The future of customer experience in "the new normal"

Marta Carrió

By now, you know customer experience (CX) is one of the most important differentiators between your brand and your competitors. It's your best opportunity to relate to your consumers in a way that is unique to the brand and share the values that are most important to you with your consumers.

As we observed a couple of months back at the 2nd edition of the Esade Creapolis Barometer of the Retail Sector, offering outstanding, human, and personalized experiences that can surprise and delight the customer is the best tool for gaining and retaining customers. Furthermore, although small retailers may not be able to compete with the industry heavyweights in many aspects, such as on price or convenience, when it comes to establishing personalized relationships, they can have a clear advantage.

To create great CX, especially in the current context, you need to understand what the customer values. A customer that is changing. Recent studies, such as the study completed by OpenText, show that the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed customers' values and expectations of brands, specifically in relation to their digital experience. According to this study, 65% of consumers in Spain say that the pandemic has changed their expectations of what the digital experience offered by brands ought to be like, and 16% declare that they will not consume products from companies that do not offer an excellent online purchasing experience.

All the problems have the same root: the lack of customer focus on the part of the organization

This study reveals that, following the pandemic, nearly half of those surveyed (47%) feel more comfortable with organizations that are exclusively digital. Moreover, around 60% of consumers consider that the personalization of the digital experience is an essential factor when interacting with a particular brand once again. These opinions are echoed by consumers in other European countries such as Italy (70%), the UK (62%), France (59%) and Germany (55%).

Although each particular problem related with CX requires its own solution, all the problems have the same root: the lack of customer focus on the part of the organization. Below you will find a compilation of the key ideas every company should consider when developing its online sales strategy, based on what consumers expect from a modern customer experience; in turn, these ideas can transform the organization into a generator of income, through customization and customer support throughout the purchase funnel.

A customized CX

Many features related to digital interactions are simply the cost of entry for brands. For example, all consumers expect a retailer to offer competitive pricing and that the quality of the product will meet a certain threshold.

What stands out as a differentiator is how easy and convenient the retailers make the experience, as well as the strength and meaningfulness of the customer's connection to the brand. The latter is particularly true for younger shoppers.

In the final instance, we have found significant differences in terms of what consumers value according to their age. For example, although Generation X values price and value, followed by quality, Generation Z ranks ease of experience as their top factor in an online interaction. They also rate connection to the brand significantly higher than any other generation.

There are many factors that explain these differences, but the most notable is the fact that Generation Z is the first generation that is digital native. Digital interactions with brands are ingrained into their DNA, and it is often how they discover and start a relationship with the brands they interact with. This is also why their expectations around digital experiences are higher than those of other generations.

A personalized CX

Over the next few years, shoppers' biggest expectation of retail brands is going to be the addition of new features that enhance the digital shopping experience.

In this respect, when it comes to personalization, the three most important features that every organization must provide are: timely and valuable information from your brand; contactless pickup options; and personalized offers and discounts. Naturally, no CX is going to work without these three decisive factors.

Customers also expect personalization through any virtual assistance system to become more common. In this respect, consumers' preferred communication channels are changing. Although the older generations still prefer more traditional channels such as the telephone and email, the younger generations are more dependent on digital channels such as chat and SMS.

Finally, consumers expect experiences to inspire trust and to be more immersive, through technologies linked with virtual or augmented reality.

A CX based on connected ecosystems

The failure to connect different systems and technologies is the principal cause of disconnected customer experiences. During this pandemic, many retailers have started up 100% online, offering their availability anywhere and at any time. However, many iconic and global brands still need to integrate and manage their technological diversity.

When it comes to digital transformation, there is no one approach that is suitable for every organization. For companies that have a wide variety of technology, digitization means investing in technologies that can connect and orchestrate interactions with customers through many different systems. Many companies are doing this by means of multi-cloud platforms they can personalize, easily connecting their technologies with their stakeholders.

A CX that listens to customers

On and off data connection to enjoy the brand experience anywhere has become one of the main consumer expectations. However, there are still only a minority of retailers that integrate their customer data sources to obtain a complete view.

We should remember that customers do not care who they interact with; they only see a brand. By connecting data at all the points of contact, retailers can create a 360º image of each customer; not only can they personalize and respond to their needs, but they can also discover and predict their future behavior.

A CX that empowers employees with smart tools

For a sector like the retail sector, which revolves around customer experience, there is a lot at stake when efforts are made to involve and retain employees, due to the costs of hiring and training new staff once again. And clearly employee commitment and training are two of the factors that impact most on customer experience. By involving employees through learning and performance management, they can be equipped with the technical skills and the tools they need to adapt to changing environments, and at the same time positive experiences can be contributed for alignment with the changing expectations of consumers.

In this respect, worker-centered tools such as flexible programming adapt to the workforce while balancing commercial needs; at the same time, capabilities like gamification take advantage of employees' natural desire for competition and foster collaboration.

Finally, making the most of capacities for intelligent work distribution can contribute to managing work assignment using a skills-based model, providing transparency and operational efficiency.

Final thoughts

Earlier, we talked about many current and future customer expectations, so that a brand can catch up and stand out from the competition. In this context, it should be remembered that every CX is going to be compared to other digital experiences outside of their vertical, given that the digital world has become a great equalizer of experiences.

Furthermore, even the best digital strategy won't succeed if it's a digital-only strategy. Brand values and experiences need to transcend the digital and physical spaces a brand occupies. This said, everything noted to date paves the way for designing the future digital experiences that are going to become more deeply rooted in society as true digital natives become the "big consumers".

The retail panorama has changed forever. Over the last year and a half, consumers have been forced to purchase in a completely new way, while digital transformation has accelerated drastically. At present, both the brands and the consumers that have been most reluctant to buy and sell online are adopting digital experiences more than ever before. The technological decisions made by retailers today will have a long-lasting impact on their businesses. Those who respond quickly to the lasting change that is expected, through intelligent CX strategies that have the future in mind, are those who will reap rewards over the next few years.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.