Retail Reality: Succeeding in the Always-On Customer Engagement Realm
While retailers have traditionally competed on the basis of the “Four Ps” — product, price, promotion, and place — increasingly this isn't enough. According to Gartner, 81 percent of marketers say they expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of customer experience in the near future.
Yet keeping up with the demands of today’s retail customer, who is more digitally empowered than ever before, is challenging. To understand consumer needs and customer engagement dynamics, we recently engaged Opinium Research to survey more than 34,000 adults from 18 countries worldwide.
The findings underscore consumers’ high expectations for a 24/7/365 “always on” customer engagement culture and a low tolerance for brands that don’t deliver. Two-thirds of consumers surveyed said they're more likely to switch to brands that provide the best experience or service. This finding underscores the importance of providing exceptional service, as well as the ultimate cost to those retailers that fail — customer defection.
In fact, the study revealed that loyalty and customer retention continue to decline globally, as just 44 percent of consumers say they've been with current product or service providers for three years or more (down 39 percent since our previous survey in 2015).
The finding that consumers are easily swayed to switch to product and service providers that offer a superior customer experience demonstrates the harsh reality of today’s business and loyalty landscape. The question now is, how do retailers respond?
The study did identify one potent means to spur brand loyalty — convenience. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of consumers surveyed said that convenience is a major factor when choosing a brand or service provider, while more than two-thirds (68 percent) feel loyal to brands that make it easy and convenient to engage.
Some 60 percent of consumers expect to engage with an organization via any channel at any time. This focus on convenience is only projected to increase in the years to come, as 53 percent of consumers between the ages of 18-35 say that they consider ease of engagement to be even more important than cost when choosing brands.
When asked about their engagement preferences, online account management and self-service were cited most often (34 percent), followed by phone (30 percent), and engaging with a representative within a store or branch (29 percent).
To succeed in meeting this always-on engagement imperative, organizations continue to turn to automated solutions such as chatbots and artificial intelligence, leveraging a combination of man and machine — the hybrid workforce — to drive customer engagement and operational efficiencies.
Though consumers want answers quickly and easily via digital channels, the ability to engage with a human is still viewed as vital. In fact, when compared to previous surveys conducted over the past few years, we've found the preference to engage with a human — either via phone or in person — has increased.
The greatest challenge and opportunity for retailers is to be strategic in how they leverage automation and the workforce. Automation can help retailers cope with increased volume and demands, but brands must ensure they continue to provide the high-quality experience customers expect, including the ability to engage with a human when needed. Retail customer engagement strategies must empower customers with the ability to switch seamlessly between digital and human interaction channels.
Ryan Hollenbeck is senior vice president of global marketing and executive sponsor of the customer experience program for Verint. The company helps organizations simplify and modernize customer engagement by leveraging the latest in artificial intelligence and advanced analytics technology to drive business impact.
Ryan Hollenbeck is senior vice president of global marketing and executive sponsor of the Customer Experience Program for Verint, a global leader in Actionable Intelligence® solutions with a focus on customer engagement optimization and cyber intelligence. The company helps organizations simplify and modernize customer engagement by leveraging the latest in artificial intelligence and advanced analytics technology to drive business impact. Today, over 10,000 organizations in more than 180 countries, including over 85 percent of the Fortune 100, work with Verint.