested?

Efficiency is vital for supporting the journey to sale. It is like laying down the road that you’ll take people on or providing the vehicle. What is also important, however, is the direction, guidance, drive and inspiration that will take them towards the end goal. Customers today have endless options and distractions available to them, but they also have much more developed values and expectations than what many brands perceive. Can’t find what you’re looking for? App glitching? Awkward navigation? Visuals don’t speak to you? There are hundreds of alternatives that could give you the successful experience you’re looking for. Because of its very position in the palm of the consumers hand m-commerce channels can play a valuable role beyond being another window to shop from by showcasing how brands understand and enable the individual. Achieving this requires much more nuanced design and a genuine understanding of customer needs, and without it, well, you’ve just got an app.

So how can you make sure your m-commerce strategy transcends beyond being just the app version of your brand website or store?

Omnichannel

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that the solution to all problems is to provide an app, but sometimes a bad app is worse than no app at all. M-commerce is a core interface for the modern consumer, but it should not stand alone from other touchpoints with a brand or company. A detached strategy will only frustrate users as they try to move between environments. If a user falls in love with your app but is hugely disappointed when they can’t make returns via the website and the store doesn’t recognise their membership account, you’ve created an even higher chance of turn off or abandonment.

Omnichannel isn’t about just having different channels. It’s about creating a seamless, connected shopping experience across those multiple channels, supporting and sustaining the process whenever, wherever, and however the consumer wants to continue. Consumers want a balance of in-person experiences and the convenience of online, and an omnichannel strategy ensures brand consistency, broadens a customer’s choice and boosts their experience. Through a unified approach, you can improve and multiply the ways customers can successfully interact with your brand. It can ultimately emotionally impact the customer in ways we’ve all experienced at one point in time. Imagine someone spots something they like when browsing on their laptop during a lunch break and save it to their basket or favourites before being interrupted, returning to the site via their app on the train home. They’re relieved to see it’s still saved where they left off earlier and make the purchase choosing free pick up in store option. Finally, when they pick up their order the next day they see a 2 for 1 offer on something they’re low on, and while of course the brand immediately benefits from the flow of incidents, the customer walks away fulfilled having enjoyed the experience as if everything worked in their favour.

 

Safe and Secure

When it comes to any type of online commerce, safety and security is undoubtedly one of the biggest, and most concerning problems. It just takes one inconvenient and complicated payment experience for a potential customer to abandon their basket and seek alternatives elsewhere. We all know how frustrating and troubling it can be when we aren’t given the option of a safe payment mechanism, or we can’t save our details in a secure way.

A new type of consumer is arising from the Coronavirus pandemic. One which is more worried than ever about safety and hygiene and is reluctant to use POS keypads and checkout machines where possible. The ‘Cashless Society’ discourse was already well underway before the pandemic, but people are increasingly drawn to the new, simple to use cashless payment methods that continue to emerge. Whether it’s mobile wallets, P2P mobile payments, real-time payments and cryptocurrencies, M-commerce platforms should be flexible and agile enough to adapt to new needs and innovations. Ease of use, 1 click payment capabilities, ability to easily and securely save and reuse details and offering a range of potential payment options integrated within a secure system can transform the customer experience when it comes to shopping through their devices.

 

Creative User Experience

Mobile apps are a powerful tool to reach out to customers, provide experiences and hook them into your offering. But, with pages full of choices they can easily switch off to experiences that aren’t intuitive and enjoyable.

Often, the temptation can be to throw in every gimmick possible but this creates a complicated infrastructure, which means additional upkeep, which could mean losing sight of the objectives. Considering 46% of consumers are less likely to make a purchase when a site loads slowly, sometimes keeping it less complex allows for essential requirements and needs to be kept at the core. Building apps with a sincere understanding of UX and creative design at the heart of them can make the world of difference, focussing on converting someone from a browser to a purchaser through ease of use rather than sophisticated, complex elements that slow down the journey.

Less complex doesn’t mean any less of an enriching experience though and we can’t ignore how much a touch of creativity and innovation can help lift the experience. During a time when many of us have been unable to physically try on clothes, glasses, or test make up, there are plenty of examples where the use of AR has stepped in to digitally transform this experience for consumers. The well-known IKEA Place app which enables users through their mobiles to scale 3D images of furniture in their own homes to see how it looks before you commit to buying. And Sephora Visual Artist, which enables customers to try on makeup virtually through selfies. The added functionality works as more than a gimmick when focussed on the end user, as it builds into reassuring, nudging and motivating them at each step of their own personal decision-making process.

