The Future of Retail Customer Engagement: event report
With myriad touchpoints in customers’ shopping journeys today, it is imperative that retailers intelligently handle each engagement in a unique way while also ensuring they provide a seamless experience across these points of interaction.
Speaking at the recent Retail Bulletin Future of Customer Engagement webinar, Danni Hunt, head of multi-channel campaigns at RedEye, suggested the post-pandemic environment is proving difficult for customers and brands and that how they handle communications across the touchpoints is vitally important.
Setting the tone
“Brands have resource challenges, supply chain issues and limited marketing budgets but there are things they can do and the key is communication – and messages need to be delivered if there are any issues. Not just emails but it could be SMS. But it’s very important they get the tone right. And when things are going well then communicate positive reviews from advocates,” she says.
With limited resources Hunt suggests a solution for retailers is automating their communications: “If a brand is struggling with staff then automation is the best solution, marketing communications could be automated – tailored by timing, content and channel. Once it’s set up then it does it all the hard work for you.”
Alex Mead, executive director of customer service experience at GCC startup, cautions that using automation including chatbots and artificial intelligence should only be undertaken in conjunction with a CRM platform.
Understanding the customer
“You need to be able to see that a customer looked at a product or they researched something and this [knowledge] should then be used to communicate with them. At the moment lots of this activity is in silos. Retailers need a customer-centric vision for the lifecycle journey of the customer,” he explains.
Filip Janczak, marketing manager at Bluebella, agrees there should be careful management of automated interactions because if there are too many then the customer could be pushed away and equally if there are too few then the customer could again be lost through lack of contact. The channel through which communications are made is very important for Bluebella, and its product category of lingerie, and it finds social media a primary route for engagement.
“Research on your customers is important. With Gen Z’s it’s TikTok where they spend time and for Millennials it’s Facebook and Instagram. If you don’t do the research then you could be in the wrong place looking for customers,” says Filip.
Shetal Bhatt, senior director – retail customer at Sixt, says there is also the issue of dealing with a low frequency of engagement in certain categories, including car hire. “It’s a challenge at Sixt and we’re trying to do forecasting. We want to keep front-of-mind with our customers so we’re looking for triggers or cues. I find people are habitual and book holidays at the same time and so we can use this previous experience. Also people move houses and their kids go to University and this can also be a trigger for car hire. You can find the triggers for even low frequency [purchases].”
Highly valued human interaction
Bhatt acknowledges the car rental market is price sensitive and often it is the level of customer service that is the determining factor behind a transaction. Scott Minihane, senior enterprise sales manager at Infinity, says an important part in delivering the necessary service levels for many people is human interaction and he has found phone calls have not only played a vital role during lockdowns but that their value has continued to be recognised.
“It’s not necessarily the last leg of a purchase, it could equally be used during another part of the customer journey. The call will play a key role in confirming something. It will continue to play a role. Research shows 78% of people still want personal interaction when they make a purchase,” he explains.
Stores return to playing major role
This is certainly the belief of Schweta Pamula, European category & campaign insights manager at Samsung Electronics, who says: “The role of stores is changing. Obviously we’ve been through the pandemic and retailers pivoted to online, with lots of businesses having done work, and they don’t want to go back to thinking about stores but omni-channel is now creeping back again. People are now hungry for experiences and it is impacting commerce. People have gone back into stores for what they can’t get online – inspiration, to look and feel, and advice.”
Desi Reuben-Sealey, senior manager for UX at Victorinox, agrees stores are back playing an important role: “Consumers did jump into the digital world but they are now going back to stores. At Victorinox we’re showing customers ways they can get the most out of a hybrid experience but the perception of the brand has to be the same across the channels.”
Pamula says it is important to understand what customers are looking for at each touchpoint across the various channels they are using. “With a technology customer online they might just want a specification whereas with beauty it might be customer experiences and validation. Store are more complicated and you need to see what customers engage with and the questions they ask of staff,” she says.
From these interactions data will have been generated and customer insights can be gleaned. Steve Webster, e-commerce director at Liwa Stores (UAE), says that even with small budgets it is possible to generate insights. At Liwa Stores he says a simple contact form has been introduced to the customer service team who seek to determine the primary drivers for the customer contact. It has also implemented a simple exit survey that could ask questions like what stopped the customer from buying today.
Minihane also recognises the benefits of gaining such insights, from phone calls in the case of Infinity. “To understand the engagement it’s important to have insights from the call. If there is a high percentage of calls or if they are related to high value transactions then we can capture which channels have driven the phone call and prompted the purchase. We can capture the enriched conversation and turn it into insights,” he says.
From these insights action can then be taken to improve the business especially, when they are related to customer issues. Webster says the process at Liwa is to “measure, test, measure, refine and repeat. “It’s all about actionable insights. Take the insight, document it, and implement plans. Customers will be vocal when there is a problem so identify the biggest issues and create a matrix from the customer complaints and set priorities accordingly. It’s an ongoing process.
If you would like to revisit the event, we have posted the two sessions HERE
Words by Glynn Davis