Why Customer Experience Matters
With the onset of COVID-19, the world changed. As a result, businesses had to efficiently (and swiftly) pivot their planning to adapt to the new lifestyle everyone was now experiencing. During this period, retailers that could quickly and effectively shift strategies rose to the top. Additionally, those that enhanced their customer experience stepped into the spotlight and gained an increase in customer loyalty.
While we saw smaller, lesser-known brands achieve kudos and attention, we also saw big-name retailers take a hit in reputation (and in some cases, their stock prices) if they couldn't adapt fast enough while maintaining customer service expectations.
We’ve compiled a few key lessons business owners can take away from the pitfalls of certain retailers. They can use these mistakes as fuel for exceeding customer expectations.
The pandemic took everyone by surprise and forced the world — businesses in particular — to stop and rethink their strategies. Due to this colossal industry pause, retailers everywhere experienced delays at each point of their business. From supply chain issues and manufacturing hiccups to chaotic last-mile deliveries, companies known for smooth operations suddenly found themselves with a metaphorical line of peeved customers asking why their products were taking so long to arrive. While customers may have been understanding at first, like any pot on a hot stove, what simmers will eventually boil. This was especially true for customers who waited nearly six months to receive home furniture and décor.
With quarantining and transitioning from office jobs to work-from-home offices, certain industries, such as lumber, experienced an unfathomable increase in demand. With more time at home, homeowners started (or completed) the renovation and DIY projects they hadn’t previously had time for. These home facelifts led to a significant demand — and as a result, shortage — of materials like the above-mentioned lumber. Not only did the lumber industry experience a shortage, but retailers selling such product also found it difficult to accurately quote rates to consumers. With such a flux in lumber prices that could change on a whim, businesses were battling overquoting prices and losing potential customers or underquoting prices and losing money.
These are just a few of the difficulties companies have faced during the pandemic. While massive, sudden and heightened shifts in user shopping habits are rare, in unprecedented times like these, business owners should have a backup plan. At the very minimum, retailers should know how to effectively foster their customer experience in the face of subpar logistics.
Boosting Your Customer Experience
While every business will have stories of upset customers, these same customers can, in general, be surprisingly understanding — as long as they receive communication. Delays in shipping aren’t anyone’s favorite. Yet it does happen on both the consumer and retailer sides. When they do happen, it's the job of the business to notify the consumer. Whether your company is dealing with shipping lags, product returns, or simple back-and-forth emails, communication can defuse and, in some cases, positively affect your customer’s experience. On the flip side, without proper communication, the frustration the customer experiences on his or her end can lead to abandoning your business altogether. Furthermore, unhappy customers can unleash negative reviews on social media or other online platforms, turning their personal experience into a public matter.
Don't underestimate the power of appreciation. In a world that moves at the speed of light, it's always nice when a person, or even better, a business, takes the time to truly recognize its customers. A simple thank-you note or a funny GIF in an email that lets the consumer know you're grateful for their support can automatically increase your likability and reputation. This positive feeling associated with your company can encourage one consumer to tell others about their positive experience, thus increasing your chances of exposure and, as a result, sales.
On an adjacent note, appreciation can also include a sincere apology. If communication has been less than ideal, a genuine apology can mend relationships with irritated customers. Consumers want to know that when things go wrong, the company sees the issue and understands the customer’s frustration. It’s important for retailers to acknowledge that something went wrong in the process and are doing everything they can to make it right.
Streamline Your Business
Smart business owners know when they can do things themselves and when they need help. Large-product retailers that streamline processes by outsourcing to third-party vendors can ease the strain of the development and fulfillment of operations.
Whether you want reliable shipping or need help with a customized reverse logistics plan, last-mile delivery service providers work with you to transport large products or inventory without the hassle. With additional aspects such as convenient scheduling and on-demand delivery tailored to suit your company's goals and preferences, you can not only boost but exceed your customer experience.
The takeaway here is that retailers with plans were flexible enough to meet the demands created by COVID-19. Those that didn't provide lessons about how businesses can — and should — handle similar crises in the future.
Jay Sackos is the vice president of Dolly, a leading on-demand delivery service trusted by retailers like Lowe's, Costco, Crate and Barrel, Big Lots!, and many more.