 

Preference & Personalisation

M-commerce provides a real opportunity to reach a huge number of users with messaging directly. But just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. The effect of push notifications can go one way or the other. Users can either feel the temptation to switch off all notifications after finding them irrelevant, disruptive, time wasting or in fact ‘pushy’. Or they’ll find them useful reminders because the message or prompt feels relevant to their own tastes and habits. Notifications and similar communications are prime examples of areas that can be significantly enhanced through understanding user data, behaviours and preferences. In an era where most of the population is aware of the data exchange for services, so much more can still be done from the brand’s side to nurture trust and demonstrate the valuable application of consumer data. The argument being, if you’re going to request or mine data, at least use it to improve and personalise the experience by showing you understand individual preferences rather than blasting users with emails or notifications that are only in your interest.

Considering personalisation has been found to be the strongest pillar in driving Customer Engagement in the majority of markets worldwide, refocussing approaches to enable more user-centric experiences could have transformational results in fostering long-lasting, sustainable and meaningful loyalty within a customer base that really feels their needs and requirements come first.

 

Winning round customers, capturing their attention, and maintaining the connection that will generate loyalty and frequency, can feel like aiming at a moving target. Or something from a Greek myth, where the goal always somehow remains out of reach. Just when you’ve made one improvement, the challenge changes – a new trend, a new cause, a new distraction or influence.

This need to be agile and adaptable for an evolving customer base should be built into the foundations of any customer engagement strategy. While m-commerce soars in strength and popularity, it is important to remember that e-commerce was once the flavour of the month, and actually after months of restrictions many people are eager to be able to walk around real physical stores again. Just because people are attached to their phones, doesn’t mean that they are blind to the fuller experience they can gain from a brand, and that experience needs to be considered as all encompassing. Emails, websites, notifications, in-store visits, all offer opportunities to optimise and excite Customer Engagement however the customer wishes to find you. The priority should remain providing innovative, intuitive experiences that keep people fulfilled and engaged at every stage – no matter the environment or device, or whether they’re tapping, clicking or walking up to a counter themselves.

How does anyone even begin to ‘round-up’ the year we’ve all had? In our personal and professional lives, most of us have experienced such vast challenges and significant change that it is hard to believe it has been 12 months and not 24. Though we may be turning a new page as we move to the new year, it is not an entirely new story, and in 2021 many businesses will most likely continue to grapple with different ups-and-downs and the effects of 2020.

That said, we believe what also lies ahead is an opportunity to make a real difference by reassessing and improving approaches, focussing on the people at the heart of businesses, communities, organisations, and society, to achieve success in spite of uncertainty.

So instead of rounding up 2020 as if the story were over, we thought we’d look back on the themes and pieces that most appealed to people’s needs and interests over the year. Reflection and food for thought, as the collective journey towards new approaches, strategies and innovation continues into 2021 and beyond.

  1. Keeping Teams Connected & Empowered

This year teams had to act and adapt quickly to new circumstances, conflicting priorities, and different strategies. A need like never before to think creatively and innovatively in how challenges were met. With many moving to remote working or facing heightened demand, lots of us looked for ways to keep employees feeling productive, fulfilled, and motivated – through digital solutions.

In 2021, there will no doubt be a new round of challenges to face in supporting and sustaining an engaged, committed, and productive workforce in what will still be difficult business conditions. Here are our 3 most popular posts from this year looking at employee engagement, to help spark ideas for 2021:

  1. Customer Care, Concern and Connection

In a recent study, 70% of European based executives stated that the current coronavirus pandemic was accelerating the pace of their digital transformation. This year saw brands across all sectors make herculean efforts to try and stay connected to their customers, some even diversifying the services they offered in order to sustain the customer bond. Digital experiences inevitably became the only vehicle for staying in touch, and while technology is amazing because of its reach and flexibility, it is just a vehicle at the end of the day.
It is people who we want to connect to, build relationships with, and learn from their motivations, reactions, and needs. Human crises require human responses.

Is 2021 the year to flip our thinking on digital transformation and focus in on how it can deliver better connection, empathy, and engagement? Here are our 3 most popular posts from this year that looked at building better relationships and engagement with customers:

  1. Future Values

Over these past few months, we have all had time to think and reflect on the way we live our lives. Crises often have the effect of bringing our core values into focus, and by having a number of our old routines and habits taken away from us, we’ve maybe been reminded of what we think is important. Furthermore, more than ever before people are expecting the brands around them to stand for something. Businesses are now being pushed beyond their classic interests to become advocates for a better society.

