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Is Customer Experience Strategy Making or Breaking Your ‘Shopping Festival’ Sales?

As more consumers make online channels their preferred shopping destination, the e-commerce market is one that cannot be ignored. Market estimates show that e-commerce sales in Southeast Asia is expected to rocket to US$89.67 billion this year, an increase of $15.31 billion over 2021 and also expected to cross the US$100 billion mark by 2023. Shopping festivals and annuals sales cycles like Black Friday, end-of-year sales are huge highlights in the sales calendar, anticipated by consumers and retailers alike.

However, before retailers make merry to the sound of ringing virtual cash registers, they should also consider the customer experience as part of their overall sales strategy. While discounts and promotions are a good way to attract consumers, a poor customer experience could end up having the opposite effect and driving them away – no matter how attractive the discounts. Research indicates that 74 per cent of consumers are likely to make a purchase based on experience alone and close to a third will stop doing business with a retailer, even if it is with a brand they love, after just one negative experience.

The reality is that merchants who have not adequately considered the customer journey and experience may find themselves dealing with frustrated customers, abandoned sales carts and even potential damage to their reputations.

How easy is it for customers to engage with you?

In today’s omnichannel world, customers expect to engage with the merchant through their preferred channel. In addition to ensuring that the experience across touch-points such as email, social avenues and mobile apps are consistent and up-to-date, retailers must also ensure that any third-party services such as payment gateways are well integrated.

It was found that close to 70 per cent of potential sales are lost due to customers not going through with their purchases at the final stage. While it could be that shoppers were simply undecided, other reasons include cumbersome processes such as forcing the customer to create an account, overly complicated or confusing check out processes or worse, the website crashing (which occurs with alarming regularity during festive periods).

How quickly are you responding to customer queries? 

Customers today expect a digital-first and digital-fast experience. This is a big challenge for many retailers during peak sales seasons given the surge in queries. A negative experience during this time could lead to the customer switching brands, wiping out all the time, money and effort that had been invested into building customer loyalty. At the extreme end of the spectrum, more than one in 10 customers believe that a company should respond within 15 minutes. That said, acceptable response times vary depending on the nature of the product or service and the urgency of the matter.

One way to manage seasonal spikes in customer service needs is to tap specialist customer experience providers. Such providers can help in ramping up your customer service team quickly so that service levels and customer satisfaction are maintained.

Regardless of whether this seasonal workforce is in-house or outsourced, it is important that there is no compromise on providing them with the right training. The last thing any brand would want is to have poorly trained representatives that provide bad service or the wrong information.

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Technology to the rescue?

Technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) play an important role in enhancing customer experience. However, the ability for such technology to manage complex problems effectively is still somewhat limited.

Self-service channels enabled by technology are great for straightforward queries. But for those that cannot be resolved through standard responses, the human touch is irreplaceable. Even in today’s high-tech environment, there remains a portion of queries which cannot be adequately resolved through machines.

To effectively address each stage of the customer’s journey, brands should consider using a mix of technology and humans as they design their customer experience strategy. The human touch also leads to better outcomes for the brand; three in four consumers state that they are more loyal to a brand if they can speak to someone.

How is the post-purchase experience?

A positive customer experience does not just begin or end at checkout. Equally important is the post-purchase experience. For example, should an item be out of stock post-purchase or where there is a delay in shipping, retailers can offer alternative options to keep customers engaged with proactive solutions. Incorporating SMS messaging tools can also help in providing customers with timely updates.

When it comes to returns, having difficult, complex and time-consuming processes would only frustrate and alienate customers. Hence, retailers need to think about the experience that they are providing throughout the entire buying journey.

It seems a no-brainer to say that people will gravitate towards brands that show concern for them and value them. However, this is easier said than done.

Even as retailers invest in cultivating meaningful relationships with their customers and engage with them through personalized communications, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. Having robust customer engagement strategies can therefore not only help in maximizing revenue opportunities but creating positive customer experiences that build brand loyalty. Such goodwill also goes a long way in helping to preserve the brand’s reputation when things do go wrong.

As customer interaction increasingly moves online, customer experience becomes a key – and often, the only – channel for consumers to reach out to and experience a brand. As such, brands that invest into getting that customer interaction right will stand to benefit in the long run – not just during special periods but throughout the year.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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