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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.

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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 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!

Everyone seems to have a loyalty scheme these days, from local sandwich shops to global retailers. Just look in your wallet or your purse and count how many loyalty cards you have in there!

Research by Nielsen for their Global Retail Loyalty Sentiment report showed in the UK 89% of people say they have a loyalty card of some type, with an average of 3.6 cards per person.
This doesn’t even consider loyalty apps, which are on the rise as well.

As specialists in the field, this leads to us questioning what loyalty in this context really is and what it should be. If you look at the stats, you see more than half of those belonging to loyalty schemes state financial incentives, such as discounts, are most important to them. This makes you ask a difficult question, are they truly loyal or is their loyalty really being bought? If another store offered better discounts, would their allegiances change?

We are seeing more and more retailers using data to help drive more people-centric loyalty programs, creating more personalised discounts and offers. The days of being sent a generic discount coupon for nappies when your kids are in their teens are becoming a distant memory in many instances.

Where large amounts of data are not available, we see at least see more flexible approaches to loyalty schemes being implemented. Rather than having specific discounts target at a customer, they are given the choice of what they may like to spend their loyalty points on.
Other brands are taking this to new heights, offering apps that function more like games than a way to monitor your profile, inviting users to participate in competitions, quizzes and even treasure hunts to earn prizes.

At Motivait we view loyalty as a relationship between you and your potential customer. Like any relationship, it should not be taken for granted. It also needs to be worked at constantly, never accepting a one size fits all forever approach. Through the combination of traditional loyalty, good data and well thought out gamification, we aim to create deeper and more meaningful experiences for your customers.

Your loyalty scheme needs to stand out from an ever-increasing crowd. Can you, hand on heart, say yours does? Our platform has been built with this need in mind, including a range of potential features covering simple rewards through to complex gamification, all with the customer experience at the core. Not only that, it has been designed with full GDPR compliance in mind, something that every retailer needs to have by May 2018.

The next generation of loyalty is already upon us, don’t get left behind, start building those personal relationships with your customers now.