Euromonitor’s 2020 Sustainability Survey found that COVID-19 has brought social purpose to the fore, with two thirds of surveyed companies defining sustainability as “supporting local communities”, a 15% increase compared to the previous year. Accenture reports 62% of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.

As we all reassess what practices and approaches we want to represent our values in 2021, here are our 3 most popular posts on the emerging power of values and ethics in society.

Today’s consumer no longer wants to be guided by merely transactional impulses. They want to find more, they look for new or enhanced experiences, they want to feel unique. Subsequently, the retail sector cannot settle for an occasional customer – a ‘peruser’, a browser, a surfer. Brands are in a battle to become that “go-to name”, the first place you think of when you need or want something or the feeling takes you. Somewhere that welcomes you and facilitates your experience each time. How can a brand level up and achieve this coveted status?

In a simple purchase process, the customer perceives a need or interest, browses options, checks offers and makes a decision. The tendency is to settle on a desired product or service and then weigh up the price, or value for money. In this experience if attention to customer retention, engagement or loyalty is weak, should any one of the items in the equation fail you’ve lost a customer, their recommendation or influence, and any chance of a return visit.

Simple loyalty strategies work on the basis of generating a reason or incentive to return to the business, for dependable recurring profitability. Customers appreciate the benefits that the brand gives them for their support and this fosters a sort of reciprocal dependency. You like the brand and the brand likes you. But can we really call this relationship sustainable or even rewarding? How protected is it from alternatives or distractions?

What if we integrated a more focussed Customer Engagement strategy within the experience? Here, the brand introduces elements of intrinsic motivation for the customer: incentives and rewards that speak to the individual’s wants and needs, generating a deeper emotional connection between brand and consumer. At each touchpoint between customer and brand, the offerings are more in tune with the customer’s profile, meaning the purchasing or browsing experience is more satisfying, increasing the individual’s commitment to the process, purchase, and return. Your recommendation will be positive.

The objective is that neither the process nor the relationship end at the point of sale.  The brand can continue interfacing or interacting with customers in order to keep building their understanding of needs and tendencies, strengthening relationships with personalised communications and offers, collecting feedback and (importantly) acting upon it to demonstrate more meaningful value for customers than just the product or service offering. In turn, consumers feel recognised and become more involved in the brand beyond their initial browsing interest – advocating willingly for what the brand represents or means to them and seeking more positive experiences as the bond continues to grow over time. Customer retained and engaged. Relationship transformed.

How to improve the online retail experience for long lasting customer engagement

The world of retail may have never felt quite so volatile. Are we opening or closing? Are shoppers happily spending or tightening their purse strings? Are people hesitant and scared or in desperate need for some form of retail therapy normality? With peak shopping season just round the corner (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Year Sales), brands and retailers are caught in a catch-22 where any strategy they implement or any breaking news could save them from or send them into economic turmoil.

33% of eCommerce companies have already stated they are opting out of peak season activities this year versus only 6% the previous year, demonstrating the reluctance and uncertainty about consumer behaviour, even ahead of the most traditionally fruitful and predictable time of the year.

Most of us can agree that our shopping habits have taken a sharp turn this year, becoming more virtual that ever, and the results are in to confirm the feeling. The UK alone saw online retail sales at 27.5% in September, up from the 20.1% reported in February. These are unusual times, of course, but some would argue that average consumer behaviour has been evolving for a long time now. Death of the high street, rise of the untethered shopper – should we be more used to and more prepared for changing behaviours?

Aiming for a Moving Target

It’s sometimes odd to think we group together millions of people into one general concept – Consumers – to try and predict constantly evolving behaviours, attitudes, and desires. But if the collective is dynamic and evolving, so should the experiences they’re offered too. Brands and retailers today are tasked with capturing the attention of the surfing consumer generation always moving between devices, shops and platforms to find the best fit, emphasising even more the need to provide agile, adaptable solutions. Meanwhile, across markets Customer Engagement and Loyalty strategies are often static, or still very much based on the more traditional bases of extrinsic motivation, offering rewards and discounts despite consumers seeking more. McKinsey’s analysis of over 9000 consumers across loyalty programmes of 9 sectors found that 58% are seeking emotional, social and community benefits rather than those more rational ones.

So another way to look at the peak transactions expected in the next few weeks and months, is that it will also be an impressionable time for consumers. Stressed out, fed up, missing loved ones, or eager for reunions – their shopping this year will be fuelled on emotions, so the experiences they go through trying to get from perusing to purchase could have the power to sour or sweeten their engagement with brands.

