Poor customer experiences could have cost businesses across Australia up to $83 billion in 2022. Whether you’re surprised by that number or not, no retailer can ever afford this type of monetary risk – but even more so right now when consumers are increasingly considered about their spending.

As demonstrated by the revenue at risk, understanding rapidly changing customer needs is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses over the next decade. And while preferences and expectations might be changing faster than many businesses can keep up, at Qualtrics we’ve noticed one constant in our studies into the topic over the last few months – people want to do business with brands that can bring a personal and human-like experience to the table.

Why we need to make business more human

When a customer in Australia calls a contact centre, getting to speak with an empathetic and knowledgeable agent is more important to the experience than the wait time. Another study showed almost half of Australians (45%) prefer to have service interactions through a real person. The same study found the best CX often involves a ‘frontline hero’…while the worst had unhelpful representatives.

It’s clear – even with the proliferation of digital self-serve tools – frontline workers and channels make or break the customer experience. Especially in retail where frontline teams are the face of the business. And this is why one of the most impactful steps any organisation can take to prevent revenue being lost to poor CX is enabling their frontline teams and channels to deliver a great experience in the right way and at the right time.

For retailers wanting to empower their teams for bigger and better success, there are four priorities areas:

Give frontline teams a voice AND ensure its heard

Frontline workers understand customer needs better than almost any other team in the business. They see and hear what customers are feeling first-hand.

The best retailers ensure frontline employees are given regular opportunities to provide feedback on what they’ve learnt and heard from the shop floor – be it in-store, online, or through the contact centre. Not only does it help the business better understand how customers are thinking and feeling, those organisations that take action will provide employees with the support and tools they need to improve the customer experience.

Understand the relationship between CX, EX and Brand

The old saying happy employees equals happy customers isn’t new. Yet, while many leaders recognise this few retailers know the biggest changes they can make to improve their employee and customer experience simultaneously. This is beginning to change, however, and it is an incredibly exciting time for retailers – especially because knowing where to focus scarce resources is so important right now.

Understanding the relationship between different experiences is a game-changer for business. And we’re already seeing some impactful use cases develop. A well-known sports brand, which operates a global network of stores, was able to improve NPS by more than 20 points by understanding the relationship between its CX and EX. Central to this uplift was the sports retailer being able to identify the impact of training and recognition on customer satisfaction and business performance, over things like financial incentives. Elsewhere, an Australian drinks retailer has been able to pinpoint the 5 EX levers it can pull to deliver a better customer experience.

Give employees more agency with the right tools

One of the EX levers identified by the drinks retailer was empowering employees to make customer-related decisions – a situation I expect to be the case for many retailers. Making this possible will require retailers to rethink their traditional customer experience toolkit and democratise feedback across siloed teams.

A key reason why the customer experience tends to break down is because the feedback rarely gets shared with the correct team to fix in a timely fashion, so nothing changes. For example, online cart abandonment might be caused by a poor website user experience – but in many cases the web design team rarely receives this feedback, and even if they do it can take months to resolve.

Finding a way to democratise access to meaningful customer experience insights has been a systemic issue for retailers. Encouragingly, it’s a problem that is now being solved by modern AI-powered experience management programs, which seamlessly and instantly route customer feedback to the right team to resolve. As retailers increasingly rethink their CX programs with AI powered technologies, we’re going to increasingly see organisations be able to solve experiences in the moment, when, where, and how it matters most. The impact of AI on elevating customer service levels across all channels will be profound.

Enabling the frontline in retail

Whether it’s the bricks-and-mortar store, online channels, or the contact centre, consumers want more human-like experiences, and they’re prepared to reward the retailers that deliver them. As retailers continue to invest in their customer experience, a big focus must be on getting the frontline human interaction right – with those retailers that do this well set to secure a significant advantage over their competitors.

Vicky Katsabaris is director of XM solutions organisation APJ at Qualtrics.