By Samuel Greengard
Not long ago, retailers looking to forge stronger customer relationships focused mostly on a few core issues: where they located a store; which products they placed on shelves; how they displayed these items; the friendliness and knowledge level of their employees; and how to optimize prices and promotions. Interactions typically took place through one of three channels: in a physical store, over the telephone or by mail.
Fast forward to the present. “Today, shopper loyalty is tied to an overall experience across multiple channels,” observes Brian Girouard, vice president and leader for North America Consumer Products at Capgemini. “Retailers are accessible via a Website, mobile apps, email, social media channels and kiosks. A shopper may access a combination of these channels at various steps along their shopping journey.”
As a result, retailers—as well as firms in other industries such as health care and financial services—must understand customers in a way that hasn’t been necessary in the past. It’s critical to know what stage customers are at in the buying and consumption cycle, which other retailers they have done business with in the past, and their preferences and intentions.
“The ability of a business to understand and manage the overall customer experience determines whether people will shop with that retailer in the future,” Girouard explains.
Welcome to the new normal of customer experience management (CEM). Adopting a customer-centric approach is now a critical factor in determining whether a business flourishes or flounders. It’s crucial to understand a customer’s shopping journey across myriad physical and digital touch points.
“CEM is a fundamentally different way to approach customer relationships,” notes Lior Arussy, founder and president at customer experience strategy consulting firm Strativity Group.
At the heart of the problem, according to Arussy, is growing commoditization among retailers. “Many companies, despite what executives think, simply aren’t relevant to their customers,” he says. Typically, only a couple of options exist: lowering prices or increasing the value proposition.
“CEM attempts to move retailers and other businesses away from commoditization,” Arussy says. It provides insights that drive differentiation. And, as the thinking goes, differentiation translates into higher margins for the business.
Taking a Strategic View
CEM prompts organizations to take a holistic and strategic view of customers across all departments and job functions. When it’s used effectively, CEM provides deep visibility into everything from marketing and sales to customer service and compliance.
A Harris Interactive survey found that eight in 10 consumers experience difficulties online. What’s more, 32 percent of consumers abandon transactions when they experience problems. This accounts for upward of $47.6 billion in annual sales. And Capgemini reports that half of shoppers believe that most retailers are not consistent in the way they present themselves across channels.
By plugging in appropriate data, it’s possible to get answers to key but elusive questions. Among other things, an organization might examine why conversion rates are declining; why site visits and mobile app use are on the rise, but orders are smaller; why social media attention is waning; and why the number of complaint letters is increasing, while surveys indicate a high level of customer satisfaction. “There are many points where delivering an excellent customer experience can break down,” says Capgemini’s Girouard.
In fact, a number of common problems exist, he notes. For one thing, businesses often possess multiple records for the same customer, and none of them are complete. They also attempt to use data that is inaccurate or out of date, making it next to impossible to deliver a differentiated customer experience.
Even when data is accurate and timely, employees in a store or customer service reps in a contact center sometimes don’t know how to use it. “In many cases, they haven’t been trained on what to do with the data,” Girouard explains. “They are unable to make it actionable.”