Transformative customer engagement and loyalty experiences can turn passive, seasonal one-off shoppers into active and loyal brand ambassadors at a time when customer retention could make all the difference moving into 2021.

Tapping into new expectations

For the modern consumer, the standard for a seamless experience is high. It should be – has to be – omnichannel, delivering a holistic view of the single customer across platforms to truly understand their behavioural patterns, with exclusive, personalised, relevant communications and offers, and a customer-centric customer service that evokes trust and loyalty.

This all helps to facilitate the consumer accessing what they’re looking for, however and whenever they need to, but to continue elevating the experience, it’s crucial to consider the people at the centre of the transaction. Considering different profiles and different consumer types is vital in order to understand how to speak to, capture and retain them in the long run.

Recent Euromonitor research went beyond typical demographic-based segmentation to focus more on shared traits and preferences, accounting for the rapidly changing political, social, and online landscapes.

Despite these three types having their distinct differences, they represent a commonality of this new generation of consumer that is continuing to evolve and develop, particularly this year. Integration of care, consideration and concern regarding social, community, and global issues into brand values and communication alongside provision of genuinely enjoyable experiences appears to be what the growing number of consumers are searching for.

A Customer is Not Just for Christmas

We are equipped with so much data, information and insight into consumers, the ultimate gesture for retaining loyal customers is simply to recognise their trust by integrating our understanding and value of them into their everyday experiences and touchpoints with the brand.

Activate, inspire and engage the one-time shopper who arrives on your website looking for a Christmas present with an experience that enables their journey and makes them feel just as valued as a long-term friend of the brand. It may just be enough to transform the relationship into one for all seasons.

 


Human Crises Require Empathetic Responses

 

Brands know that sustaining and reinforcing relationships with employees and customers becomes more important than ever during downturns, crises, or just general uncertainty. Traditionally, recovery ‘crisis mode’ has been perceived as chaotic and all-hands-on-deck, with employees put under an increased amount of stress to deliver more results than ever. Unsurprisingly, customers are often put off by this. Quick responses are important, of course, especially when so many organisations have spent years streamlining processes to prioritise efficiency and immediacy. But, there’s danger in only responding for the sake of it.

Looking at current circumstances, 70% of European based executives in a recent study stated that the current coronavirus pandemic was accelerating the pace of their digital transformation. Equipping people with technology to remain productive and utilising effective communication channels are important elements, but are they enough on their own? These investments in technology will mean nothing if people aren’t at the heart of your strategy. Technology is only the delivery; a vital and valuable part of the experience but just that, a part. It is people who we want to connect to, build relationships with, and learn from their motivations, reactions, and needs. During times of uncertainty, values and perceptions become affected through individual, personal experiences – so it’s only right that brand responses should correspond. Human crises require human solutions and responses. It could be time to flip our thinking on digital transformation and focus in on how it can deliver better connection, empathy, and engagement.

Care + Concern = Connection

Care and connection for what another person feels and experiences, can be defined as empathy. It is a term that’s crept up significantly over the years, but do we really understand why empathy is important? Inheriting this behaviour is important in order to connect emotionally with customers and understand what they are looking for from you as a brand. Over 80% of 150 CEOs stated that they recognise it as a key to success. 72% state that the current state of empathy in the workplace needs to evolve, a 17% increase from the previous year. Somewhat reflective of the growing trend amongst many influential leaders we see publicly broadcasting their commitment to conveying and displaying empathy.

To be effective, it must be authentic and something that becomes a core component of organisational culture, not just a buzz word to integrate into messaging with no real action behind it. Genuine empathy helps us to stop, listen, interpret, and understand the environment we’re operating in. And through genuine understanding and appreciation, or care and concern, customer trust is gained.

When looking at the primary factors that led customers to feel trust for brands against the backdrop of COVID-19, not taking advantage of a crisis to maximise their own profits (authenticity) and caring for both their employees and customers (empathy) came out as the top 3 responses.

Consider March of this year, where due to the uncertainty that people started to feel at the beginning of the pandemic, their psychological and physical needs became a serious priority that was reflected in their shopping experience. Examples of empathetic response to this change, a number of large supermarkets offered private early morning opening hours for older or more vulnerable customers as a way to protect them but also enable their continued shopping experience.  This a great example of how businesses can display empathy for what their customers are going through. Instead of focussing solely on profit maximisation and reaching out with obtrusive or irrelevant marketing, reaching out with support or better still, facilitation and encouragement of human connection despite low-touch contexts, is a gesture that no one is soon going to forget.

