Covid-19 has been the biggest game changer disrupting entire industries almost overnight. Many rules of the game – be it routine workplace operations, social distancing guidelines, customer facing “standard operating procedures'', complaints addressal systems, supply chain efficiencies or delays etc. – had to be rewritten and businesses had to work incessantly to realign with new realities.
The Retail and Wholesale industry was impacted in particular. Definite advantage in responding to effects of coronavirus was to those enterprises that were already equipped for rapid innovation in different workstreams of their business.
Customer experience has always been important; it is more important in Covid-19 times. New customer acquisition and existing customer retention are crucial pillars of customer experience. Research shows that existing customers buy more frequently and buy more each time than new customers. It is 4-6 times cheaper to sell to existing customers than it is to new customers. Organizations take pains to retain existing customers as they recommend your organization to other friends and family.
There has undoubtedly been an acceleration of digital transformation of business as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. However 2020 research from the Boston Consulting Group shows only 70 percent of initiatives are successful due to a lack of strategy, top down leadership, high quality talent, agile governance, progress monitoring and modern tech stack. To magnify the challenge,
Forrester has found that less than one-third of customer experience professionals say their businesses consider the impact to customer experience when making business decisions (Ref.: Kyle McNabb and Josh Bernoff: The CIO’s Blueprint For Strategy In The Age Of The Customer, September 12, 2014).
Retail and wholesale businesses keen to enable great customer experiences will soon realise their efforts may be hindered by legacy systems and siloed IT purchases aimed at improving only one part of the entire customer experience and requiring significant resources to maintain. This creates a bottleneck for companies to respond quickly to ever changing economic events and market opportunities, or to make holistic changes to transform their customer experience. It is imperative to acquire the right technology stack to enable delivery of great customer experiences, and also put an end to unsustainable IT practices that inhibit a company's inherent capability to innovate and transform.
How do you create customer experiences when so many companies are struggling to acquire new customers or failing to retain existing customers? It calls for developing a customer strategy aimed at retaining your existing customer base. Establishing the right technological foundation is crucial for achieving success in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. You need to adopt two pronged approach:
- Get rid of legacy systems that are the result of technology decisions made over years. As a result, there are siloed, on-premise, channel-specific solutions, cluttering technology platforms with islands of channel-specific data that prevent a cohesive customer experience across all touchpoints. While adopting many incremental siloed systems, this will not be a good long term solution.
- Replace with a unified system approach that creates a single source of truth for customer, order, inventory and promotion data. It is this seamless integration that will enable you to use this information in unique innovative ways to enable the brand experiences that your customers want.
For a long time, our customers have been demanding seamless and relevant brand experiences to move effortlessly between online and offline channels, from initial contact to purchase and beyond. Along the way, they expect you to know their interests and preferences, provide consistent, timely, relevant and personalised engagement, and have real-time access to their purchase and interaction history.
With a unified e-commerce platform in place, technology will no longer be a limiting factor. Delivering superb customer experience will mean that you no longer depend on technology providers to help you create and engage in new, disruptive ways. Businesses can take disruption into their own hands. With a single source of truth, you’ll provide consistent and relevant experiences across all customer touchpoints and sales channels. You will differentiate your brand by seamlessly moving with your customers from their desktop, to their smartphone, to your stores and to your call center. Shoppers will be provided with relevant, timely, personalised engagements. As an outcome, you will be able to give a unique brand experience to shoppers, gain their loyalty and be rewarded with their repeat purchases.
Awesome Customer Experience must be :
Consistent, Accurate, Timely & Relevant
Consistent: When customers engage with your brand, they don’t see channels. You need to engage with them in the same way on your website, their mobile device, in-store and when they contact your call centre or a sales representative. With a single version of customer, item and order data, you can deliver consistent engagements across all touchpoints and sales channels
Accurate: Lack of accuracy will lead to customers losing trust in your brand. Driving traffic to your website or encouraging in-store visits via email promotions for unavailable products will result in credibility loss. Instead, you need a single view of enterprise-wide inventory visibility to accurately plan and deliver to your customers.
Timely: Customers use multiple channels as they inquire, consider and purchase your products and services. With a 360-degree view of cross-channel customer information, you can deliver the right message at the right time on the right channel to engage customers throughout their purchasing journeys.
Relevant: Gone are the days of blasting the same email to everyone in your database. The engagements that a merchant has with customers must be based on what you know about someone. A single view of a customer’s purchasing preferences, as well as past purchase data, makes online and offline engagements relevant and personal.
When Does Customer Experience Break ?
When you ignore the fact that a customer experience problem is really a back-end problem. A seamless, consistent and personalised experience is not about which frontend, customer-facing systems you deploy. It is about having the right foundational back-end system in place to create a single source of truth for customer, order and inventory data.
The temptation to purchase the latest ecommerce or point-of-sale (POS) software may provide new features that slightly enhance channel experience, but they do not address your siloed channels and islands of data. Customers will still feel the disconnect of moving from one channel to another. Your customer service and sales associates or representatives will not have a complete, accurate and available picture of every customer across all of your touchpoints. And you will not gain the agility needed to meet ever-changing consumer expectations if you are constantly chasing front-end functionality.
A word of caution for you : expensive system integrations don’t work. Very large enterprises can afford to invest millions of dollars to integrate disparate systems across their operations to improve the customer experience. But even then, those integrations don’t deliver 100 percent accuracy to the customer or your business, and they are difficult and costly to maintain. When a single system requires a simple upgrade it creates a domino effect, requiring upgrades to all other systems.
Mukesh Mathur, a senior partner with BOD, has worked with and advised many of the world known companies like Godrej & Boyce, Spartek Ceramics India, Polaris Retail Infotech Ltd., Oracle India Pvt. Ltd., CogniTensor and Manthan Software and Services. His expertise lies in resolving complex multiple (involving sales, marketing, legal etc.) issues and building the highest level of relationships within enterprises. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org