While retail is changing, the importance of meaningful experiences isn’t. Technology isn’t replacing bricks-and-mortar retail or threatening personal customer experience (CX), but actually enhancing retailer ability to provide memorable experiences to customers. Today, technology is affordable and accessible and, despite the challenges of the last 12 months, we’re living in an era in which starting a business has rarely been easier.

Of course, entrepreneurialism should be celebrated. But, it also creates a crowded, competitive market, where multiple retail brands advertise similar products, prices and services. What’s more, with Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) data revealing that business registrations in 2020 increased 5.72% YoY compared to 2019, the competition could increase further. So how can your retail business stand out? Becoming a memorable brand requires memorable CX – for success today, that starts behind the scenes.

A new business benchmark

Customer experience has now become a more important differentiator than products and prices. CX encompasses every possible touch-point; online, offline and omnichannel. Memorable or underwhelming CX can determine how interested a customer is in doing or continuing to do business with you. It’s little surprise, then, that almost half (45.9%) are making it their top priority over the next five years.

Designing before reacting to customers

According to Gartner, Customer Experience Management (CXM) is ‘the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy’. This means organising, streamlining, and managing every customer interaction to ensure that expectations are not only met, but exceeded, on every channel.

A powerful customer experience management system allows retailers to deploy CX that excels and encourages repeat custom. Traditionally, a CX platform is a collection of integrated tools – including CRM, sales automation, inventory management etc. – to provide a seamless customer experience. Today, shoppers aren’t only prioritising it, they’re demanding it. Indeed, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for great CX, one in three will leave a brand they love after one bad experience and 92% would entirely abandon it after only two or three.

Could fragmented CX be the problem?

CXM is only as effective as the software used to manage it. Too few consider the importance of seamless integration. Or, more specifically, the perils of misaligned integrations. Your applications could work well individually, but what about together? If your sales, marketing, inventory management and customer support are managed through different, unintegrated, apps, there’s going to be a disconnection. This disconnection is often the root of underwhelming CX.

When it comes to seamless CXM and fantastic CX, less is often more. Smaller businesses use on average 73 different tools or software platforms to run their day-to-day operations, according to Okta. That requires a significant amount of time integrating, managing, and reporting; time that retailers could spend on more important tasks. Consider this: each program has a plethora of packages, subscription fees and add-ons, and often don’t integrate well with other programs you’ve already paid for.

With so much software, and so many different vendors, it can be difficult training your employees to use them. Siloed tools hurt your businesses’ productivity, and makes it difficult to ensure a consistent flow of data – the lifeblood for so many retailers today – across the business. When applications don’t communicate properly, neither will the employees who use them. That hurts them, but maybe more importantly, the customer.

If, for example, a shopper wants to return and refund an item that doesn’t fit, if your accounting and inventory management software is different, it makes it significantly harder for your team to effectively carry out their request.

Unify your strategy

To deliver a customer experience that feels not only effective and memorable but complete, a retailer should use software that feels complete. An integrated technology stack like, for example, Zoho One, which combines every business function, from sales and marketing, to finance, operations and HR, allows you to deploy a seamless omnichannel customer experience.

With great CX, after all, comes great customer satisfaction. Satisfaction incentivises customer loyalty; one of the greatest advantages a retailer can leverage today, when competition is high and external challenges are severe. Satisfied customers are 3.5 times more likely to repurchase and five times more likely to recommend a brand. That starts with the experience you deliver, and today, that starts behind the scenes.

Vijay Sundaram is the chief strategy officer at global technology platform Zoho.