It is important to note, you can strike a balance between a profitable strategy and empathic responses, it’s not just black or white, there’s an in between where you can work on attaining financial stability, while still being people focussed.

A lot of businesses see charity as the answer to dealing with the consequences that have arisen in the current situation and the main way to reconnect with customers. Despite this temptation to jump straight towards charitable donations – is it the right motivation? Dealing with uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean giving everything you’ve got to fight towards charitable causes. These supermarkets for example, are still making huge profits during this time, but have been able to do so in a people-centric way by putting people and their customers at the centre of their strategy.

In the same way it’s important for companies to empathise with what their customers are going through, it’s also important to find ways for customers to understand and empathise with what you’re going through. This can be achieved through authenticity and transparency, especially with what is truly going on with your business during turbulent times. Take Airbnb for example, part of an industry that saw performance and profits plummet as a result of worldwide lockdowns. Despite the mass of uncertainties in the travel industry, CEO Brian Chesky sent out a humanised, public message that succinctly defined their situation and outlined their steps moving forward and various support measures that were in place. This authenticity and transparency is a clear example of how, despite uncertainty, being honest with your employees and customers about what is truly going on, but what you’re doing to handle the situation, can help gain empathy in return for the empathy that you provide.

The Customer Experience

“New behaviours, needs & responses”

As we’ve said; with new uncertainties, come new realities, expectations, and priorities. It is important to be aware of these in order to respond and evolve as a business. So, first step? Empathise to innovate. Inspired by Design Thinking, it’s a simple approach that often helps teams who aren’t traditionally close to customers bring together what is desirable for the target audience with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. And it can be applied in a range of settings to foster a more appealing customer experience. Whether by personalising brand messaging and communication, redesigning products and services to be more intuitive or accessible, or moving into new spaces you wouldn’t have associated with beforehand in order to adapt to customer’s new needs and priorities, rather than the brand’s.

For instance, the coronavirus pandemic has seen fashion retailers such as Mango disassociate with being solely about fashion and reach out to customers covering additional topics such as music, writing, and journalism, with the essence of becoming more about lifestyle. The message or association becomes “we are with you” rather than “look what you can buy from us”. Innovators in health and fitness have also done a great job of this, moving away from being just a retailer, and offering new experiences for their customers. Numerous leading personal fitness brands have partnered with Samsung to launch new premium health and wellness apps to provide high quality, exclusive content for users. This is a great example of how providing something exclusive for your customers, can help to build a greater connection. Gymshark is another great example. They have been paying personal trainers, who would have been struggling with gyms closed, to host live workouts via the company’s Facebook page – helping to combat the issue of loneliness and isolation whilst simultaneously creating a togetherness aspect of the brand’s community, despite the uncertain circumstances they find themselves in. The common denominator in all of this? The personal touch, or human element. Just because your audiences have become remote, does not mean you can’t still access them. Use tech to help humanise your brand, rather than just adopting technology on its own – it will end up feeling cold to the people you are trying to reach and connect with.

It might not be necessary to find new things to do, but maybe even just new ways of doing things. Perhaps a period of uncertainty is the perfect opportunity to digitalise certain physical store experiences. It can be easy to get stuck in the mindset of ‘investing in online presence is overhyped’ or ‘I don’t want to endure the costs of operating online’ but take Primark, for example, who due to their lack of online channel has caused them to lose out on £650m in revenue a month while their stores were closed. This is reflective of the pill that many have to swallow, as the retail sector especially is rapidly moving to a space where an omnichannel strategy is simply essential not only to remain competitive but also towards future proofing the business.

Inject authenticity & empathy into your customer engagement strategy

Speak to us

Customer Service

“Engaged employees to support customer success”

With a lot of potential uncertainties of their own, customers need exceptional customer service and support. But who is behind the online help desk? Who is on the other end of the phone helping to troubleshoot? AI may have become popular for customer support, but actually it is really brand teams and employees on the front line, and results will be ineffective if they lack motivation, productivity, and loyalty. Brands cannot lose sight of this or neglect to invest in understanding and engaging their workforce. One disgruntled employee can taint brand image just as much as an angry customer online review – if not more.

Engaged employees who feel that their voice is heard, are nearly 5 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. With this in mind it’s fair to say that in terms of having care, concern, and empathy with your customers – the same should go for your employees first.

Companies are quick to implement gimmicks in accordance with trends with the goal of connecting with staff. Whether digital, such as creating a Facebook Workplace news feed, or non-digital such as hotdesking, green spaces in the office, help-yourself-kitchens, or Taco Tuesdays. But these are just a temporary fix. When facing a stripped back future where a lot of these engagement “adrenaline shots” are being removed, what will actually help towards continuously engaging and committing the people you need to connect with and count on?

