For retailers, 2022 has been defined by supply chain disruptions, inventory reductions, staffing shortages, and rising prices. Paralleling these problems, and in many cases (but not all), retailers are also plagued by severe lapses in the quality of customer experience (CX).
According to a Forrester report, The US Customer Experience Index Rankings, 2022, the quality of customer experience offered by consumer-facing brands and government agencies declined through April 2022. Furthermore, only 3% of U.S. companies are “customer-obsessed”—meaning customers are the central focus of their strategies.
Pete Jacques, principal analyst at Forrester and co-author of the report, points to macroeconomic pressures as a probable cause. As quoted in The Wall Street Journal, he says, “The changes suggest to us that there are some companies reaching the point where they’re just having a hard time keeping up with these customers’ changing expectations, or are just distracted by all the other things that they need to be focusing on.” The fallout? Consumers are running out of patience.
“CX quality in the US, which reached new heights in 2021, has fallen to pre-pandemic levels due to brands losing their customer focus,” said Rick Parrish, vice president and research director at Forrester. The report suggests that a minor improvement in a brand’s customer experience can add “tens of millions of dollars of revenue” by reducing customer churn and increasing share of wallet.
Statistics support this assumption. Research shows that a key motivation for shopping in-store is the quality of the customer experience. A recent survey found that 77% of shoppers consider the in-store customer experience either important or very important, while nearly 55% of shoppers have abandoned a brand because of one bad in-store experience.
Outlining the components of what might constitute a bad experience can open the door to finding the right solutions. A negative customer experience may involve:
• Long checkout wait times
• Discourteous or uninformed staff
• Out of stocks
• Untrained support staff
• Slow or lacking in-store digital connectivity
• Disconnection between online and in-store information
The survey further revealed that 83% of consumers are more likely to return to your store after a positive in-store experience. Additionally, 63% of respondents said that a positive customer experience makes them more likely to spend more during that visit!
of shoppers consider the in-store customer experience either important or very important.
of shoppers have abandoned a brand because of one bad in-store experience.
of consumers are more likely to return to your store after a positive in-store experience.
of respondents said that a positive customer experience makes them more likely to spend more during that visit.
All In on Customer Experience
An excellent customer experience can improve your brand’s reputation, expand customer loyalty while also increasing sales and basket size.
Improving the customer experience can give retailers a decided competitive advantage. If retailers are not “all in” for improving customer experience, it will adversely affect their bottom line.
What should retailers be doing to make those incremental improvements? What strategies will be most effective at combatting slipping customer experience scores? And, because many of the market conditions that have negatively impacted the customer experience are beyond retailers’ control, what customer experiences might circumvent those conditions?
As a basis for creating a better customer experience, the most successful retail brands recognize that customer connectivity is now an all-channel activity. They don’t distinguish when and where they are using various tools to browse and buy. They are just browsing and buying – in the stores, at home, on multiple devices — in whatever way is easiest, most convenient, and most available to them.
Yet research in Retailwire’s Optimizing CX report found that only 16 percent “strongly agree,” and 46 percent “agree” that their organizations provide a “seamless online and offline shopping experience.”
In that report, Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO, put it this way: “Customers don’t see themselves as digital customers; they are simply customers doing what they need to in their preferred ways. Digital is part of how they behave, so focusing resources on this part of the customer’s journey will continue to be a smart move.”
“Customers don’t see themselves as digital customers; they are simply customers doing what they need to in their preferred ways.”
In fact, with staffing levels at an all-time low, digital interactions have become vital as a way for customers to gain instantaneous access to product information, conduct comparison shopping, and make purchase decisions. Giving consumers various options for connecting and getting answers to their questions can keep them from leaving a store and purchasing from a competitor.
Ready to Up Your CX Game?
What are the most fruitful CX tactics and strategies retailers should implement right now? What approaches have the greatest positive impact on sales volume, customer loyalty, and consumer happiness?
Serving a Purpose with Self Service
Self-service options help retailers manage stores with fewer employees. When there’s a long line of customers waiting to check out, giving customers the option of self-checkout provides them with a convenience they will appreciate. In addition, virtual shopping assistants can fill the information gap when associates aren’t present, by providing answers to shopper’s’ product, pricing, inventory, and order questions instantaneously.
Satisfying Cravings for Immersion
An interactive display, kiosk, or store-within-a-store can engage consumers with your brand up close and personal. Their design can be as simple or as sophisticated as budget allows. The key is to incorporate interactivity that thoroughly engages customers with your brand and creates a visceral connection.
Leveraging for Personalization
Collecting customer feedback and data is critical, but the challenge is to use it to proactively enhance CX. Leveraging data to create personalized customer experiences will drive loyalty and differentiate your brand.
Digital data collection makes it possible to know and understand each customer’s buying habits before they enter the store. This opens the door to making each customer feel welcomed as an individual. Customers may appreciate your text message, for instance, with relevant product recommendations and offers of special discounts on brands they prefer. Invite them to opt in to your brand app. Respond to questions in real time using live chat.
of consumers are more likely to make
a purchase from a brand that provides
of consumers say they are more likely
to shop with brands that provide offers and
recommendations that are relevant to them.
From the time customers start browsing to the time they buy, you can continue to capture insights from them on their buying habits. Maintain an ongoing, two-way communication with customers so that personalization is integrated into your CX strategy.
Digitally Enhancing In-Store Experiences
The Internet has made instant access to a world of information a given. Consumers expect to be able to easily discover new products, hone in on the most attractive deals, and grasp comprehensive product information within a few clicks on their favorite device. They also want to have access to reliable reviews so they can make educated decisions before heading to a store to compare different product features to finalize their purchase.
Once in the stores, customers often face the potential for two common negative experiences. One, the short labor supply often means that not enough associates are available to help them. Two, in-store associates cannot possibly be expected to have deep and, depending on the product, thorough technical knowledge of the full range of product features that customers demand.
By 2025 nearly 100 million U.S. consumers will use their smartphones to scan QR codes.
This is where retailers can take advantage of the widespread customer habit of using their phones and other digital devices while in store. For instance, eMarketer projects that the number of U.S. smartphone users scanning a QR code will increase from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million by 2025. QR codes give customers an instantaneous connection for exploring brands in-depth and connecting with brand experts real time.
Bridging the Online-to-Offline Gap
Technology has created opportunities for solutions that help retailers and retail brands engage customers in new and exciting ways. Some offer seamless experiences that bridge the in-store and online gap. AskMe™, for example, is a virtual tool that allows retail sales associates and customers to connect with a team of live agents virtually anytime—including in-store—through video, text, chat, or phone.
Whether assisting associates with expert product knowledge and support in the moment or advising customers through a buying experience by answering their detailed product questions in real time, AskMe by MarketSource empowers your sales team to reach customers while they’re interacting with your brand and products online, delivering them both a great shopping experience and a simplified path to a sale.
With AskMe, you can bring brand experts into the store—or wherever your customers are—without having to staff every location. It’s the future of customer service… and may be the most powerful way to position your retail organization for long-term success.
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Author: Karen Salamone
Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.