As we come to the end of 2021, things are beginning to settle and we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel post-Covid. However, customer expectations, online shopping behaviour and certain eCommerce trends are set to stay for the long term.
One such trend — which was visible pre-Covid but is a must-have for businesses of all sizes now — is focusing on improving the customer experience or CX. With online stores facing more competition and customers with more choices than ever before, it’s becoming harder to stand out from the crowd and differentiate yourself as a business. While the differences in price and product quality can be negligible between your competition, (at least, in the consumer's view) delivering an exceptional customer experience can give businesses the opportunity to stand out in the marketplace.
So, what is customer experience, is it important and how can you improve the customer experience? We explore this below.
What is customer experience?
Customer experience — or client experience — is how a customer perceives your organisation through all of the touchpoints, interactions and engagements they have with you. While many think of CX as the customer experience on your website, it’s far more wide-reaching than this. It includes all elements of the customer journey — from seeing advertisements and hearing about your brand from friends, family and colleagues — to speaking to your customer service representative and shopping online. It also includes post-purchase interactions on social media, via live chat and experiences with your product or service.
Interestingly, CX isn’t 100% controllable by your business. In fact, brand perception can also form part of a customer's perceived experience with your brand. A missed reply, a damaged delivery or an uninterested customer service team member can easily transform a good customer experience into a poor one. Similarly, poor customer reviews or a peer’s bad personal experience with your brand could create a far-reaching negative brand perception.
Is CX important?
In short, yes. A good CX strategy drives customer satisfaction, creates a strong brand perception and image and impacts retention. However, creating a good experience for all those who interact with you can sometimes come at the expense of revenue or profit. While good CX drives sales and plenty of positives, it may impact cost by requiring higher packaging and shipping costs to meet a demand for next-day delivery, or the use of more expensive materials to keep your product premium.
Some of the benefits of good CX include:
- An increase in revenue and sales
- Improvements to customer loyalty rates
- Higher customer lifetime values (CLTV)
- More organic referrals and recommendations from happy customers
- Lower marketing costs
- A better brand image and public perception
- Customers who are more resilient to change
- More customer insights, feedback and reviews
- A reduction in customer complaints and cart abandonment.
10 ways to improve the customer experience
If you’re not sure where to get started when improving your CX, here are 10 ways to improve it.
Create brand intimacy
Brand intimacy is about creating a deep, emotional bond with your customers. This may be in the form of nostalgia (a brand they’ve grown up with), similar belief systems and values or a product that excels time and time again. Creating one-on-one relationships with your customers will undeniably improve their experience with you. And, loyal customers are also more resilient to change and one-off poor experiences, whereas one-off purchasers may quickly find a competitor brand to shop with.
By understanding your customers inside-out, meeting their needs and aligning yourself with their deeply-held beliefs and value systems, you can create a long-lasting bond between your business and your clients.
Meet (and exceed) ever-changing customer expectations
While Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation and technology adoption, customer expectations have increased at a similar rate. Brands that provided great online customer service, easy websites and fast shipping were seen to excel, while brands that didn’t adapt to the ‘new normal’ such as Arcadia quickly sank to the bottom.
Our Brand Perception Report found that customers now expect a consistent online shopping experience, with a whopping 41% saying they do not receive this from the brands they shop with at present. Interestingly, almost half (43%) of those surveyed said that their new online shopping habits — from the pandemic — are set to stay for the long term. And with that comes an ever-growing increase in customer expectations, often set by the multi-million-pound brand leaders.
Develop your digital customer service
Online customer service is key to a happy customer. Waiting several days for a reply to an email or sitting on hold for an hour is no longer acceptable in the eyes of the consumer, and near-immediate responses are expected in today’s world. In fact, our CX in Covid Report showed that the average service rating for brands dropped a massive 18.5% during the height of the pandemic, compared with 2019.
Further research of ours revealed that over one in five (21%) consumers said they value brands more if they offer customer service through social media platforms. HubSpot research published as far back as 2018 shows that customer patience wears thin at just 10 minutes. Around 90% of consumers told HubSpot that it is important or very important to receive an “immediate” response to a customer service question. The only way to reasonably facilitate this across a business is through the use of automated responses, chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Adopt AI & chatbots
While an undeniable CX trend for 2020 — for the aforementioned reasons — the popularity of chatbots and AI is only set to continue growing through the end of 2021 and beyond. Chatbots can create automated personalised experiences, solve simple issues, provide FAQs and give customers the near-instant replies that they now expect.
Another interesting application of AI and chatbots is in helping employees and staff work smarter rather than harder on priority tasks. Digital assistants can:
- Handle repetitive tasks
- Solve customer enquiries
- Follow workflows to solve complex customer issues
- Collect data and analytics that can be used to gain an improved customer understanding, particularly when it comes to frequent issues.