Let’s think about a generic example to hopefully get you thinking of how this could apply to you and your circumstances. Say company X recognises they need to engage employees in order to provide great customer experience in light of new needs or priorities. Management decide to integrate a new real time communication tool, to help boost morale and productivity in the company, with the hope that more ability to communicate will provide better customer service. Employees understand the features and functionalities, but they don’t really know how they can best use it to suit their business needs. They already had ways of communicating – what does this new tool add aside from potentially more threads to keep track of?

This is likely a common occurrence, going back to the point about implementing gimmicks in accordance with trends. It may seem like a great idea to implement some new technology to solve problems, but focus can’t be lost on the people who will be using it. Why not think about how to creatively use the tools you have in place to bring people together. Instead of using a company ‘wall’ to post updates and stopping there, or a programme to capture hourly log ins to prove that employees are at their desk, find digital solutions that encourage brainstorms, idea sharing and collaboration. It is known that these collaborative, inclusive environments foster innovation, a key for navigating and surviving uncertain backdrops. Making your employees feel you have invested in them, rather than the technology, is a powerful motivator. Go back to Empathy First and as a first step in your problem solving learn more about what your employees need and want, what will make a process more streamline or their daily tasks more efficient, and how technology can enable that in order to deliver customer success.

Even if there’s just one key takeaway, let it be that human crises require empathetic responses.

For genuine impact in problem solving, empathetic responses need to be more than just a catchy leadership trait. Putting people at the heart of your strategy and operations and not just in your marketing and communications is key. This people centric outlook will help to harvest a more appealing customer experience and a more engaged workforce with the motivation and capability to put care and concern into their customer service, and this will help to recover and reconnect.

 

The role of technology in recapturing consumers

When looking into the near future of the retail sector, little seems clear. Security measures have naturally taken precedence over most other matters in order to safeguard the health of employees and customers – retailers’ greatest assets. Meanwhile, over in the boardrooms, work is going into strategising and bracing for the effects of a challenging economy and the changes that society must now face.

There are many questions and uncertainties: how will new circumstances affect our traditional shopping habits? Can retailers stay profitable even when adapting to strict protective measures? And what does their relationship with customers now look like?

Not only has there been a change in the consumer mindset, but also a change in the mindset of retailers. Many large companies had already been advancing their omnichannel capabilities: reinforcing e-commerce and m-commerce development, customer-centric strategies, big-data processing, etc. The numbers we are now seeing speak volumes to how relied upon those systems have become. Deloitte’s recent report on “The Road to Recovery of the Consumer Industry” states that e-commerce in Spain went from representing 28% of total consumption to 74% in just two months, only possible thanks to the prior development of those online channels. However, the move to online is only half the story.

If we look at the sudden shift in the consumer landscape, confidence fell to 49.9% in April with 63.8% of citizens believing that they will need to watch their spending post-confinement, even after an eventual return to normality. Additionally, 61.3% of respondents mention price as an important factor to consider in their shopping habits, but the top purchase priority is instead close proximity. Consumers have moved to a ‘what do I need” mentality (as supposed to “what do I want?”), in some cases even taking up DIY activities from home, with mending and sewing and upcycling almost becoming more fashionable than fast fashion itself.

Without downplaying this data or consumer’s concerns, the work ahead now lies in implementing measures to support the industry – creating and designing effective strategies that will help regain and enable market confidence. So in this new environment, what role can technology play as a tool for recovery?

Getting Close, Again 

Companies need to know more about the customer, get closer to them, understand them to make better business decisions, and above all, be able to provide them with memorable experiences at every touchpoint with their brand. Buying and selling is increasingly becoming less transactional, with growing focus on the experiences around purchases. Technology is vital to achieve this. Seamless transactions, accessible information, appealing design – the customer should remain at the centre of everything, across all channels. Retailers should think like the customer, dedicate time and effort into getting to know them in depth, and empathise with what they need or seek from the brand. Feeling that they are understood and ‘seen’ is the only way customers are going to go the extra mile to buy something. The technology that brands implement should support, communicate, and enable this connection effectively throughout a customer’s experience.

