17 June 2020

Building the new normal of customer experience: 4 principles for retail readiness

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We may be seeing the lifting of COVID-19 lockdowns, but what about the impact they’ve had on customer experience? Now, as we begin to build the new normal of retail, which factors will determine the winners?

Our CEO Jeroen Van Ermen, who also founded the Beyond Digital club, talked about exactly this with digital managers in Belgium from leading retail brands during the peak of the pandemic in Europe. “It’s clear that appropriate, amazing customer experience will be a great differentiator in both the long and short term as we create a new normal in retail, and e-retail. This is a key moment for brands as they earn and retain customer loyalty now, in a market with quickly-evolving customer needs and a variety of new entrants.”

We’ve identified four tips for retailers, and examples of how they’re making it work now.

1. New products

Include your customers in the new product development processes, then make sure you keep them close.

These new and different conditions offer new possibilities and encourage innovation to happen. Evolving customer insights should be the inspiration for new customer products--which means that retailers must be actively listening to and in-tune with the consumer. “Look for ways to bring your client to the development process when creating these new products,” shares Van Ermen, “and keep them as close as possible. Ensuring an iterative business process cycle with regular checks of the end-customer will make your product more efficient and more market-proof. This is an opportunity in which we will see agile frameworks shine.”

A great example? Adore beauty. The online retailer managed to grow their new customer base by 300%, despite initially being off the mark on which products would be popular. Through listening to and leveraging their omnichannel customer engagement platform, Adore realized that those products previously expected to soar in demand during a recession, known as the lipstick effect, were dipping, whereas products related to hygiene and self-care were hot conversation topics, and subsequently more often ordered. Thanks to Adore’s agile response process, they could capitalize quickly on this demand and serve their customers better.

2. Empathy

Allow your customers and employees to really see the people behind your marketing and products.

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, person-to-person connection has felt more important than ever. More people will continue to work from home, avoid large gatherings, and they may end up having fewer interactions with one another. While this distancing has benefits, it can be a challenge to adapt to.

A win-win response? Showing empathy and understanding for these challenging situations. For retail brands, both customer experience and employee experience should be taken into account. Says Van Ermen, “there is no better example than the response Delhaize has taken here.” Delhaize uses the weekly hashtag #FeelGoodFriday to show and cheer on the people behind the scenes through their social media accounts. “As a customer, you meet the real people who are bringing products and services customers appreciate, and connect with the company in a new way. As an employee, you feel a huge amount of support and respect. It’s simple maybe, but there is so much value here.”

3. Trust

Give your customers a framework of certainty to the best of your ability, and ideally do it with a live interaction.

Earning and keeping the trust of our customers is one of the main elements that retail companies have been dealing with lately. This crisis is a particular challenge due to the uncertainty of the future, so trust and even a simple framework of certainty can go a long way to reassure your customers. Analyze carefully which information you can share with your customers to help give them this framework of trust. Then, if possible, share this framework to them through a human touch. Explains Van Ermen, “we’re seeing this behaviour a lot in all B2B relations now, like account managers calling all of their customers to provide them with their strategy rather than an email blast. Retailers can’t call all their clients, but they can adapt this strategy.”

The website of H&M is a great example of this. The online retailers keeps important updates on the top of their homepage, and offers an extensive FAQ for all coronavirus concerns, from details about sanitation to online shopping questions and their updated returns policies. With the quick accessibility and completeness of this information, customers are immediately reassured and encouraged to continue shopping with the retailer. “It’s well done,” says Van Ermen, “and incorporating this type of FAQ into a chatbot would be a great way to give even more of a personal touch to your customers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this implemented soon.”

4. Digital Acceleration

Re-prioritize the digital roadmap, and do all you can to shorten your decision cycles.

Talking about the digital roadmap has, for a long time, brought on both excitement and dread. Why? Digital managers often face daily pressure on budgets and tight deadlines, overly-complicated roadmaps, and ongoing debates. “This is the right time to challenge this status quo,” says Van Ermen. “The corporate environment is experiencing a unique opportunity to finally re-envision and implement digital transformation, which now is more important than ever. Companies who want to stand out need to get behind accelerating this process.”

How can we improve this process? There is actually one huge advantage that the current conditions offer: the crucial opportunity to reduce decision times and aim to become more agile. The CEO of online retail giant Amazon Jeff Bezos has stated in his shareholder letters that high-quality, high-speed decision making is an important driver of innovation. Some of the strategies Amazon employs in order to do so include looking for reversible decisions, when necessary applying a disagree-and-commit policy, and analyzing a bit less data than you ideally would if you can in turn wait less.

Innovation and changing customer demand is nothing new to the retail environment, but this current evolution is more dramatic than we’ve ever seen. The steps brands take in the next weeks and months will be critical, as we’ll likely see the effect of 2020 for years into the future.

Want to join in on the discussion? Ariad’s digital professionals knowledge sharing club Beyond Digital brings together future-forward individuals working across industries in the largest brands in Belgium. No member fees, just a community of ambitious minds! Apply here for more information about this monthly event.