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Perhaps more than any other sector, retail has had to cope with untold disruption as a result of the pandemic and, with more Aussie consumers now introduced to the convenience of ecommerce than ever before, it’s unlikely that demand will subside.

Maintaining a loyal customer base is undoubtedly the biggest challenge for retailers that have not before invested significantly in their online presence. For retailers therefore, investing in customer experience (CX) systems has never been more important. However, despite NTT Ltd.’s 2020 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report, highlighting that 81.6 per cent of organisations know the importance of investing in CX, only 14.4 per cent say it forms a crucial part of organisational strategy. Taking an active step towards investing in customer experience will not only help keep customers coming back in the current climate, but make them loyal brand advocates for life.

Customer experience equates to maturity

Retailers and consumer brands will always be asking themselves what they look like in the eyes of their customers. It’s important to remember that a slick customer experience and effective management of enquiries shows customers that you are a brand that can be trusted and wants to put them first. In this way, customer experience is an indicator of the company’s growth and development, which, in turn, helps determine the next set of targets and goals. By backing themselves with emerging CX technologies like mobile apps and chatbots, retailers can stay ahead of the competition, and ultimately keep customers coming back.

But first, retailers should take a step back to identify the customer outcomes they want. At the end of the day, there’s no use in jumping head first into making changes, if retailers are unsure of what the process or the end goal will look like. Once this has been understood, the next priority is to identify the technology that needs to be implemented. According to NTT Ltd.’s research, just 29 per cent of ANZ organisations report they have the technology to meet customer expectations, compared to 41 per cent globally.

Can chatbots ever actually deliver a good customer experience?

Chatbots are one of the best known customer experience technologies that retailers have or are considering implementing. However, most have not yet fully realised the impact they can provide in enhancing the online shopping experience for customers. According to the benchmarking report, many businesses are still stuck in the developmental stage with data showing that 30 per cent of assisted-services enquiries in ANZ failed to be resolved during first contact, while fully-automated channels fared worse with a 36 per cent fail rate.

Speaking to NTT customers who have successfully implemented them, there are two key things to keep in mind: Firstly, retailers must be able to articulate the steps that they want to automate for customers because automation is much easier when complicated jobs are broken down into small pieces. The second is to ensure that other customer service staff are brought along the journey. As much as it’s about providing a positive experience for customers, it’s also important to ensure internal teams are aware of how chatbots operate and why they’re being used. Ultimately, they can take a lot of the manual strain off customer service workers, which should be celebrated.

While there’s no denying the role that human interaction will play in CX, the ever-expanding applications of chatbots present new opportunities to elevate this experience. By using a combination of the two, retailers will be on track to delivering good customer experience.

Personalise an omnichannel approach

Personalisation is a holy grail for retailers. Yet, our research shows that whilst most organisations engage customers via an average of eight contact channels, only one-third (33.6 per cent) have a cross-channel contact management strategy. So whilst these eight channels are working to keep customers coming back, their efforts are defeated if retailers are failing to effectively coordinate between them. Instead, the customer journey should dictate the requirement for each new channel, not technology availability.

A crucial first step is having an automated CRM hub that gathers information from all customer touchpoints. By investing in strong data management systems and cloud-based tools to understand customer insights, a superior journey for customers can be created.

If your CX isn’t fully functioning, you’re not alone

As companies grapple with evolving customer expectations, digital transformation, multiple online channels, and emerging CX capabilities enabled by mobile apps, chatbots, AI, and more, it’s no wonder that only 5% of ANZ firms say they are delivering a “fully functioning” customer experience.

Whilst retailers may be hesitant to invest in CX due to financial constraints, siloed technology and inexperience, now is the time to position themselves for longer-term shifts in consumer behaviour. But consumers are (rightly) picky and choose to spend money not just with retailers that give them good value and choice, but provide a seamless experience. Just as one encounter with a rude shop assistant can put you off for life, not getting what you want out of a retailer’s website will push you elsewhere. Thankfully, the technology is available to enable retailers to match these expectations.

Michael Slip is general manager of CX at NTT Ltd