Will retail customers ever want a tattoo of the Tesco logo?
The omnichannel? The customer journey? The end of customer loyalty? How about all of them mixed together with the suggestion that every strategic problem needed to be solved yesterday because the customers demand it and our clients are already working on it?
I was thinking about all of this recently because I’m going to be speaking at an event in London next week where I am focused on the future of the customer experience. Predicting how customers are going to behave in five years is quite a tall order. Think about how they used to behave back in 2010 and you can see what I mean – a lot has changed in a short period of time.
But the biggest problem is that so many people focus in on the trends that are changing retail and the customer experience and forget that many changes in customer behaviour are part of a bigger picture.
Think about developments in the retail customer experience space as being like an onion, with several layers that all influence the change we see all the time. There is a core where we see the technologies and trends that are changing the retail experience on the ground. These are areas such as augmented reality and apps – anything that has a clear impact on how customers can get information on products and interact with a brand in the near future.
Then there are changes in the actual customer service industry itself, or the process of the retail brand engaging with customers. Here we can see that supporting omnichannel service is now important, knowing the rapidly-changing customer journey is essential, and fast-changing contact centres are adopting new communication channels, but still serving more customers on voice than ever before.
Then there are organisational changes that are affecting retailers – and often companies in many other industries. How do companies need to change the essence of what they are and how they function in a world where customers call the shots? Gartner outlined a good example of this recently; the analyst firm suggested that companies create a Customer Experience Hub (CEH). The CEH should comprise every customer-facing function in your company. This means that you need to roll together functions like sales and marketing with customer service. It looks like some companies are going to face big structural changes if they want to follow this model.
Then finally, how society itself is changing. Think for a moment about how you communicated with friends a decade ago. You probably did not get your news from Twitter or arrange a night out on Facebook. You probably did not demonstrate your political views with online flags or swipe left and right searching for a partner. You probably had to write a CV if you were looking for a job, not just scan a professional online network and if you wanted to get a loan you went to the bank, not to an app.
These are fundamental changes. There has been a shift in the way that people communicate with each other and engage in other services in our personal or family life. It is obvious that these changes have affected the way that customers behave and any retailer trying to use techniques for marketing or service that worked a decade ago will know that they no longer work.
Rory Stark of customer service specialists, Teleperformance, illustrated this point in a recent blog where he used a Tom Fishburne cartoon to excellently portray how some retailers just don’t get it. They assume that by adopting some new social channels and posting a few online reviews they will be ahead of the curve, but sometimes the customer just wants to buy some chewing gum- they don’t want to engage with the gum company or the retailer. But the retailer needs to be smart enough to understand human communication to get this and not expect a like on Facebook from everyone passing through the door.
Of course it is possible to make some predictions about the future of the retail customer experience because there are leaders who are actively experimenting with new technologies. Any of the outliers can indicate what does and doesn’t work in the real world, but try spinning forward to a world where every retailer has a great multichannel offering and provides special offers using augmented reality or location-based intelligent offers-for-one. The only way to start attempting change beyond what we can assume now is to make predictions around how people and society will change.
My money in the mid-term is on the omnichannel, mobile payments, and the death of loyalty cards all rolling together to create an environment where customers are loyal to companies they regularly enjoy engaging with, not those who hand out useless points. This means that the CEH concept is crucial for retailers because engagement takes place at many points in the customer journey, yet great interactions at all stages in the customer relationship are vital for sales and loyalty.
We are used to ‘fans’ of brands like Nike and Harley Davidson, but soon there will genuinely be fans of Tesco and Marks & Spencer because of an engagement strategy that creates advocates, then fans. It’s sounds strange, but this engagement has already started. Customers with Tesco tattoos could be the future for retail.
What do you think is coming down the track for retail in 2016 and will loyalty ever move beyond points and cards? Leave a comment here or find me on www.markhillary.com or @markhillary on Twitter.
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