Personalise the relationship and connect emotionally, and in return, the customer will go to suppliers that they feel share their values. For example, the increasingly pronounced trend towards sustainability and the environment in the world of fashion. Customers are becoming more sceptical and demanding of the commitments they expect from their favourite brands. It is not enough to say they are doing ‘something’. People want to know how deep their commitment grows. Tendam is an interesting example in this space. Its sustainable model has been applied for years not only to manufacturing across all its brands, but also to business processes such as the use of renewable energy and the strengthening of a social and environmental supply chain. The commitment is profound and conveying that to their customers in order to foster meaningful engagement, to leave individuals who come into contact with them feeling good, is an equally important endeavour.

Fostering meaningful engagement – it’s more than just selling

Value is Greater than Price

Evidently, coming out of the last few months and looking at the challenges ahead, consumers will be avoiding splashing out. However, brands shouldn’t focus their responses on slashing prices. Customers can be swayed and won over by more than just the price point. Stores need to look to incorporate solutions that provide more value to their audiences both online and offline.

Technology is not simply a tool for improving reach, but also a fundamental part of the shopping experience that can enhance customer activity and loyalty. Encouraging messaging, reinforcing commitment and empathy to users, enabling access from the palm of your hand – effective use of digital channels can generate lasting, sustainable engagement even during a time of uncertainty.  It’s not just talking about digital transformation or application of technology; the important thing is to make a difference, and to use tech to execute strategies that captivate the consumer, that encourage them to interact with the brand, that they can identify with, and receive intrinsic, emotional rewards. Offer your customer more than what you sell; provide a meaningful experience.

The physical store still has huge appeal for the customer of course. To be able to touch, assess the quality, work out sizes, try it and take it home at that time. Physical contact with the shop assistant and the ability to, ask questions and seek advice. That said, the latest in innovative tech solutions can be designed in a way that envelops and invites customers into an attractive environment for them to search, browse and explore. Technology also originally helped to enhance the experience in store, and continues to do so for everyone’s benefit: facilitating payments, scannable information on different products, virtual testers, or even virtual reality adventures that immerse the customer in a fun environment.

It is important to not forget that the employees themselves  also have a key role here. Excellent customer service provides excellent profitability. Excellent employee engagement produces excellent customer service. We cannot afford to neglect talent, so there should be a call to action across the industry to retain, nurture and motivate its employees, devoting time and effort to training, professional development, solutions that improve commitment, participation and communication.

Maintaining ‘non-negotiable’ business objectives and providing engaging customer experiences aren’t exclusive and can be sustained against an uncertain business backdrop. The essence of omnichannel points to where the future of retail could lead us, with continued emphasis on technological integration of physical and online commerce channels. And we are running out of excuses to avoid exploring innovation. Thanks to the many devices and wearables available, the consumer is permanently connected. They have the power to choose how, when, and where to buy. From searching on a mobile app, to going to the store. The memorable experience must be continuous across all channels, through engagement solutions that generate the excitement and regenerative loyalty that retail needs now, more than ever.

 

The Retail Apocalypse refers to a stream of brick-and-mortar retail store closures originally across North America. According to Coresight Research, US retailers reported over 9,000 store closures in 2019, which in comparison to the 4,500 opening in the same period, felt like a startling figure. PWC then reported a similar situation in the UK, with 2,868 store closures in the first half of 2019 alone, marking to many the beginning of the end of the once essential high street.

In the UK there has always been historical affection for “high street brands”, so the growing closures are understandably provoking much debate around what is causing the Retail Apocalypse and to what extent it will continue into the new decade. Can traditional stores be saved, and what hope is there for brands who once heavily relied on loyal instore footfall? Again, it is something highlighted by PWC’s report, where they identify the potential that exists for retailers to restructure and account for the demands and expectations of modern customers. Some retailers are already making this leap, trying to engage consumers with more personalised, multi-channel customer experiences. With these offerings, they are edging towards the dynamics behind Retail 4.0.

So what does Retail 4.0 look like? 

It can be described as the provision of an integrated omnichannel experience. But it can entail much more.

It involves retailers moving to a truly integrated IT ecosystem that provides a continuous view of not only inventory, but each consumer and their behaviour across channels too. With mobile phone dependency soaring, it’s important to ensure ease of use and consistency between online and offline experiences. It means more innovation than simply providing a mobile app – Retail 4.0 strategy empowers the consumer.

Does your brand ensure a seamless way of placing orders online, via app or webpage, with in-store pick up? Does your brand make it easy to accurately check stock on the app for a particular location, and use that location to find your way to the store and buy the desired items? Retail 4.0 gives customers no reason to be turned off by the journey from browsing to basket to purchase. It should look like differentiated, meaningful experiences across all channels that sustain the consumer’s own personal preferences when shopping.

