As we approach the end of the year's first quarter, now is a good time for retailers to consider the trends that will impact their businesses in 2019 and beyond. One exciting trend crossing all segments of retail is the renewed focus on the human connection — i.e., building authentic relationships, stimulating community connections, and creating moments of immediate value for consumers.
Demand for Authentic Human Connection is Intensifying
More and more retailers understand that sole reliance on a digital and technology-first strategy is insufficient to drive a loyal relationship. Brands should now prioritize investments that capitalize on the resurgence of human connection to resonate with current and new consumers.
Here are three ways retailers can bring to life the human connection:
- Invest in the right skills for brick-and-mortar, call center and client-facing resources. During the era of technology investment, many retailers scaled back on how human training was delivered and taught. Canned digital training, podcasts, and mandatory corporate vocational-centric training became commonplace, and HR departments used circa 2000 curricula. Today, the top skills required to drive authentic human brand connection are relationship skills, the ability to create a small “wow” moment at each interaction, and the ability to follow through and follow up with genuine care for the customer's need or desire. To nurture these skills, training should be delivered in person or by utilizing a combination of in-person facilitation and digital assets with powerful sensory experiences.
- Create “Sense of Place” through every channel. In the world of omnichannel strategy, an important thread is the “sense of place” that a brand weaves through each interaction. Most retailers have an online experience, a call-center experience, an Instagram experience, an app experience, or an in-person experience that doesn't consider how shoppers progress through the full end-to-end brand experience. They were built by divergent departments and optimized for the channel or interaction, not the human psyche. Humans are attracted to brands that can provide “a special place to be” regardless of channel. To do this, brands must utilize “scenography” or localization that creates sensory connection and elicits an emotion consistently through each channel. Inspiring consumers or enriching their goals will evoke a deeper emotional response than just completing a transaction.
- Focus on the next 24 hours, not the past. According to the Luxury Institute 2019 State of the Luxury Industry report, brand heritage is decreasing in importance, with only 26 percent of affluent consumers viewing brand heritage as a defining feature of luxury. This is a statistic that all retailers — no matter the segment — should digest. As consumers shift their purchasing behavior to emphasize service, experience and social connection, concepts like legacy, history and pedigree are no longer as relevant. This opens up new opportunities for invention and re-invention. Consumers expect superior service that brings immediate value. Creating an impression for a consumer in the moment or within 24 hours of an interaction is more important than ever. To capitalize on this service trend, brands must master the ability to deliver anticipatory service. Consumers want brands to use their current and past behavior to accurately and quickly anticipate their future behavior. No longer will brand reputation or legacy be enough to sustain loyalty.
Whether a consumer chooses to visit a physical store, dial into a call center, or shop through an app, every engagement should have a strong emotional sense of place, anticipatory service moment, and an unexpected “wow.” Retailers that use digital assets in concert with modern service strategies to support human moments through all channels will win market share by converting consumers from less responsive, transactional brands.
Antonia Hock is the global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, a consulting and advisory firm helping organizations create exceptional employee and customer experience since 1999.
Related story: How Retailers Can Strike the Balance Between Man and Machine