Jeremy Osborne, Strategic Account Manager at Infobip SADC, says consumer behaviour is comfortably and continuously adapting in response to factors such as fluctuating income, time availability, social distancing restrictions and overall decrease in availability of in-person service provision. All this has irrevocably affected the time people spend online and how they engage with brands.
As consumer behaviour continues to change due to the impact the global Covid-19 pandemic has had both on business and individuals – retailers are increasingly having to position themselves to provide omnichannel services that can meet these evolving digital consumer expectations.
Retailers – almost by default – are having to embrace omnichannel services such as contactless payment, social commerce and virtual consultations by adding channels that help facilitate these activities.
A recent report by Accenture, titled New Era in Customer Engagement, reveals that 71% of consumers surveyed reported spending more time online during the Covid-19 crisis, with 76% expecting this behaviour to continue post-pandemic.
It is thus evident that a digital retail strategy has become the default, and the emergence of the new digital customer profile is fast becoming the mainstay for customer attraction and retention. However, these profiles will require ongoing analysis to maintain the right mix of customer sales and services channels for individual consumers.
Shift in customer interaction
In recent times, we’ve seen a huge shift in customer interaction volumes and the types of transactions over these engagement channels. Concurrently, the timeline for developing deeper relationships with consumers is significantly compressed and demonstrating empathy through digital channels has become the standard during difficult times.
Essentially, the Customer Experience (CX) has evolved into a partnership, with consumers no longer simply purchasing products and walking away. They now expect brands to listen to what they want, anticipate their needs in some instances and they expect to buy ‘an experience’ from every brand they engage with. However, while delivering a great experience will indeed get you a long way, consumers also expect more purposeful interactions with retailers.
Like never before, consumers can evaluate the CX, meaning that businesses have to rethink their operations, especially as most organisations are moving to digital platforms. The requirement to adapt to customer needs is therefore becoming truly essential.
Managing the customer journey and making sure that it responds to changes in customer dynamics, as well as ensuring that brand interaction becomes an experience, is key for organisations to successfully prepare for a digital future.
Dominance of personalisation
This is a clear trend that is emerging in the customer journey. Most consumers want to feel as though brands know them and what they want. Increasingly, personalisation tactics are being employed by retailers to stand out from their competitors and to tailor the experience around the customer.
As a result, we are seeing a rise in a multi-channel customer engagement approach, as consumers expect a fully connected experience and to be reached on the channels of their choice. Offering cheaper items or faster delivery times is no longer the main differentiator for retailers. A new wave of customer demand and expectation has emerged and organisations need to manage this. Automation is therefore becoming increasingly important.
As retailers continue to pivot towards online trading and lockdown restrictions are limiting the number of staff on the ground, we are seeing a growth in automation. Retailers are innovating with chatbots, digital shopping assistants and self-service technologies that are all taking centre stage to empower customers and reduce physical contact.
Omnichannel-based retail strategy
An omnichannel-based retail strategy is becoming central to delivering a cross-channel organisational approach to marketing, sales and customer service that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience. This experience must be delivered – no matter how, when or where a customer reaches out to a brand.
Adopting an omnichannel strategy allows businesses to be available on every channel, underpinned by an engagement hub that provides for the easy addition of digital channels as needed.
At the same time, many organisations struggle to create a comprehensive strategy in order to generate and promote a meaningful personalisation that will result in a lasting relationship. Many retailers face challenges in relation to skills and costs yet have no choice but to respond to customer expectations or risk losing them.
These organisations need to look for partners in the digital transformation space that can offer an all-in-one solution, simplify deployment and reduce operating costs, while delivering a simple, secure and personalised engagement solution.
It is important that organisations realise that simply investing in CX technology does not guarantee success. A proper engagement and implementation strategy will ensure early and sustainable return on investment and the successful rollout of transformation initiatives. Digital transformation is a continuous process, and the right technology partner is central to getting it right.