The retail landscape has been turned on its head since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, spurring five generations to live, work, and shop online simultaneously for the first time.
E-commerce is now at an all-time high, with global sales figures projected to reach $4.1 trillion in 2020, almost doubling since 2015. While the spectrum of global customers has broadened, however, so has the scope of competition.
Brand loyalties established prior to the pandemic have become strained as consumers stray from normal shopping habits and start to engage with brands boasting easy-to-navigate, online experiences, instant delivery, and exceptional customer service. A McKinsey report found the brand preferences of three quarters of American shoppers have changed since the crisis broke out, reinforcing the intense fight for consumer attention.
As customers increasingly switch between brands and channels, many of them may not return to the companies that have been slower to adapt to fast evolving needs. Beyond the effects of COVID-19, retailers must be agile in creating meaningful, value-add digital experiences to drive loyalty and make it unlikely that their customers will ever want to leave.
How the Pandemic Has Redefined Brand Loyalty
The rapid rise in adoption of social and mobile platforms has transformed the way buyers and brands interact in today’s market. Lockdown restrictions, triggering consumers to become predominantly, if not totally touchless, are likely to have a lasting impact in the post-COVID world.
Coupled with recessionary pressures, the digital shift leaves customers making more conscious assessments on which brands they choose, and potentially stick with. Increasingly discerning throughout the purchasing process, consumers are prioritizing better, simpler, and clearer experiences — encompassing even the most basic elements, such as easy access to contact information and more convenient channels.
With loyalty evaporating, the challenge now for retailers to win back lost customers, or acquire new ones, is being across all the right channels, at the right time, on the customers’ terms.
The Omnichannel Experience
Offering more products and integrating the various channels will be pivotal to maximizing brand interactions in the hyper-connected era. But it’s worth noting that customer service interactions and sentiment aren’t consistent across all channels. Companies should be questioning why some channels may or may not be as relevant to their customer base.
Typically, consumers are most satisfied with brand interactions through mobile apps, with chat with live agent and instant messaging following respectively. This depends, however, on a number of factors — varying for every retailer — including brand personality, mission, and the queries it usually receives.
Customers notoriously bounce between channels for various enquiries, at different times. They’re more likely to choose instant messenger when seeking answers to FAQs, but instead prefer voice if they have a complex billing issue, for example. It’s ever-more important that dialogues are made seamless across all channels, for brands to ensure customers can pick up a conversation on any platform and nothing gets lost in translation.
In fact, customers have a 32 percent higher loyalty intention to those brands making it easy to find a contact channel. The key to brand advocacy is to make life easier for users and remove friction from the end-to-end purchasing journey — complimented with immediate support channels to shorten resolution times.
Creating a Sense of Membership
As online commerce prevails, customers are being fed consistent streams of deals across months on end, causing annual shopping events, such as Cyber Monday and Black Friday, to lose their relevance. Retailers are nudging savvy consumers online to take advantage of discounts to fuel impulse buys. But, with every customer having access to the same discounts, retailers will be needing to inspire long-term loyalty in other ways.
The best brands will blend technology with humanness to create a well-rounded high-tech, high-touch experience. Today’s consumer expects brands to know them personally when they’re shopping online — as if they’re in a store. Companies can go the extra mile to understand customers’ needs, by analyzing data insights and monitoring their behavior. Show the customers that you’re paying attention to their needs by delivering relevant, timely, and tailored content and creating a sense of exclusivity.
Brands can take this a step further by asking the right questions and making customers feel they’re not just a ‘regular customer’. With a focus on aftercare and repeat customers, retailers should be prompting deeper conversations with questions such as, “What did you enjoy about today’s experience?” and “What could we do to make it even better?”
After all, the customer is the true user expert. There are greater opportunities for future engagement if brands can learn how best to help users and educate them on the functions of each channel.
The Future Customer Base
In the absence of face-to-face interactions, remaining wallet share will be won by retailers making full use of integrated digital channels. As the need for customer support grows, there is a golden opportunity for brands to capitalize on the changes fueled by the pandemic and emerge from the crisis with a newfound customer base — only if they are able to seize the moment.
Understanding how customer service can be used to create a unique omni-channel experience will be key to winning back lost customers and enhancing brand advocacy.