The term omnichannel first appeared around 2010, leading marketers to consider how shoppers were engaging with brands across multiple channels at once. Since then, omnichannel strategies have moved from a dream to a reality, but still have a long way to go.
Retailers leaned into this idea, serving customers along their personalized journeys with interactions that cut across channels and devices.
Customer-centric leaders like Nordstrom were able to provide experiences with the customer directly in the center. A customer who browsed on an app but hesitated when purchasing might receive an alert on their mobile device when they walked by a store: Those shoes they had reviewed but not purchased were on sale–and their size–right inside the store.
Today, Nordstrom and other forward-thinking, customer-focused brands are finding new ways to create connected, engaging customer experiences. Leveraging digital channels, customer feedback, real-time data, and more.
Customers are expecting connected experiences. But in today’s environment of limited open stores, customers at home more than ever, and completely different customer journeys, how can brands navigate the new normal?
Understand the (interrupted and adapted) customer journey
Your customers are not leading the lives they did just a few months ago. They’re not passing the coffee shop in the morning to pick up a cup of joe on the way to an office. They’re not browsing casually in a store. They’re not going to the bank to deposit a check.
Customers today are making decisions differently. Some are learning ways to use the technology they never dreamed of in the past. Those anti-device stalwarts are now ordering via apps and waiting for delivery thanks to online services. They’ve learned because they’ve had to learn.
The challenges of back-stage connection
The other drastic shift has been around how teams work to deliver the customer experience (CX). Contact centers had to move workers to remote workflows. In-store experiences quickly transitioned to pick-up and delivery. Product development shifted, too. Masks became trendy and work-from-home wardrobes became fashionable.
It’s hard to identify one industry, one brand, one business that wasn’t affected by the pandemic in some way. So how can customer experience leaders stay connected with customers for the next chapter of the “new normal,” whatever that looks like?
And after finely-tuning customer feedback programs, how should brands understand their customers today?
3 ways to adapt to the new normal
Here are some ideas on how to continue to lead, listen, and respond to customers by designing and adapting the connected experience.
1. Dedicate resources to mobile-first
The new normal is distributed. Distributed workforces work remotely while serving customers who want products delivered via digital channels. Mobile is the key channel for this type of ecosystem.
The connected experience must have a “hub” that is mobile-first. Look for ways to better serve customers with easier, more accessible experiences via mobile.
Customers are more comfortable with automation in mobile channels, as shown by mobile chatbot usage. More than 67% of consumers worldwide used a chatbot for customer support in 2019, with that number growing in 2020, according to Invesp.
Mobile customers want a connected experience by integrating their experience with your brand. This means allowing integrations that cut down on the customer inconveniences, like entering personal information, as well as integrating with the overall customer journey.
Mobile experiences have been designed for convenience and ease, putting the most common customer needs in the palm of their hand. But customers today want to achieve their goals wherever they are, and with whatever device they’re using. This means mobile experiences must provide enough options to help the customer complete their task, but make it easy.
Data like app usage can show how customers are interacting with the mobile experience. It can also lead to information around what isn’t working and what touchpoints should be examined and possibly improved.
Since reducing customer effort is a key goal with mobile experiences, using Customer Effort Score (CES) to improve the touchpoints is a great metric to track. Even better, use in-app surveys and feedback mechanisms to find out how customers feel at the moment.
2. Robot friends and smart artificial agents enhance connected experiences
More businesses are relying on chatbots, smart routing, and machine learning to provide a more seamless, connected experience.
These types of tools aren’t just for customer-facing experiences. Artificial intelligence (AI) can assist agents in finding the right answers. Better yet, these tools grow with experience. As agents provide one-to-one assistance to individual customers, their responses can be recorded and organized thanks to AI. These answers are then available to future agents as they serve future customers.
Customers want support that is relevant and helpful, but they also want support that is fast and responsive. AI helps connect these needs into a faster, more reliable service channel.
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is a key way to track how customer service interactions are perceived by the customer. Follow up transactional surveys can highlight where these machine-driven experiences are succeeding and where there is room for improvement.
Connecting a customer’s service experience with the rest of the journey can also assist with offering the right products at the right time.
Many retailers have focused almost exclusively on high-touch, in-person experiences for their customers. Now, these brands are identifying ways to create a high-touch, personalized experience at home for customers.
Nike offers help with shoe sizing on their app using augmented reality (AR) to use computer vision, AI, and algorithms to scan a user’s feet and recommend a size. This recommendation is available along with an “ask the expert” feature to help customers feel confident in their purchase.
3. Connected experiences start from a centralized view of the customer and their journey
Customers are moving from channel to channel because they can and they want to. They are selecting the most convenient and accessible channel that serves them. This means to serve them, companies need a centralized view of the customer and their interactions with the company.
There isn’t the patience for brands who aren’t able to view their customer’s latest interaction, as well as their feedback and sentiment.
And customers want to be seen and recognized throughout the journey. Williams Sonoma announced higher-than-expected results after closing many of their stores for in-person shopping. They pivoted to a digital-first experience that offered new features for customers, including an “Ask the Expert” feature and virtual classes and events. Customers reported feeling engaged and supported during this at-home time period.
In a truly connected experience, William Sonoma also offers recipes for whatever product is searched for on their site. Looking for a saucepan? There are 53 recipes to peruse for how to use it! Thinking of the customer needs around the product, and not just the sale, is a customer-centric view of the customer experience.
Connected experiences are here to stay
The global shift in how customers shop, how employees work, and how people are experiencing brands is not going anywhere. Customers are now looking for more engaging, digital, and connected experiences.
Luxury brands were some of the laggards in embracing the connected customer experience. Their investments were often around in-store experiences. Now, even venerable brands like Montblanc are moving to an improved digital experience beyond the shopping bag to offer customers exactly what they want, including the ability to connect the mobile shopping experience with their in-person boutiques.
Is your brand committed to connected experiences?
The new normal will bring new expectations from customers.
Tracking consistent feedback on how they feel about their relationship with your brand is a critical way to stay ahead of these shifting expectations. Net Promoter Score (NPS) can help brands address patterns that may be concentrated with a certain group of customers.
Local rules and restrictions may have a bigger impact on how customers interact with brands than ever before. Knowing your specific NPS for various customers can help connect their experience with their reality. Follow the data to where the small breakdowns are and improve them quickly. Look for what customers tell you about why they would or wouldn’t recommend your brand. That can point to where expectations are changing faster than your brand is keeping up.
Brands who invest in understanding their customers and creating a connected experience based on them will win today and tomorrow.
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About the guest author
Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO, Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext
Jeannie Walters is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and is CEO of Experience Investigators. She is a customer experience speaker, writer, and consultant with more than 20 years of experience in assisting all types of companies, including Fortune 500. Specialties include in-depth customer experience evaluations, customer journey mapping, user experience analysis, and leading workshops and training programs. Her mission is: To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.™ Connect with her: experienceinvestigators.com | @jeanniecw