Retail Recovery and Rebuilding Customer Loyalty Beyond COVID-19
The pandemic has changed everything in retail — and it’s not ending anytime soon. Just as stores started to adjust to the “new normal” of frequent disinfection and face masks, the spread of the virus is picking back up in regions across the country, forcing many retailers to close their doors to the public again.
Luckily, Americans have mostly been understanding of these changes and even appreciate brands’ willingness to act fast to protect customers and staff. In fact, the new COVID-19: the CX Impact study from Sitel Group found that one-third of Americans (33 percent) view brands more positively for implementing new policies, even if they negatively impact their experience (e.g., longer shipping times, new hours of operation). What’s even more telling is that after having a negative experience with a brand during the pandemic, the vast majority of Americans say they haven’t left a bad review.
However, shoppers’ leniency will only last so long. Retailers need to act quickly to cement their customer experience (CX) reputation and have a positive long-term impact on loyalty — and thus their bottom lines. This will require brands to innovate with contactless services and customer support options.
Contactless is the Future of the Retail Experience
The surge in e-commerce isn't a new trend, but the pandemic has given online shopping new meaning as consumers look for safer ways to purchase from retailers. In fact, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) say they've been more likely to shop online for items they typically buy in-store during the pandemic. Of this group, more than half (54 percent) say they will continue shopping online for these same items even after the pandemic ends.
As shipping delays and issues have plagued the logistics side of retail, many Americans are also looking to curbside options. In fact, most U.S. shoppers say that order online, pick-up curbside (54 percent) has most improved their experience with brands during the pandemic. This is something retailers must continue offering as consumers want to safely shop from the comfort of their homes, while getting the immediate satisfaction of picking up their order shortly after — and a better CX.
Faster, Smarter Digital Customer Support is Critical
The unfortunate reality is that retail disruptions will likely continue for the time being, as COVID-19 persists. However, that doesn’t mean retailers should sit back and let customer frustration build.
The good news is that many Americans found retail to be the most innovative industry when it comes to customer service during the pandemic (27 percent). In fact, perception of retailers’ customer support offerings has skyrocketed since before the pandemic, when only 14 percent of Americans saw retail as the most innovative industry.
Therefore, how can retailers further achieve top-notch CX during such a chaotic time? It requires a balance of self-service options and live customer support. Nearly one-third of Americans (30 percent) said they would rather find the solution to their problem themselves during the pandemic. The biggest reason why: it’s much faster (52 percent). However, customers also understand that more complex issues require a human touch. The majority admit that a live customer service representative (via online chat, on the phone or email) is the most effective option as they better understand requests to properly assist and provide empathy.
Digital options are continuing to surge to the forefront of retail, from how we complete purchases to accessing customer service. As we emerge into the “new normal,” e-commerce sales are expected to rise further. Retailers must quickly adjust to new shopper expectations for quality customer experiences that balance safety and support while they begin planning for the holidays and compete in the crowded e-commerce landscape.
Kelli Harrison is vice president of global account management at Sitel Group, a business process outsourcing solutions provider.
Kelli Harrison is VP of Global Account Management at Sitel Group, a business process outsourcing solutions provider.
She joined Sitel Group in February 2000 and previously served in operations, customer experience, and project management roles, where she led functional responsibility for business execution and process improvement. Kelli has over 25 years of experience in BPO.
She holds a degree from the University of Minnesota, is PMO certified and holds business certification in communications and business development. Currently, Kelli lives in Tampa, Florida after spending 4 years with Sitel Group in Europe.