Virtual is the New Reality: Empathic Digital CX is a Lifeline for At-Risk Retailers
As with telemedicine for healthcare and online learning for education, digital customer experience (CX) for retail is now a mission-critical path for operational continuity amid the global pandemic. Companies dependent on physical locations that didn't successfully transform their business model for digital are particularly vulnerable to worsening economic forecasts.
Among other shortcomings that amassed nearly $1.7 billion in debt, J.Crew's inability to optimize, scale and leverage its e-commerce business ultimately contributed to a bankruptcy filing on May 4. After a website crash during the 2016 holiday season, and despite investments in mobile the following year, the once-popular fashion chain was unable to design digital experiences that captured, nurtured and captivated a sufficient volume of customers. This first collapse of a major American retailer won't be the last.
Why Empathic Digital CX?
Millions of individuals worldwide have been sick with COVID-19, grieving for a loved one, suffering financial hardship, or coping with prolonged stress, anxiety, and depression. Even under less traumatizing circumstances, no one needing to solve a specific problem or make a purchase should have to deal with a frustrating website, mobile app, or chatbot — or wait endlessly on the phone.
Empathic digital customer experiences (CX) are e-commerce-related interactions that demonstrate an ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. Empathic digital CX can be:
- Cognitive by realizing what a customer might be thinking.
- Emotional by reacting to what a customer might be feeling.
- Compassionate by responding to a customer's situation with a genuine effort to help.
For example, CX chatbots and conversational commerce can be sensitive to human emotions and address specific needs without pretending to be a real person. If a customer becomes agitated, for example, sentiment analysis can trigger a shift in responses or seamlessly transition the conversation to a service representative. Data analytics of a company's top call drivers can inform dialog flow designs that anticipate the most common inquiries, making customers feel like the system already knows what they want. Furthermore, CX chatbots shine best when automating repeatable processes like placing orders so employees can focus on other tasks.
Domino's Pizza has been pandemic-proofing its digital-focused business model by launching the Order with Dom chatbot back in 2014. Dom makes it easy to select menu items and track orders by texting, reducing common errors that may occur on a phone call. The bot also relays essential ordering information as needed, like the gluten-free crust is prepared in a shared kitchen with the risk of gluten exposure and not recommended for people with celiac disease.
Empathic digital CX can even inspire greater customer empathy in your employees. In 2016, Domino's staff in Salem, Oregon, saved the life of a longtime customer when his regular online orders stopped abruptly. After calling and visiting his home, they called emergency services and discovered the man had suffered a stroke. In response to COVID-19, Domino's franchisees are also donating 10 million pizzas to local hospitals, schoolchildren and their families, grocery store workers, and others in need across the United States.
How to Implement Empathic Digital CX
Developing an empathy-driven strategic road map for digital is paramount, especially given the political and economic uncertainties faced by every business today. Every retailer is at a relative point in its digital transformation process, with varying abilities to best serve and empathize with its customers. The steps below should be adapted to your organization's level of digital maturity and adjusted into "crawl, walk, and run" phases of iterative development:
- Create pandemic-specific personas and journey maps. At each stage of interaction with your business, list your customers' problems, motivations, questions, actions, and how you can help. Quick focus groups on Zoom can help you research, validate and understand customer thinking, feelings, behaviors and actions. A professional user experience (UX) researcher will help you establish the right research questions, a valid research methodology, and reliable measurements. My clients have generally been surprised at the persona and journey changes caused by the pandemic and their usefulness in making critical business decisions that directly affect customers.
- Build or upgrade your customer data platform (CDP). CDPs intelligently stitch together information collected from different data sources to create a comprehensive "360-degree" profile of your customers. Unlike customer relationship management (CRM) systems or data management platforms (DMPs), CDPs include real-time data and a complete view of your potential and existing customers. CDPs allow marketers to segment, target and personalize content across every digital channel.
- Ensure consistent content and messaging with a headless content management system (CMS). Conflicting information between your website, app and social media channels is risky at any time. A headless CMS is serverless content management in the cloud that allows a single back-end system to publish content to any front-end channel. Our clients have saved 60 percent to 70 percent in costs from fewer on-premise server licenses, while also reporting significantly better system availability and overall security.
- Develop a channel guidance strategy to reduce wait times. If your customers are waiting for more than five minutes to speak with a service representative, you need a channel guidance strategy. In less than 30 days, a vendor should be able to set up an IVR pivoting system to direct customers in a long wait queue to different channels, such as moving phone callers to social or chat.
Navigating New Realities
Empathetic digital CX speaks to the human-centric variables often obscured by emerging technologies. As evident today, crises tend to surface people's best or worse tendencies. Seeing countless heroes perform life-saving and essential services during this prolonged public health catastrophe will leave an indelible mark on our communities. Likewise, businesses that put their customers and employees first during these challenging times can inspire long-lasting loyalty, potentially sustain or grow their enterprise, and make a positive impact on people's lives.
Virgil Wong is global practice head, vice president, digital experience/creative at HGS Digital, an award-winning agency for digital customer experiences, data and analytics, intelligent automation, and cloud services.
Virgil Wong is global practice head, vice president, digital experience/creative at HGS Digital, an award-winning agency for digital customer experiences, data and analytics, intelligent automation, and cloud services. HGS serves over 6M retail customers worldwide and three of the world's largest retailers – and was rated by NelsonHall as the #1 provider of CX improvement services for retail and CPG. To learn more, please visit: