2020: The year of the boiled frog

How retailers can adapt and respond to fluid customer behaviours and expectations post-COVID-19

The author(s)

  • Lorraine Rough Customer Experience
  • Katherine Shipton Customer Experience
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After more than three (very long) months, UK non-essential retail is open. However, while Primark may have queues around the block, a significant majority (61%) of consumers are not comfortable returning to bricks and mortar locations for fear of getting ill. Here, Lorraine Rough and Katherine Shipton look at what retailers can expect for the rest of the year, and how to react.

The ‘new normal’ has arrived, but sadly for retailers it hasn’t brought with it a predictable pattern of consistent consumer behaviour. This makes effective, long-term strategy development and investment challenging. The reality is, there is going to be uncertainty for some time to come. Ipsos research shows that just two in five consumers (39%) think things will return to normal within the next year.

This lack of certainty poses the question: how do retailers effectively survive, grow and innovate when there are still likely to be many fluctuations in how consumers engage with retail in the medium term?  

This article offers up five initiatives retailers can activate to win on customer experience; because winning on customer experience pays. During the last financial crisis, CX leaders had three times higher returns, were more resilient, experienced shallower troughs and quicker recovery than CX laggards.

1.    Double down on Customer Journey Maps

Revisit journey maps and realign them with how customers are interacting with you today.

Since the start of the lockdown, online sales have risen dramatically. March saw a 74% growth in average transaction volumes compared with the same period last year. So, previously defined moments of delight or pain-points may have amplified or changed as customers find alternative paths to engage, some for the first time.

While it is tempting to zone in on single touchpoints, understanding changes in journeys at the highest level first will most quickly surface priority focus areas and their root cause – showing you how to reduce friction, improve customer ease and manage capacity. For example, by providing additional customer communications regarding deliveries to reduce contact centre queries or providing ‘how to’ guides for users engaging via a channel for the first time. Data from Ipsos' Essentials coronavirus tracker tells us that over the lockdown period, more than a quarter of UK consumers are now using online banking more or for the first time.

2.    Employees are your secret agents

Personal experiences with a brand are more meaningful than advertising to four in five consumers globally . Whether in store, on the phone or engaging with customers via a messaging platform or email, employees are your key to creating differentiated experiences in line with your brand promise.
As more purchases happen online and social distancing has changed store interactions, organisations are missing out on this golden opportunity for personalisation. To remedy this:  

  • Seek out touchpoints where employees can create meaningful, personal and differentiated experiences as customers place an even higher value on these moments. For example, personalised emails sent from an individual, named employee.
  • Ensure employees have the knowledge, tools and permission to ‘own’ experiences, express empathy and reassure customers.
  • Create an open, two-way dialogue with employees about how to improve experiences given they are the direct line to the voice of your customer.
  • Spend time training staff with new layouts and processes in store, ensuring they fully understand what has changed and why to protect themselves and their customers.
  • Acknowledge your employees – thank them, recognise their extraordinary effort, loyalty and hard work. This goes a long way to maintaining motivation and building trust.

3.    Reimagine the physical store

Right now, health and safety is an experience basic, so ensure your brand is actively going over and above rather than delivering the bare minimum to protect customers and employees.

In terms of strategy moving forward, with footfall constrained, physical opportunities for browsing reduced and messaging asking customers to avoid touching products they don’t intend to buy; consider the longer-term role stores play in the customer experience.

Define the value sites add to the business in terms of presence to facilitate returns, take orders in store and provide expert advice prior to purchase via other channels.

McKinsey predicts retail locations may take one of two routes

Continuation of the pre-crisis trend toward retail stores that create immersive experiences to drive foot traffic [and] more grey or dark stores for fulfilment … as many physical locations are turned into temporary or permanent fulfilment nodes to enable faster delivery.

For example, Argos are increasingly moving to a strategy where stores are a place for ‘click and collect’ rather than as a sales channel to place orders from the institutional catalogue.

4.    Find your $300m button

While the volume of online transactions has significantly increased during lockdown, customer patience for load times is reducing. While digital-only organisations have had an inevitable head start, clean and simple-to-navigate websites are table stakes.

In May 2020, Google announced a variety of user experience criteria, including page-load speed and mobile-friendliness, as factors for ranking. So, companies with poor-performing sites will appear lower in search rankings, starting in 2021. Incentive alone to consider supercharging digital experiences.

Also, consider the theory of marginal gains and look to optimise the site and shape-up content based on what consumers need now – for example, accurate delivery information, simple checkout processes, and reassurance if they’re a new customer.

One US retailer changed its registration process and in doing so, this one button secured an additional $300m of revenue per annum as customers could check out as a guest rather than create a password.

Don’t forget to build in effective personalisation too, tailored to the individual customer (rather than a cohort or broad persona). Just over half of customers globally appreciate it when online retailers suggest products based on their shopping history or what is in their cart.

5.    ‘Walk the talk’ when it comes to omni-channel

As consumer confidence evolves by channel, innovating to deliver true, integrated omni-channel experiences will pay dividends. Give customers the flexibility to discover, buy, return and change goods as they wish and without friction.

Invest in technology: consumers have demonstrated across sectors that they are open to engaging with new channels, such as video chat and virtual showrooms. Estate agents and property websites such as Rightmove have expanded their online portfolio to include video viewings. Amazon is developing a ‘virtual fitting room' which will dress a version of you built from your social media photos to see if you like the look.

In conclusion

Ipsos has subject matter experts covering all aspects of CX, UX, EX and journey mapping. Based on our experience we see three key ways to avoid being a boiled frog.

1.    Always listen and stay on top of consumer trends

While our fundamental beliefs are very slow to change, trends that influence them have a powerful effect on our buying behaviour.

Brands able to adapt quickly to changing consumer behaviours and expectations are most likely to weather the storm. Listen to your customers via VoC programmes and understanding unstructured social commentary. Blend this with local signals to understand what makes customers tick, and what out of industry/societal influences are affecting them in the short, medium and longer term.

2.    Develop a responsive business operating model

First mover advantage is important and the brands able to lead the charge are seen in high regard by customers. Once changes in customer sentiment are observed, ensure the business has the right governance, infrastructure and decision-making in place to react accordingly.

3.    ‘Vaccinate’ your brand from future disruption

The pandemic has hit some organisations like a lightning bolt. It is vital for brands to insulate for similar challenges in the future, such as a second peak or virus mutation. Becoming genuinely omni-channel is a surefire way of being one step ahead of the changing landscape, ensuring customers have a range of purchase and contact channels.


The author(s)

  • Lorraine Rough Customer Experience
  • Katherine Shipton Customer Experience

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