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Review: Future of Retail Customer Engagement event

During the radical upheaval brought about by Covid-19 retailers have increasingly recognised the value of talking to their customers and using this feedback as a key… View Article


Review: Future of Retail Customer Engagement event

During the radical upheaval brought about by Covid-19 retailers have increasingly recognised the value of talking to their customers and using this feedback as a key element in boosting engagement with their shopper base as behaviours continue to change.

Speaking at The Retail Bulletin Future of Retail Customer Engagement 2021 webinar recently Alice Hawcroft, group client director for ecommerce & Argos at Nectar360, highlighted how the company sources feedback from “the guys on the front-line who talk to the customers” rather than relying on the beliefs of the team at head office.

Importance of the customer voice

“You can’t ignore the voice of the customer. There is so much competition, it’s important to connect to the customers. It’s all about what the customers say and the data,” she says.

Susan Connolly, sales & marketing manager at Connolly Spar, agrees: “Customers are at the centre of what we do. Feedback from them has driven the company in new directions.” To help generate this feedback the company has implemented the smiley face kiosks from Happy Or Not that asks customers to rate the service level during their store visit.

This very simple mechanic has helped the retailer keep its ratings above 90% because as soon as they slip below then Connolly matches the timing of the low ratings with CCTV footage and from this can generally ascertain the cause of the problem and address the issue. For instance, after CCTV showed insufficient tills were causing issues on Friday afternoons when ratings hit lows she brought more staff members in at those times and gave the team new headsets that enables additional employees to be called onto the tills when needed.

Seek out feedback across channels

Michele Aarons, customer success manager for EMEA at Happy Or Not, says: “Retailers have benefited the most when they’ve given a voice to customers. Our solution provides various ways to receive feedback including the physical smileys and a virtual version for use at other touchpoints such as online, at the point of delivery, and when dealing with the call centre. This helps give a better impression of [overall] customer service levels.”

This communication with customers is very much at the heart of the Astrid & Miyu business that talks to them across various formats. Sarah Hrywnak, head of marketing & ecommerce at Astrid & Miyu, says: “We have polls, ask questions, and speak to customers about issues and what they want. We then action this and give them feedback. During lockdown we asked our customers how they feel and this gained their trust. For loyalty you have to build on trust and to be conversational.”

Referrals rather than loyalty programmes

Astrid & Miyu has built a cult with a community following with customers advocating the brand on social media. For Mark Choueke, marketing director at Mention Me, such recommendation of a company by its customers is so much more powerful than any traditional loyalty programme because “people don’t shop for points”.

“Often people are just being loyal to a loyalty programme. In contrast, where somebody has referred a brand multiple times then they are probably loyal and any new customer who has been referred by them is five-times more likely to refer it themselves. Referral programmes are therefore good for retention and acquisition,” he explains.

This interaction with people is vital for validation, according to Farrukh Iftikhar, sales director for intelligent self-service within EMEA at Verint, who says the trust in online ratings has gone down and people prefer to look for validation from a human. But this does to preclude some automation – including chatbots – being used to deliver this validation. He says AI is now a consideration for retailers when building such solutions.

Taking care with technology and data

But he cautions that care must be taken: “There are many reasons preventing companies from using AI and one is that they’ve seen some companies use it and not been impressed. The problem is that when you delve a bit deeper you find many of these solutions are not really AI. The real AI solutions are fantastic as they understand human language. The dumb bots are not AI.”

One of the key problems with implementing such solutions is a lack of commitment to data-driven customer experience strategies from the leaders of retailers. Andrew Mann, managing partner at North Bailey, says: “The board is not really buying it yet. They are not fully aligned behind doing it properly. The FD says let’s do customer service [for their objectives] or the marketing director say let’s improve the NPS. The only time it cuts through is when they are aligned, it’s simple, and there is a goal.”

He suggests the most important element is “starting with the outcomes” you wish to achieve and then working backwards from there. Retailers can then expand out from this point having delivered returns. “Start small and scale quickly,” says Mann.

Mapping out customer journeys

Andy Stockwell, chief commercial officer at RedEye, very much recommends this approach when mapping out customer journeys to improve the experience and bring in more personalisation.

“You need to understand how customers interact with you. People’s needs and wants have changed during Covid-19 and so retailers need to constantly change their interactions and to also personalise as much as possible. Some of our clients have thousands of potential journeys mapped out and it’s about predicting the next stage of the individual customer’s journey. Predict when then they are about to lapse rather than having to win them back when they’ve gone. It’s best to start small, find out what’s working, and get the returns from this.”

This is an area Matthew Lawson, chief digital officer at Ribble Cycles, has studied carefully and for the high-end products of Ribble the use of relevant content at specific points along the customer journey is deemed critical.

Content is king

“It’s a considered purchase so we need to understand the context and the journey at every stage. And to have the content in the right places. This content can often come across as real-time [interactions] such as the instant access the online customers have to the sales agents in our showrooms,” he says.

Lawson explains that the company saw the opportunity to leverage the Ribble agents in-store by connecting them via video with customers at home so they can answer any questions they might have. “They can achieve 60% higher average order values versus the traditional web journey transactions. Engagement has skyrocketed since it was introduced. It’s a brand immersive experience,” explains Lawson.

This mixing of channels to deliver a richer overall experience is a trend noticed by Ben Stirling, MD for Northern Europe at Webloyalty, who says many businesses accumulated lots of data on their customers during Covid-19 and now that physical venues have largely all reopened there is an opportunity to use this information to deliver a better in-store experience.

Post-pandemic behaviours

Stirling also believes some of those online experiences forced upon people during lockdown will continue post-pandemic. The acceleration of online sales is a recognised phenomenon but he also predicts that organised online events like group alcohol tastings will continue and that online self-improvement courses will still feature post-pandemic for the many people who have gained time back from not having to do their commute.

What we don’t want to see though is a continuation of the polarised behaviour of shoppers, according Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, who says that while one cohort of people remain grateful to customer service personnel in shops for their valiant efforts during Covid-19 there is another group who are “not treating people with respect”.

After undertaking research the ICS recently launched its ‘Service with Respect’ initiative that seeks to address the issues of abuse to customer service employees. This is especially important because Causon says 61% of the UK workforce is in such roles and that as many as 50% of these individuals has faced some form of abuse.

Words By Glynn Davis

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