How Retailers Can Earn an A+ in CX This Back-to-School Shopping Season
The back-to-school (BTS) shopping season is well underway — thanks in part to Amazon Prime Day — with 29 million households across the U.S. planning to spend a total of $27.6 billion on supplies in 2018.
The BTS season is the second biggest shopping season of the year (after the holiday shopping season, which brought in $1 trillion in retail sales in 2017), and presents a huge opportunity for retail businesses to capitalize on the increased volume of consumers that will be exposed to their brand. From millennials and Gen Xers to mobile and in-store shoppers, there are a range of customer profiles and preferences that brands will need to consider. So how can retailers step up to the plate and meet the evolving needs of today’s shoppers?
Below are the top three considerations brands need to keep in mind to ensure customer satisfaction over the course of the BTS shopping season and beyond.
Your Staff Can Make or Break Your Brand Reputation. Train and Arm Them With Tools for Success.
In-store shopping is expected to dominate this season, with 57 percent of BTS spend anticipated to take place in-store. Although adoption of automation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other emerging technologies is increasing, the role of in-store employees will grow increasingly significant as they become equipped to leverage technology to improve in-store customer experience (CX). For example, companies like Guess are integrating technology into their brick-and-mortar stores by equipping associates with iPads to help them push out product information, search inventory, or order "out of stock" items for customers. As these tools become increasingly integrated to streamline in-store CX, employee training must be a top priority for retail brands.
A great way to ensure that employees are receiving personalized training that's tailored to their individual roles and responsibilities is to offer on-demand learning opportunities in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses), which have proven to help businesses identify an employee’s understanding of concepts like customer service. Providing training tools that are accessible across multiple platforms offers your employees a constant resource to utilize for a refresh ahead of busy shopping seasons. What’s more, your employees will value the flexibility that these training tools offer and, in turn, will be that much more committed to applying their learnings on-site.
Alternatively, in retail it's especially beneficial for managers to offer situational training so that employees are prepared to handle a range of potential customer interactions or inquiries. The hope here is that in-store staff will be armed with the knowledge and resources to handle all possible customer questions, issues or requests. During BTS shopping season, it would be advantageous for employees to anticipate select products that are most likely to be shopped for and ensure that they're aware of product descriptions, prices, where those SKUs are stocked, and when they’ll need to be re-ordered to fill shelf space.
Of course, there are interactions that cannot be anticipated, but proactive training is the best way to ensure employees are as prepared as possible.
While the majority of consumers are expected to execute purchases in-store this BTS shopping season, they’re sale-spotting, browsing websites and collecting coupons on their mobile devices first. Retailers must be cognizant of these shopping behaviors and prepare accordingly.
To develop an omnichannel shopping experience that works, brands need to create a digital presence that's tailored to their customers’ online shopping behaviors, keeping in mind that the final purchase is likely to be made in-store. With that, it’s critical that a strong in-store presence is maintained to fulfill the needs of customers that prefer to make purchases in person. The biggest challenge is understanding those differing customer behaviors. For example, one shopper might be more willing to turn to a chatbot for assistance with an order, while another might prefer to call the customer service line for help with an exchange. Accommodating these opposing preferences will require brands to become more flexible in the amount of options they offer to reach the same outcome.
The Home Depot is a great example of a company that's reacting to consumer behaviors online and strengthening its digital presence without sacrificing the in-store experience. The home improvement retailer recently partnered with Pinterest to help consumers browse and shop the home products they pin online while preparing and training in-store employees to be able to transition the conversation from online to in-store. While traditionally not a BTS shopping retailer, brands can learn a thing or two from The Home Depot.
Automation Needs the Human Touch
Relationships that are grounded in empathy and emotion are the backbone of successful customer experiences. New tech like chatbots are great tools for brands to leverage as an alternative engagement option for consumers, however, it’s important to remember that thoughtful human interpretation and integration are essential to the success of these tools. In fact, despite advances in chatbot technology, 43 percent of consumers still say they would rather communicate with an associate over a chatbot. Therefore, it's critical that brands offer an array of options for their shopping audience.
Simon Malls did an excellent job of using chatbot services to supplement in-store staff by automating processes like giving directions and sharing information about deals and discounts. With the introduction of its “concierge” chatbot, employees can focus exclusively on customer service and experience. The brands that are able to integrate new technology into their business model while investing in employee training and development will succeed in meeting customer expectations as well as reacting accordingly as they continue to evolve.
Anticipating the needs of your shoppers is essential to finding success this BTS season. For retailers, this means recognizing the need for automated systems and a strong digital presence without sacrificing your most important asset as a business: your employees.
Pete Weaklend is the senior vice president of global solutions and innovation at Sitel Group, a customer experience management company.
Related story: Your Omnichannel Guide to a Successful Back-to-School Season
Pete Weaklend is the senior vice president of global solutions and innovation at Sitel Group. Leveraging his 20-plus years of customer service and contact center design and delivery experience, Pete directs a global design team that's focused on the creation and implementation of transformational business solutions to optimize the customer experience.