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Delivering Delight: Retail in the Age of Technology-Part 1

Delivering Delight in the retail customer journey

In a time when options are abundant and loyalty is diminishing, customers are increasingly likely to jump from one brand to another in pursuit of the often talked about, yet surprisingly elusive, delightful experience.

The retail customer journey is changing. With the rise of technology and an always-on culture, people not only want, but expect, to get support and service anytime, anywhere, and at any point along that journey. So how can retailers produce this exceptional customer experience to boost customer acquisition and retention, while controlling their operation costs?

Part 1 of this two-part blog will look at how retailers can shape a positive customer experience, and how and why technology must play a big role.

Be in the right place, at the right time.

To draw tech savvy customers closer and better understand their needs and wants, retailers must provide an omnichannel experience, interacting with consumers through the channels and platforms they prefer.  Baby boomers, many who still value email, can be reached through their inbox, while Gen Z will be a tough audience to please if the retailer’s mobile experience is not up to the mark.

The week that my daughter was home over the holidays, her phone was in her hand for approximately 90% of the time. I noticed that she only spent a total of 5 minutes actually speaking on the phone and the rest was spent going through her apps and surfing the web. This digitally native generation needs to be met where it lives. While in-store and offline experiences are still important, online touchpoints will be key to converting these customers and keeping them happy and loyal.

Equally important is to reach out to a customer at the right time. If a customer has repeatedly interacted with a retailer’s mobile site late in the evening, the retailer should have the ability to recognize this pattern and leverage that insight to then engage the customer how, where and when they prefer. According to Scott Schlesinger, Senior Vice President and Global Data & Analytics Leader for Ness Digital Engineering, “Advances in data identification, collection, integration, and analysis have accelerated significantly over the last few years and impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. New sources and types of data are being acquired and analyzed. Data once trapped in email, personal files, and unstructured formats are being integrated with traditional/legacy (often structured) data for a more holistic view of the business or specific situation. Meanwhile, data driven leaders across nearly every sector and geographic region are leveraging new tools and processes, including Artificial Intelligence, that improve overall performance.” Leveraging data effectively (with a careful eye on consumer privacy) can provide a retailer with significant insights around prior and future customer behavior. Data can tell a story and enable a retailer to customize the experience via impactful offers provided in the right way and at the right time. 

Rise of the machine (learning)

While customer data can be a valuable tool in driving a personalized, relevant customer experience, evolving technology and an increasing number of channels to monitor can give rise to a massive amount of data that needs to be acquired, stored, prepared and analyzed before it will provide significant business value. Well-trained machine learning algorithms that help identify user habits and behavior patterns to customize offerings can help make those users feel individually valued without the need for manual data analysis.

Another benefit of machine learning is the automation of customer service to ease labor costs. However, automation technology and chatbots should be able to interact with people in a seamless way. We are past the era of pressing “1” for order tracking and pressing “2” for customer complaints. Customers want (and expect) the customer service agent – whether human or machine – to understand what they’re trying to say, however they’re saying it; they are looking to have conversational discussions in their own language, with someone who can understand their request.

Understanding the request is just the first step. An effective automated service agent should provide the correct answers.  Often, those answers live somewhere in the business, hidden in silos or are recorded in a nonstandard format. Good customer experience needs not just sophisticated customer service technology, but also strong machine learning capabilities that help scan the business for relevant information needed to feed the service touchpoint, whether through voice assistants and chatbots or through human customer service agents. We have moved from the simple text only chatbot to Conversational AI, combining voice and text, and new tools have emerged to fine tune the value of chat bots through CX Analytics.

The customer journey has evolved immensely in the past decade. This has created a need for omnichannel experiences that help retailers meet their customers whenever and wherever they want and for machine learning-driven customer service that they can interact with seamlessly.

 In part 2 of this blog, we will explore what retailers can expect in the coming decade, and how to start preparing for it so they can stay ahead of the curve.