From fires and floods to the pandemic. The events of the past 18 months hugely impacted Australian consumer behaviour, causing a ripple effect across the entire retail sector. Australian retailers faced a rollercoaster of emotions during the initial lockdown in March 2020, experiencing the country’s first recession in nearly three decades.

Non-essential retailers were hit the hardest and were forced to close their doors under lockdown regulations, while shoppers stayed at home. They had no choice, but to adjust quickly. Many consumers resumed their spending habits via online channels, resulting in more than 200,000 Australians shopping online for the first time in April 2020.  

Almost half (46%) of Australian consumers now shop online more often than before the pandemic, leading to heightened customer expectations for digital channels and customer support via phone. As a result, the need for better experiences (CX) is more important now than ever before. Failing to meet today’s increased customer expectations could be a silent killer for retailers, negatively impacting your company’s bottom line.

Below are three recommendations for evaluating your businesses’ approach to CX to ensure your customers keep coming back.

  1. You are no longer only in competition with brands in your industry. Instead, customers now compare your service to the best they’ve ever had

Customers are more switched on digitally than ever. This brings higher expectations when it comes to their online experience and customer support. They know what good service is because companies like Apple, First Choice Liquor and IKEA have set the bar high. If you think you only need to be better than your nearest competitor, you’re in for a shock. While being better than the competition is a good start, the level of CX your customers now expect may come from any experience, both inside and outside the retail sector. Everyone is the competition. If you have an exceptionally good – or bad – customer experience yourself, think about what made it stand out and how that experience impacts your own outlook. As consumers’ expectations rise, even one negative experience can prompt them to look elsewhere. Second chances are now optional in a world full of choice.

2. Immediacy and transparency are essential for memorable customer experiences

Today’s consumers expect immediate gratification. When they have a bad experience, they can now share it immediately on social media. If they can’t easily find what they want, request a return or refund, they are likely to feel frustrated and turn to other businesses that will accommodate their needs instead. Responding to customers in real-time, even just to acknowledge the complaint or request, helps to reduce dissatisfaction and can go a long way – maybe even turning a negative experience into a positive one.

The pandemic has placed a great deal of additional stress on consumers. Therefore, transparency is vital. Customer service agents must be honest about the amount of time it will take to resolve an issue, process a refund, or how long they can expect to be on hold. Given these heightened emotions, businesses must stay one step ahead of their customers. An effective way to do this is through automated CX testing, which reduces the time it takes to identify and react to bumps in the customer journey.

At times, a customer service agent may not realise that their call centre systems are dropping calls or putting customers on hold for extended periods. CX testing can identify and address such technical failures before they escalate to negative customer experiences.

3. Deliver seamless shopping experiences for your customers, even if it requires investment on the back end

While life appears to be returning to “normal”, we anticipate they will never completely return to the way they were pre-pandemic. Consumer behaviour has evolved, and we must keep pace. As more customers embrace e-commerce, we must keep their needs front and centre, especially if we no longer see them face-to-face. To begin with, businesses should deliver an easy and stress-free online experience. This can include frictionless checkout and order reviews, free deliveries, and seamless, free returns. Many Aussie consumers are still facing financial challenges due to the pandemic. They are likely to feel more confident purchasing from you if they aren’t worried about unexpected fees or restrictive refund policies.

Forming a vision for future customer experiences

We know the economic impact of the pandemic and snap lockdowns will persist for the foreseeable future. Despite these challenges, Aussie retailers must focus on going above and beyond to retain and delight customers. Beyond COVID-19, retailers should look to the future rather than returning to how things were.

No matter what is happening in the world around us, businesses must prioritise customer experiences. To miss this opportunity could cost customer loyalty and revenue. Invest in customer support teams and the technology they need to do the best possible job every day. Disruptions will continue to test your business, but by implementing the right CX processes, your customers will be none the wiser – they’ll just be happy with their seamless retail experience.

Alok Kulkarni is CEO and co-founder of Cyara.