It’s no surprise that when consumer money and time are stretched thin, they are more likely to re-evaluate their spending habits and approach purchasing decisions with more scrutiny.
The brands able to offer an easy, convenient, and meaningful experience – on top of a great product and good value – stand the best chance of maintaining customer loyalty. As we approach what would ordinarily have been a manic couple of months for retailers, with Black Friday and Christmas on the way, how can brands continue to attract customers and maintain sales, despite some concerning predictions for retail performance this year?
The most wonderful time of the year?
Fuelled by global uncertainty at the moment, the Ipsos’ Global Consumer Confidence Index, published in September, stood at 45.7. Down 0.4 points when compared to August. This is the lowest recording since April 2021, with the Ipsos Expectations Index also declining for the 11th consecutive month and now sitting at its lowest point since December 2020.
For brands, this declining consumer confidence comes at a time when they face several significant challenges, including supply chain disruption and sky-rocketing operating costs. And these challenges have the potential to be magnified through the lens of the holiday shopping season.
Many brands have started their holiday season preparations early this year. Some retailers were looking to sell leftover spring and summer inventory by starting discounts or sales early, while others anticipated that customers – inspired by concern over possible supply chain delays – would be looking to get ahead on their Christmas shopping to ensure that gifts arrived in time.
This holiday shopping jumpstart may already be impacting contact centers through increased query volume or product returns. Add to this the stress that retailers are facing over increased competition for a possibly smaller share of wallets and this may be the recipe for a winter of discontent.
However, those retailers who aim to provide exceptional customer experience (CX) and demonstrate real value to their customers can survive this perfect storm and likely still thrive while weathering it.
Transparency is key
In the current retail landscape, brands should prioritize good communication and transparency as top CX goals. After the last two years, customers likely understand that supply chain issues could lead to delays or impact the level of service a brand can offer. Proactive communication and gentle reminders about these issues now can go a long way to help mitigate customer frustration later.
Retailers should not wait for customers to reach out about delayed orders. If brands anticipate any issues or delays, that possibility should be communicated to the customer as soon as possible. Taking the reactive approach here increases the likelihood of hearing from frustrated customers. As retailers approach a notoriously busy time of year, an influx of calls from customers wondering about order status automatically puts the contact center under strain and diverts agent attention away from more complex issues.
With customer satisfaction and loyalty at stake, automation is essential. Automating communications about order status across channels – like a text message or email notification when the order has been processed and shipped – gives a customer peace of mind about their purchase and can help divert inbound contact volume, so agents aren’t fielding tons of “where’s my order?” queries. Should the order be delayed, updates with a new timeline can be automatically shared across the same channels. Customers who feel informed about order fulfillment issues will likely continue to view the retailer they purchased from as an ally on the journey, not an adversary who might receive some of the blame.
Creating a great customer experience
The cost of acquiring new customers is significantly higher than maintaining existing ones. Even in times of economic uncertainty, if a customer already has loyalty to a brand and believes that the brand delivers a good service or product, they will support that brand.
Retailers who recognize that keeping existing customers happy and engaged needs to be a top priority will ultimately see their share of customer loyalty grow, even in competitive retail spaces and during challenging phases.
There are a number of contact center principles and tools brands can employ to create the kind of CX that not only wins a share of wallet today but also ensures continued brand loyalty tomorrow.
Empower customers with self-service options
Being able to deal with a query or issue effectively is essential, but it does require well-trained agents. Over the holiday season, this becomes more challenging for brands as they hire temporary staff on short-term contracts. Through the deployment of specialist technology, a number of vital steps within the customer journey can be automated or resolved by the customer via self-service tools such as AI-powered voice and chatbots.
Agent assist technology
When a brand is anticipating higher demand, they will likely ramp up the number of new agents working within the contact center. These agents will, of course, go through various stages of training. However, these seasonal agents are unlikely to develop the kind of long-term knowledge of the brand and products that a seasoned, tenured agent might have.
Agent-assist technology has been designed to guide agents through each customer interaction in real time, suggesting the most appropriate responses or course of action. Not only can this improve brand consistency, but it also reduces the likelihood of error or poor customer service because agents – no matter their tenure at the contact center – have an array of tools at their disposal. Armed with this support and guidance, new agents should be able to resolve queries as quickly as their more experienced counterparts.
Continuously reviewing the quality of customer interactions and how well each agent manages them is critical to effective contact center management. Are all agents reflecting the brand voice? Are there areas where gaps in product knowledge are obvious? Does customer sentiment analysis reflect that customers are happy with the service they receive?
Introducing quality management features into contact center operations helps senior leaders identify areas for improvement and enhanced training, it also ensures agents feel supported as they deepen their brand knowledge and CX skill set.
Bridging the gap between in-store and online
Technology can help bridge the gap between in-store and online interactions, which has never been more important. It’s becoming increasingly common for customers to order a product online only to realize that it’s unsuitable or not quite what they had in mind. For ease, those customers might seek to return purchases in-store rather than re-packing and posting back to a warehouse facility.
For retailers, this can create added complexity. Brands must ensure those customer interactions are synced across all platforms and the digital divide. Customers will expect to arrive in-store with an unwanted item and be greeted by a store associate who has access to all details about that order, records of any previous conversations between the customer and the contact center, the customer’s history with the brand, and who can process the return or exchange transaction. Bridging the gap between online and in-store activity allows retailers to offer the kind of seamless journey that customers expect.
Hope for the holidays
While there’s no denying that this holiday season might not be the winter retail wonderland of past years, there will still be shoppers looking to make purchases – albeit with a more cautious approach to parting with their cash and more discerning standards. The retailers that are prepared to offer exceptional CX that prioritizes transparency and omnichannel communication will lead in the battle for share of the wallet and solidify the brand loyalty that can see them through the peaks and valleys of the customer journey.