I don’t go to a store looking for a product these days. What’s more, it occurred to me a couple of years ago that I no longer Google products that I want to buy; I “Amazon” them. I suspect many of you do the same.
In many ways, Amazon-ing products is a result of the digital transformation. We have stores where we can purchase things, and then we have their online channels where we are buying things also. However, the experiences are entirely different and have different Customer Experiences. Moreover, I have different expectations from these experiences. I suspect many of you do, too.
We discussed the digital transformation and its effect on Customer Experience in our recent podcast. The retail landscape is changing and with it comes new challenges for the emotional experience. We spoke with Amit Sharma, CEO of Narvar and consultant to brands like Apple, Levi’s and Walmart, about how to keep up the emotional engagement with your customers even when interacting through technology.
Sharma is an expert on how to build lifelong relationships with consumers after they have made a purchase. Consumers are smart, and they expect to interact with brands across channels. They want to be able to walk into a store and get what they need. However, they also want to have a similar experience online.
Unfortunately, Sharma says too many organizations don’t have a deliberate experience online as they do in their brick and mortar stores. It is in these areas retailers neglect the emotional connections with their customers and where the friction between retailers and customers starts. In other words, they don’t think about the end-to-end customer journey, especially on the digital channels, and it’s creating problems in their overall Customer Experience.
In the Online Environment, Building Trust Means Anticipating Customer Needs
In many ways, it starts with the gap between payment and consumption that occurs in an online purchase. For example, when I buy something at a store, I pay, and I leave with the item—and if it’s food or beverage, I might already be consuming it. It is instant gratification. However, when I buy something online, I pay, and then I wait for it to arrive, and there it is, the gap. No instant gratification.
Sharma says we need to reach across this gap and make that connection. Managing emotions is crucial at this point. Sharma says at this moment, the gap, is when retailers need to continue to work on that trust and credibility across the internet.
Also, Sharma says whether that is a large or small online transaction, the retailer must also remember that the online purchase shifts the responsibility of the “overhead” from the retailer to the consumer. The consumer feels responsible for finding and tracking their order. Customers begin to ask themselves questions like:
● When am I going to get it?
● Do I need to be at home?
● Can I return it if I don’t like it?
Sharma says online retailers are not doing enough to address these customer questions after a purchase is made. He wants to see more brands build trust at this moment by relieving anxiety and anticipating these concerns. Communicate early and often about these areas. Doing so will help build trust between the consumer and the brand.
The Remarkable Significance of Authenticity
Customers have many choices. The options available allow people to use brands to express themselves, their individuality, by the choices they make with their purchases.
Retailers have to be genuine about who they are and take a stand for it. Brands should define their values to attract customers who want to use their brands as a reflection of the values customers have themselves. We call this authenticity.
For example, Patagonia is excellent at authenticity. They have a substantial commitment to environmentalism. In fact, they give 1% of their revenue to organizations that work to conserve and protect the environment. Also, they connect individuals with grassroots organizations in their area that are working on environmental issues.
So, their advertising message supports this value, including an email that went out a few years back that implored its recipients not to buy their product. Ostensibly, consumers were not to buy it to reduce the environmental footprint that clothing production creates.
Of course, Patagonia wants to sell jackets, so this was really an ad designed to get the message out that environmentalism is essential to their organization. They are trying to attract customers that will buy their jackets because they feel the same way.
Per the email marketing manager at the time, Steve Wages, the reverse psychology of the ad worked. Sales of the jacket were good.
Patagonia is making an authentic desire to be environmentally cautious the emotional connection with customers that makes them a customer for life. And they did it with an online purchase.
What Retailers Should Do to Improve Their Online CX
Sharma has some excellent advice for retailers that will help them create an emotional connection with their customers through digital channels. They include:
- Connect with shoppers: In-person is different than online for obvious reasons. You know that personal connections between people happen with emotions. Examine how your digital interaction can facilitate a personal relationship, whether that’s a follow-up call from a call center with congratulations, and next-step chat, or an email with pertinent links for post-transaction information, to name a few. These connections are crucial to establishing a relationship in a technology-driven transaction.
- Determine what services drive people to you: It’s a hyper-competitive world for organizations today. You should look for services that will differentiate you from the competition that can encourage people to your site or store. An example is how the retailer Nordstrom’s provides customers with free alterations to get an optimal fit for their new garment. Another example could be a return to store option for the online channel. Target takes online purchases back at their retail locations, for example.
- Be proactive with communication: When you know common concerns that customers have, don’t wait for them to reach out to you. It’s perhaps even better if you have a problem, like a transit delay or a lost order. Volunteering the information and tools to help them “mind the gap” between a purchase and receipt of their goods will help customers trust you and make an emotional connection to your brand.
Digital transformation on the Customer Experience is a fact of life for retailers today. How retailers respond is vital to their competitive differentiation. Brands that navigate the expectations of customers will create the emotional engagement that fosters customer loyalty and retention, whether it’s in-person or online. However, if a brand’s digital experience fails to deliver, I, for one, will look for other options. I suspect many of you will do the same.
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Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX