It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The proof? Customers are breaking up with retail brands that can’t deliver on their evolving expectations. The tech-savvy generation and their time-pressured parents are rapidly adapting (and perhaps outpacing) retail brands. Customers are demanding a shopping experience that is intuitively seamless, fast, authentic and personalized.
So how do you answer the increasing demands of your customers?
The paradigm shift: from brand to customer
The customer experience has become the “final frontier” for retailers. It used to be all about the brand. But a lot has changed. Because of increasing customer expectations and falling store sales, retailers are learning that they have to make a big shift. It’s not about the retailer’s brand any longer. It’s all about the customer—and how the brand can create a shopping experience built on this new-found focus.
Let’s face it. Most shoppers can find similar or better alternatives online. A large part of why they are coming to the store is for the experience itself.
"Customers not only want, but expect a personalized experience. They expect retailers to know their preferences and interests. A recent Infosys study reported that 78 percent of consumers are more likely to be a repeat customer if a retailer provides them with targeted, personalized offers.”
But the pendulum swings both ways. The CMO Council reported that more than half of North American consumers would consider breaking ties with retailers that do not provide offers that are relevant and personalized.
So we’ve come to a place in time where retailers are forced to change their ways. The shift of focus must come away from the brand and, instead, highlight the customers’ expectations and needs at an individual level. Brands that succeed in this change will see increased loyalty and profit margins. But those that do not will be faced with a serious decline in sales and brand loyalty.
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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably already know all of this. But the real question is: What do you do about it? How do you create an experience for each and every one of your shoppers that will make them feel that when they enter your brand’s store, they are entering their store?
Today most retailers realize the power of personalization and the in-store experience. The problem is that they don’t know how to craft an experience that is unique, and they don’t have the information they need to get started.
The materials for change: personas, shopper history and real-time decisioning
To get started along the journey of creating a shopping experience that is built around your
customer, you will find that personas, your compiled shopper history and an organized real-time message engine are your keys to success. However, before you can cross these items off your to-do list, you need one very important thing—data.
Data is the building block for creating shopper personas built in reality. Data that you store of your
shoppers’ past transactions with your brand will provide critical information that will deliver a truly
personal experience for them. And data will help you to make decisions about what message or offer your shopper should receive in any given moment. To be successful, you need to be sure that data is your foundation for all things moving forward and that your decisions are grounded in actionable insights.
Personas: Going beyond segmentation
Retailers have long used customer profiles as a representation of their marketing segments. personas take these profiles beyond the basic demographic makeup of the customers. A well-developed persona incorporates the basic demographics with financial information (e.g., ability to pay, credit worthiness, net worth), interests and—perhaps most importantly—transactional behavior and categorical spend. True, it does take work (and often money) to create accurate shopper personas. But once this task is done, these can be powerful tools for getting marketers and store employees to understand and obsess about customer needs.
With personas, your brand has a holistic view of who is shopping at your stores. To be successful,
marketers have to use personas consistently. They should serve as a reference at every step of the design process so that it’s clear who they are designing the experience for.
It’s also important to note, that building personas is not just a one-time job. Once you have created
your personas, they should serve as living, breathing documents that need to be evaluated on a regular basis. If your customer base changes, then so should your personas. Measurement is crucial to ensure that the personas remain an effective guide.
Shopper history: the more you know
Personas are only one element of the personalized shopping experience. Shopper history is another. Capturing a customer’s history with your brand empowers you with hugely valuable information. What have they purchased in the past? What are their preferences? What are they buying with your competitors?
Having the answer to these questions can make you a master of the retail universe. But, knowing them is not enough. You have to ensure that they are easy to access. How many databases are the answers to these questions stored in currently? Do your store associates have access to them? Are they fueling the messages that are being served on your ecommerce site? If your answer is no, then you have some work to do.
It is one thing to capture this information—but the most important thing you can do is to be sure that it is readily available so you can use it at every step of your customers’ shopping journey.
Real time: Making it happen in the moment that matters
Now that you have created your personas and you can access your shopper history at any stage of your customers’ journey, you have one more very important thing to do. You need a real-time decisioning engine.
Sound complicated? Well, in a way, it is. But you already have most of your legwork done with your personas and your shopper history database. Now it’s time to map all of the possible journeys your shoppers may take and think about their experiences. At every step, what offer would be relevant to them in that moment?
This exploration takes time and a lot of thought. But in this mapping process, you’re actually creating a database of offers and messages for your customers that will make their shopping experience feel personal and relevant. After all, that’s the goal, right?
Bringing it together: Joining the elements of your new shopping experience
“Combining the user-archetype information that personas contain with an individual’s history, preferences and current environment can help companies engineer experiences that feel like they were designed for a specific user, even if they were not.”
In essence, this is the secret formula. It’s not possible to make every experience individually and uniquely personal to a single customer. But if you can combine the persona + shopper history + real-time decisioning engine, you will be delivering on an experience that feels custom fit for your shoppers.
