“Customer is the KING”, this statement has never been truer.
The digitization of communication has pivoted the customer to the centre stage as never before. Social media and its power to sway opinions have turned the tables for organizations. Whether an outreach program or customer grouse handling, they have had to change and adapt at a fast pace. The innumerable options in brands, channels of purchase, constant information barrage, reviews, opinions have resulted in shorter customer attention and fickle loyalties.
Digitization, today, is the catalyst of the marketing and communication mix. Thus, to a large extent defines the experience of the customer.
While digitization has been happening for the last few years, the escalation during the pandemic was unprecedented. It went beyond just communications. Businesses had to quickly adapt and digitize the very operations to keep the show running. Work from home necessitated digitizing internal communication, online selling forced the operations to digitize.
The increased adoption of digitization and associated platforms does not mean that the offline space and communication is dead. Research shows that companies, who supported their online initiatives with physical stores by offering facilities like order online or via phone or WhatsApp and pick-up at the stores or avail a curb side pick-up, witnessed a higher increase in sales.
Customers today love the convenience of being able to browse, evaluate and shop from their phones. At the same time, they are social beings and love the in-person experience of engaging, browsing, bargaining and making a purchase.
Long story short, for a retailer, the lines between online-offline retail have blurred. Retailers need to have robust, smoothly functioning multi-channel presence that offers a superlative customer experience at every touch-point.
It needs to be a seamless customer experience, as they move from one channel to the other in their purchase journey – right from browsing, product research, and point of transaction, receiving the product and returns or aftercare. The story does not end at the seamless experiences; it goes a step further, customers today demand a tailored experience that fits them. The competitive edge may not essentially mean having an edge in your offerings but the quality of customer experience.
Poor customer experience will turn them away while a delightful customer experience will go a long way in building customer loyalty and advocacy.
Thus to elevate the customer experience here are some other technologies that retailers are adopting:
• The integration of Blockchain technology which helps data security, enable cheaper and faster transaction, allows for supply chain tracking, channel expansion, new payment methods, and after-sale services. Some of the companies that were quick to adopt this technology are Walmart and Amazon.
• Virtual and augmented reality is another set of tool that helps enhance the customer experience. Virtual technology empowers consumers to experience and select products without touching them. A great perk in the trying times we are in now. This technology has helped build confidence in online selling, especially for higher ticket items. Virtual and augmented reality has taken personalization to a new level enabling and engaging that has helped dramatically increase sales.
• In many countries, experiments are on with Robotic Store Assistants in the retail industry to elevate the customer experience. Robotic assistants also called bots, walk with the customer as they browse the store. They answer the customer queries nad help them find the right product. Their in-built AI enables real-time learning, making them capable of giving answers to a wide variety of questions. They also track stock levels and keep tabs on fast-moving items and communicate back to the supply chain team in real-time; resulting in more efficient stocking and better availability of products.
• Using Artificial Intelligence to tailor the customer experience is another step in personalizing the experience. AI works both ways - at one end works at understanding customer interest and needs and serving their content and products that align with that, and on the other hand, feeding its findings and learning of requirements of the thousands of users to generate unique demands for the business. It highlights effective supply chain planning and accurate demand forecasting.
No matter how well-oiled your touchpoints maybe but lack of product availability will ruin the experience. Hence, efficiency in the supply chain is another element to address. Having an ERP is a must. Other than that, several technologies have emerged on the Internet of Things which have gone a long way in helping build flexibility, improve services, and distribution to multiple channels. Automation of inventory management improves the relationship between customers and retailers. It betters the logistics tracking helping augment the experience.
Therefore, to summarize, there is no questioning that there is a drift in the customer purchase journey. The retailers today need to focus on delivering the right customer experience, value proposition, allow customers an anywhere-everywhere access, have a multi-channel presence, follow the customer on his/ her purchase journey, allow for two-way communication and nurture customer loyalty.