Customer Experience: Prepping for The Next Normal

Digital interactions aren’t a new concept in the retail world. Online shopping was already on the rise prior to the pandemic, yet it rapidly became the norm as lockdowns swept the globe, eliminating or severely restricting the option of in-person transactions.

Most businesses reacted swiftly to meet consumer demand, with many brick-and-mortar shops creating an online presence or enhancing an existing one. There was also an abundance of new ecommerce businesses that emerged during this time.

But as vaccine rollouts continue to progress steadily across the U.S., many brands are wondering how to stay relevant and competitive in the “next normal,” when digital interactions aren’t the only option on the table. How can you seamlessly blend the digital and in-person experience to offer the best possible customer experience (CX)?

My company’s recent report, CX priorities in a post-pandemic world, sought to understand how the pandemic has shifted and shaped how Americans shop, among other activities. We also looked at the rise of digital consumer behavior during the pandemic and its implications for retail brands delivering CX post pandemic.

Some of the findings offer key insights and guidance to brands on how to approach CX delivery in the “next normal.”

Personalize Digital Experiences

Whether shopping in person or online, everyone loves a personalized experience that leads to checking out with the perfect item. In fact, one in five or 22% of respondents to our survey that shopped online during COVID-19 said they would be most tempted to continue to do so if brands provided more personalized experiences.

With the rapid advancement of next-gen technologies in all facets of our everyday lives, customers expect more than ever from their online shopping experience. Compared with pre-pandemic times, our survey showed consumers have noticed that brands have been making a better effort to connect with them online in a personalized way, and they appreciate it.

Moving forward, personalized CX will be considered table stakes by the majority of consumers. Brands wanting to differentiate themselves need to provide “anticipatory CX” by learning to recognize and respond to customer needs before they’re expressed—sometimes even before they even realize they have one. Make sure your technology and processes are supporting your ability to proactively identify opportunities to interact with customers, provide additional information about a product or service they might be interested in, and present a personalized offer to help drive customer loyalty.

Digital CX Shouldn’t Lack Empathy

A warm smile and reassurance from a friendly retail clerk has given us all a feel-good factor that influenced a store purchase. As retail interactions shifted online during the pandemic, many businesses struggled to replicate that human connection, which we saw reflected in our survey results. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they believed digital customer experiences lacked a human touch and resulted in a negative experience.

Consumers are sending a clear message: What digital CX makes up for in convenience and personalization, it shouldn’t lack in empathy.

Moving forward, you can ensure empathetic interactions in a couple of ways. First, strike a balance between digital and human in CX. For example, chatbots are great for quick responses:  22% of consumers used them during the pandemic and 19% plan to continue to do so. But you should always provide them with the option to speak with a human agent.

Technology can help human agents mee customer demands in real time, with speed and insight. Machine learning and predictive forecasting, for instance, can help them know customer preferences and pain points to help them deliver a personalized brand experience.

The “next normal” provides an opportunity for retailers and brands to continuously refine how they deliver the best CX to match evolving consumer behavior. The good news is that many did a great job pivoting quickly during the pandemic to accommodate consumer needs. With some ongoing oversight, innovation, investment and the right partner, you can learn to adapt and evolve in real time as we continue to navigate the phases of global economic recovery.

Chuck Koskovich is COO at Telus International