Your customers don’t have patience for you to figure it out. They just want an intuitive experience that feels as if it was authentically created with them in mind. Shoppers’ expectations of instant gratification aren’t changing. If you can deliver on their expectations, you’ll reap the marketshare of the brands that are not.
It’s a lot to tackle if you haven’t already started. Remember, you don’t have to climb the mountain in one attempt. Focus on one aspect of your customer experience and use it as a beta project. Then build upon your customer experience from there.
According to Forrester,
“Organizations that have failed in personalization initiatives often tried to do too much at once. Instead, successful organizations we spoke to avoided these pitfalls in new contextualization initiatives by starting small and adding a personal touch for certain experiences before ramping up to large personalization initiatives.”
Avoiding the breakup: how to build trust with your customers
Just as in real-life relationships, your consumers are looking for authentic relationships with the brands and products that they buy. The evolving digital landscape has created competition and endless shopping opportunities. With all of these endless options, consumers want to be inspired.
However, through all this evolution, the premise of buying and selling goods hasn’t fundamentally changed. The old adage “Nothing happens until someone decides to purchase something” still applies. The difference is that now shoppers are more equipped to demand an intelligent, transparent, unique and meaningful experience with the brand of their choice. They have more choices than they ever did before when selecting a brand to have a relationship with.
Where the brand used to hold the power, now it is the consumer with all the power of choice. To be successful, you need to be strategically prepared to set your brand apart from the competition. To do this, you need to know your customer in a way that feels unconsciously unique and authentic. In the end, this is what will inspire trust for your shoppers. It’s that trust that will kindle a loyal relationship with your brand.
Today the customer is in control. They decide if, when and how to interact with their favorite retail brands. With all the channels of interaction available to the consumer, retailers need the ability to develop well-grounded engagement strategies to maximize the customer experience every minute of every day.
As a new breed of marketing partner for this customer-empowered world, our approach harnesses the power of rich data, world-leading technologies, engaging creativity and transformative ideas to connect customers to brands and deliver dramatic results.
Customers today have many options. We can help you create meaningful customer connections, resulting in increased revenue, more frequent engagement and more efficient marketing spend.
COMMENTARY: Improving the customer experience is a strategic priority for 73% of businesses, yet only one percent of companies deliver an excellent customer experience, according to the 2015 Forrester Research Customer Experience Index™.,
Based on a survey of 46,000 consumers, the CX Index measured and ranked 299 large US brands, across 17 industries, on the quality of their customer experience. USAA is ranked number one. Other companies among the top 15 include (in alphabetical order): Ally Bank, Amazon.com, Charles Schwab, Discover, Edward Jones, Etsy, HSN, JetBlue Airways, Lexus, Navy Federal Credit Union, Newegg, PNC, QVC, and Zappos.com.
In the Forrester index for 2015, retailers remain the best at providing a great customer experience, but it is interesting to see that parcel shippers and hotels dropped way down the index – last year they were up there at the top with retailers. And there is an important distinction to make with retailers. Digital-only online retailers are much better at providing a great customer experience than those with a store network.
Megan Burns, Forrester Research principal analyst serving customer experience professionals said.
“The emotion that an experience elicits influenced loyalty in nearly every industry. And making customers feel valued is the holy grail of CX emotions. Customer experience leaders made customers feel valued almost twice as often as CX laggards did.”
Megan explained that this year's CX rating used different methodology that now incorporates customer loyalty in determing the overall CX rating.
"The biggest change in our new approach is the way we judge CX excellence. To hit a home run, the 299 brands we studied had to do more than make customers happy. They had to design and deliver a CX that actually helps the business by creating and sustaining customer loyalty. Our new rules shook up the standings and pulled a bit of a Billy Beane, tipping conventional CX wisdom on its head. For example: Customer loyalty is undergoing a rapid change from being the way that you manage a points-based program with plastic cards to a strategy that requires engagement with customers and an ability to improve their experience with your brand."
Megan said that there is a shakeup on the CX leaderboards for 2015.
"For the first seven years of the CX Index, retailers, hotels, and parcel shippers dominated — but not this year. As industries, hotels and shippers dropped to the middle of the pack. Retailers held on to first place, but there’s an asterisk on that particular stat. We broke the retail industry into two groups in 2015 — those with physical stores and those without. Retailers without stores (we call them digital-only retailers) kept the top spot. Those with stores fell multiple places in the industry standings."
Megan cautions that a high CX rating may not always be worth it and that there maybe a point of diminishing returns that brands may not want to cross. She says.
"In most of the industries, we saw a strong positive link between CX quality, loyalty, and loyalty-driven revenue. But that wasn’t always the case. Our models for one industry showed a very clear and compelling point of diminishing return. Taking CX from poor to okay is more profitable for brands in this space than going from okay to excellent. That doesn’t mean that anyone can afford to ignore CX. Many aren’t even hitting the okay mark right now. But it gives executives something to think about as they refine their company’s overarching CX strategy."