April 29, 2020 | The ForeSee Blog

Retail Trends and Recommendations on Our Way to the Next Normal

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Every organization is navigating the changes brought on by COVID-19 and, as time passes, determining how they can pivot. Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal of Mckinsey & Company outlined five stages businesses will pass through on their way “to the next normal that will emerge after the battle against coronavirus has been won: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagination, and Reform.”

Organizations must know what stage they are currently in order to identify and follow the correct strategy. Knowing what customers and employees need helps inform that knowledge. We recommended asking customers and listening to their responses earlier this month. To support that, we’re offering free surveys to monitor how remote employees are doing and a complimentary model-tuning service to ensure speech analytics software can comprehend updated words and phrases.

As we move forward in this situation, it is important to continue hearing what people are telling you and learning with a fresh perspective. To that end, we evaluated what trends we have seen across clients in the retail industry, as well as recommendations for responding strategically.

1. Delivery and curbside pickups increase

Both of these offerings were already important for retailers but have moved from a preference to necessity for many. People appreciate retailers allowing them to keep their social distance, but they haven’t lowered their CX expectations. They want delivery drivers and employees to be pleasant, patient, and prompt. If they are not, customers will look to your competitors. If you partner with a vendor for any component of fulfillment, remember customers will still hold your organization accountable if their needs are not met.

Recommendations:

  • Collect granular feedback separately for each fulfillment option to understand precisely how the experience is going and act on that data quickly
  • Do not require customers to sign for deliveries
  • Ensure staff is trained for any changes to curbside pickup procedures
  • Provide employees with masks and gloves

2. Closed stores are driving people to shop online—many for the first time

Research from PowerReviews indicates online orders are up and conversions have doubled. Like any interaction, you only get one chance to make a first impression. How easy or difficult these new online shoppers find their experience is paramount. If they get confused, they will possibly leave feedback on your website or reach out to your contact center or chat agents. If their initial experience with the website was not ideal, how your organization responds to their feedback, call, or chat is a chance to solidify the relationship.

Recommendations:

  • Be particularly attentive to the needs of new online customers
  • Work to improve your online retail experience as much as possible
  • Survey specifically about BOPIS
  • Be agile in how you use your experience data

As Rick Blair, Verint Vice President of Product Strategy and XM, told CMS Wire: successful growth strategies must include agile CX programs that implement holistic experience management strategies, and enable companies to understand and act on insight captured across customer, employee, brand and product experience.”

3. Contact centers and chat agents are inundated, leading to long wait times

New online shoppers are part of the reason wait times have increased for support. Another reason is that not all agents can work from home, reducing headcount to respond to customer inquiries. Additionally, new questions are being asked that your agents may not have been trained to answer (e.g., how does curbside pickup work).

Recommendation:

  • Give contact center agents the support and resources they need to answer new questions.

Verint XM Solutions Implementation Director Josh Varga explained it this way: “First, let your employees express their empathy to customers, even if that means going off script or spending slightly longer on a call. Then let them act on it, for example by letting them waive a fee or extend a deadline. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be guidelines and limits … But most companies should be able to find the right balance.”

4. People need help with returns—and they don’t want shipping fees

Options for returning items have reduced with so many stores closed. Some customers have been frustrated to learn that now there is a fee to return items.

Recommendation:

  • If you can afford to waive shipping fees, do so. If not, remember that the Verint Experience Index: Retail report found that free returns and shipping are important, but are only one part of what drives customer satisfaction. Double down on fine tuning other parts of CX.

5. Purchases are down following the financial downturn

Many people have lost their jobs or been furloughed recently. Losing income will force them to adjust how they spend their money and it’s possible retail purchases will be reduced.

Recommendations:

  • Ask employees to be as empathetic as possible when dealing with customers making difficult budget decisions.
  • Make sure customers know about any promo codes, discounts, and sales. Customers are desperately looking for low-cost options—make it easy for them to find the ones you are offering.

6. Inventory issues are frustrating customers

In our digital age, keeping track of inventory across websites, apps, and retail stores was already complex. With all of the changes taking place it has become even more true. As a result, some orders that customers have placed and paid for were later cancelled. This can be a jarring experience, especially if it’s an important item.  

Recommendations:

  • Fine tune your inventory data as much as possible.
  • Develop strategies for how to respond when people lose their order.
  • Set up notifications for customers telling them when items will be back in stock (even if not for a while) and update them as regularly as possible.

Conclusion

As Verint VP of Global CX, Nancy Porte, wrote: “In CX, the mission is always the same. It’s the tactics that change.” And there is no better time than now to focus on that mission and provide an excellent experience. These are emotional times for most people, and it’s been proven that strong emotions make an experience more memorable. That can cut both ways, so taking the time and effort to improve your CX tactics now will likely leave a positive impression that stays with customers after we’ve come out of the current situation

Written by Charlie Danoff, Senior Analyst

About the Author

As a pioneer in customer experience analytics, ForeSee delivers superior technology and proven methodology to connect the customer experience to the bottom line. The result is better business for companies and a better experience for consumers.

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