With AI and machine-learning algorithms learning at superfast rates, it’s not unreasonable to think that in 2022 we’ll see:
- Automated payments using voice and digital assistants
- An increase in sentimental and context analysis
- Improvements to hyper-personalisation in conversations
- More complexity in their capabilities
- Better performance and more natural use of language
- Multilingual chatbots.
Not only do chatbots make the customer experience easier, they also free up time for your team to work on more complicated customer enquiries and give customers more attention if a chatbot's responses don't do the trick. Using the data and insights collected by AI will help you to continuously improve customer experience, as long as you implement these regularly.
Perfect personalisation & hyper-personalisation
Personalisation has been key to great CX, but with some of the biggest brands globally setting the bar high, hyper-personalisation is another key trend to look out for. Hyper-personalisation delivers relevant information to marketing, communications or product usage, often through the use of AI-based tools.
If you’re not familiar with the term, a few household names do it really well: Amazon, Netflix and YouTube all deliver personalised experiences to each user based on a range of factors. Amazon uses AI, your data and your search history — as well as the shopping habits of other users — to suggest products that you might want to purchase, as well as how often you might need that product. Netflix and YouTube use a similar range of data to suggest personalised content and videos that you may enjoy. This isn’t based on cohorts, segments or guessing — this is based on your preferences as an individual.
We can now see this trend trickling down from multi-billion-dollar businesses to those with smaller budgets. British travel company Secret Escapes changes the background image of its landing page dynamically depending on the user’s search term into Google, leading to a 26% increase in sign-ups. Clothing retailers such as Pull&Bear and ASOS personalise their online experience based on advanced analytics, AI and customer insights. In the coming years, we can expect to see much more of this approach to creating a positive customer experience.
Lead with honesty, integrity and your values
Changes in consumer priorities, values and perspectives have also been accelerated by Covid-19. Our research shows that 57% of consumers believe companies should be socially and environmentally responsible, while almost three-quarters of those asked (74%) always consider a brand’s values before purchasing from them.
Other significant factors considered when buying are:
- Brands being passionate about the products or services they sell (34%)
- Sustainability ethics (33%)
- Transparency (33%)
Unethical practices are no longer ignored by the modern consumer. In fact, if disappointed by a company’s words or actions on a social or political issue, 74% of consumers say they would be less likely to purchase from that company. And 26% of shoppers said that they would stop buying from their favourite brand if it got into an ethical scandal.
Part of today’s marketing strategy for large businesses is mission-led marketing. This is a form of advertising and communication that leads with its values and beliefs in its marketing, rather than selling the product on its own. Studies have shown that mission-led brands grow up to 50% faster than their rivals.
Discover data-led decision making
While this is a trend that should be commonplace in 2021, data-driven decision making is crucial for businesses. Historically, some business decisions have been made based solely on the feelings or guesses of directors, CEOs or senior leadership teams. However, guesstimating is no longer an appropriate way of making business decisions.
With a wealth of customer information available, there’s no excuse not to use data to support decision making. Instead of making changes on the website or shopping experience based on instinct or gut feeling, there are plenty of free and paid tools out there to measure how customers use your website, why they abandon their carts and what encourages them to checkout.
Explore digital transformation
Similarly to point 7, digital transformation has undoubtedly accelerated during and post-Covid-19, with technology now a decade further on than it was in markets such as telemedicine and online eCommerce delivery.
Customer expectations mean faster responses, mobile-first experiences, digital interactions on all available platforms and a high standard of customer service. You also need to ensure your product or service delivery is on point. One key way of doing this is by integrating as much of your manufacturing or delivery process as possible and simplifying processes within your business using technology.
Create customer delight
Customer delight is about more than creating satisfied customers. Customer delight is about going above and beyond to exceed customer expectations, often in surprising ways. This may include a hyper-personalised experience, fast and instantly-accessible support or super-speedy product shipping. Or it could be including a surprise free sample, gift or a handwritten note with their package.
Try and go beyond the mark of what customers expect from the brands they shop with and deliver a unique and surprising experience to drive customer delight.
Optimise your post-purchase journey
So often, sales and marketing teams are focused on sales. But what happens post-purchase? You have the customer’s data and their preferences already, so why not utilise this? Sadly, your customer service team is often the only representation of your brand once they’ve purchased, with one-to-one communications and personalised ads swiftly switching off after this.
Optimise your post-purchase journey by sending segmented and targeted emails, reaching out on social media or checking in to see how they found their purchase and if there’s anything further you can do. Try to be reactive to your customer’s needs, rather than only available when there is something wrong and they need support.
Although the giants of eCommerce are leading the way, there are plenty of things that smaller businesses can do to improve the customer experience. Leading with honesty, having a customer-obsessed culture and harnessing technology to simplify processes can make the working lives of your team easier while delivering an enhanced experience to consumers.