As consumers increasingly prefer to shop online, retailers can no longer compete on price and product specifications alone. After all, if shoppers just want low prices and wide product selections, they can head to Amazon.com.
Where you can compete is with a customer experience that sets your business apart from competing retailers. As the Harvard Business Review points out, “the most sophisticated firms are making emotional connection part of a broad strategy that involves every function in the value chain, from product development and marketing to sales and service.”
Casting buzzwords aside, what does a customer-centric experience really mean? And how can you, as a retail decision maker, create one? Consider following these three steps:
1. To achieve customer centricity, dig deeper.
Some retailers take a customer-centric experience to mean the dreaded mantra, “the customer is always right.” In other words, the customer calls the shots. And certainly retailers must accommodate customer needs. But the true definition of a customer-centric approach is a deep dive into your actual customers’ needs, and a strategy that's focused on addressing them.
Many retailers only have a surface-level understanding of what their customers want. And indeed, these insights can be useful, too. If you ask customers what they want, they’ll likely start with must-haves like product specs and pricing. An understanding of how customers feel about these basic touchpoints is, of course, important, but it won’t allow you to take your experience to the next level.
For example, if you ask about price, you’ll probably get a common refrain from your customers: they want to pay less. This isn’t very helpful (or surprising). As I’ve already said, these factors aren't the only competitive factors anymore, and won’t sufficiently differentiate your brand from others.
Amazon, always a leader in refining customer experience, exemplified this approach with its Go brick-and-mortar store. The store in Seattle offers no physical check-out options. Instead, customers make purchases using their Amazon app. But by probing further, Amazon uncovered that many customers are hesitant to leave the store without physically paying for anything. Now, signs marked on the exits reassure customers it's OK. This approach shows that Amazon didn’t force unwanted changes, but instead listened to the problems customers experienced to improve its store.
2. Listen to the voice of the customer.
Getting to the why behind customer behaviors is easier said than done, however. Smart retailers listen to the voice of the customer (VoC) using the right tools and strategies to sort through the noise and gain real, actionable insights.
A strong VoC solution enables you to target specific users based on certain behaviors or events, analyze their preferences, and then act accordingly. It can also inform you of any conversion barriers (e.g., why a user might abandon his or her cart).
Notably, a VoC solution also empowers you to look beyond quantitative data and get answers directly from your customers. For instance, you might literally ask what causes them to abandon a cart, or even just how they enjoyed their shopping experience on your website. These qualitative insights can inform your strategy much more effectively than numbers on a spreadsheet.
3. Personalize accordingly.
So what do you do with these insights? Use them to personalize the journey for your customers.
Three-quarters of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name, recommends options or knows their purchasing history.
If you know a customer has visited your site multiple times to browse shoes but has never converted, personalize your communication with her. Feature currently trending shoes on the homepage when she visits the site, or give her recommendations that you know are in her price range based on her search and purchase history.
It’s not surprising that a customer-centric experience relies on the voice of customers themselves. However, it’s an approach that many brands neglect, and they suffer for it. To create real connections with customers, brands must ask the right questions and then actually listen.
Kathleen Hickey is the marketing manager at Usabilla, a voice of customer solution.
Related story: The Evolving Factors Driving Customer Loyalty