Stand out from the crowd

Afterall, the modern consumer is used to (and arguably tired of) brands vying for attention. We all remember the avalanche of emails from brands during the GDPR rush, many of them leaving us questioning when we last got value back from our relationship with any brand. Or even just a positive customer experience.

For today’s connected world it is imperative consumers hand over their personal data for one reason or another. So, it becomes more important than ever to demonstrate the value and personalisation they’d receive in exchange via your brand. If customers provide their information and you can see their habits, make sure you prove that you see them as an individual – beyond just targeting. Personalise communication with them, respond to their behaviours and history, highlight offers more likely to interest them, or partner with organisations that speak to their and your core values. The Retail Apocalypse has arguably stemmed from physical stores not being able to respond well enough to growing consumer needs, and brands not being able to keep up with innovative, engaging experiences at every touchpoint. These next steps towards recovery are vital for reviving consumer interest.

Recapturing attention and affection

Retail 4.0 is ultimately about placing the consumer at the centre of business operations so brands can respond accordingly to real-time trends and demands, resulting in exceptional and engaging experiences when executed correctly. Consider IKEA where through augmented reality (AR), app users can see what a life size item would look like in their home. It’s a great example of how retailers can harness the power of emerging technologies to create relevant, meaningful experiences for their customers – rather than implementing a gimmick for the sake of it. Apple stores are launching displays that invite shoppers to learn more about iPhones by scanning the devices with their own phone. They can then see the advantages or functionality of the different hardware or software – so you can personally interact as a consumer and find something that suits you. It speaks to the inquisitive side of consumers and works towards winning round hearts and minds.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to watch these trends develop. How will retailers leverage different in-store experiences as part of a multi-channel strategy? What advancements in the use of emerging technologies will we see, particularly as they become more easily attainable? It begs the question; will the traditional high street revive and make it to Retail 5.0?

Brands today are constantly fighting for consumer attention and profitability in an era of constant change, connectivity and competitive challenge. And of course, customers today have the ultimate power in all of this – the power of choice.

Choice isn’t entirely rational; it is as much about the emotions that customers feel at any given moment as it is about making a rational decision based on the product or service being offered.

With the variety of choice available to consumers in both the physical and online world, it is more important than ever that retailers invest in designing a great customer engagement and experience.

With next day and even same-day deliveries from online retailers, how do you convince potential customers that going to the store will offer them a better buying experience? And how do you convince them that your online offering is better than other, more established online retailers?

 

Strong brand loyalty takes time to build and grow, but small changes can have a huge impact. Studies have shown that an increase of just 7% in loyalty can have an 85% impact on profit per customer!


Omnichannel
The same way having one single view or profile of a customer is crucial for brands, having one perception – whether in store, online, or through a device – of a brand is important for building a connection with consumers. Loyalty schemes, prices, offers and ranges should be the same in-store as they are online (as far as possible). Stores that, for instance, offer a price match that includes online prices in other stores, will always have an advantage over those that don’t.

Seamless and Easy
Any difficulty the customer has either finding what they want or purchasing at the point of sale will put them off returning. 55% of consumers surveyed for marketing research in 2016 said that their top reason for satisfaction after a purchase was “Purchase experience (whether online or in person) is easy”. This was followed by “Purchase experience (whether online or in person) is enjoyable” (46%). Consider your employee engagement in store, or the user journey design when building a digital experience.

Personalisation & Relevance
Consumers want to feel that the experience is about them, not about making profit. Personalised shopping experiences can help. In fact, research suggests that 79% of consumers will make decisions on where to buy based on the level of personal service they receive from assistants. From greeting costumers online with their name, to creating custom offers that are unique and relevant to their shopping habits, to offering personal shopper services in-store can all help to make the customer feel they are the centre of the experience.

Enjoyment & Entertainment
Consumers are looking for something that is unique, be it online or in-store. You have to consider what it is that they can get from you that they can’t get anywhere else, be it the products that you sell or the level of customer service and personalisation that you can offer them. And make it enjoyable. 63% of people surveyed who were members of loyalty schemes said that they would modify their buying habits based on how enjoyable the experience is. Does your instore experience inspire customers? Does your app or website keep its users hooked?

Service
Nothing is more off-putting when in a physical store than surly uninterested staff. One of the unique points about entering a shop is the contact that you have with real people. If those interactions are negative, then the customer will be less inclined to return. An engaged, enthusiastic and knowledgeable employee is key to good customer experiences in-store.

Values
What values do you uphold that customers will feel emotionally engaged with. For instance, do you take a stand against plastic waste, do you support charities. These kinds of “extracurricular” activities are important to up to 70% of consumers!