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03 Jan

Customer Experience is King. Long Live the King.

Customer Experience is King

Author: Chris Griffiths

The importance of customer experience has long been recognised in retail. Informed consumers seek balance between immediate satisfaction and compelling experiences with brands and products.

This dichotomy will only continue, embellished by an increasing pace of changing consumer tastes, demands, likes and dislikes. Adapting, iterating and enhancing the customer proposition rapidly is the future battleground for the winners and losers in retail. 

Google has recently published interesting research that matches well with REPL’s point of view on key customer experience trends. The research paper (here) is based on consumer trends uncovered in 2019 that will resonate and continue in 2020. They are the same themes and topics that are driving discussions with our customers. 

In this article we outline the key themes in the Google research paper and outline REPLs unique PoV on each. We then explain how technology is key to allowing retailers to experiment, learn and understand what unlocks value for their customers and colleagues alike.  

Theme 1 – Consumer journeys are becoming increasingly complex

The boundaries and fluidity between channels are becoming increasingly blurred. Retailers must understand their customer journeys and move beyond the traditional lexicon of online and offline towards all-pervasive experiences.

This requires flexible technology platforms designed from the ground up to support a changing proposition. As retail evolves and shoppers’ interactions with retailers progress they expect consistency in experience more than anything else.

In parallel retailers seek data to make informed, quantitative decisions about their products, services and journeys. To achieve this REPL is seeing more and more of our customers demand a flexible service-enabled technology architecture. This allows them to escape the constraints of legacy monolithic applications and experiment and iterate their business propositions at pace.

Theme 2 – New media channels are emerging

How, where and why consumers engage with retailers and brands is changing. Media consumption is on demand and retailers must use below-the-line marketing to inspire and delight through a proliferation of mediums and channels in conjunction with traditional above-the-line campaigns.

For example, the ubiquitous John Lewis & Partners 2019 Christmas advert has been viewed nearly 10 million times on YouTube. Guerrilla marketing has become a more prevalent and effective mechanism for entering the social consciousness.  Lidl’s annual mocking of rivals’ prices continues, through fake vandalised billboards overlaid with Lidl products and price comparison adverts placed outside competitors’ stores. 

However, while strong marketing messages may successfully push a product or new service to customers, the way that consumers transact with retailers remains largely unchanged. New technologies and methods to complete transactions have had limited consumer update in 2019. There has been a lot of hype around voice technologies but the penetration of voice-based payments remains low and there are many obstacles in the way of consumer adoption.REPL has found that people are concerned around privacy, data security and passive listening.

While voice assistant technology like Siri and Alexa is improving, the technology is still reasonably immature.This leads to concerns around quality and consistency of interacting that will constrain consumer behaviour. Over time as consumers become more familiar with the technology the use will inevitably grow but the adoption into the mainstream will be a slow journey rather than a cohesive change.

Theme 3 – Satisfying immediacy is often more important than loyalty

The basic tenets of retail do not change: product, price, service and availability of stock remain paramount. Technology enhances the way that consumers engage, research and transact. Google cites 50% of shoppers as confirming inventory before a store visit and suggests location-based services. For example, “where to buy” + “near me” have risen by 200% over the last two years.

Fulfilling consumer demand in real time, quickly, efficiently and conveniently are key. REPL firmly believes that bricks and mortar retailers can survive and thrive by harnessing technology and data to use their physical presence as an asset to satisfy immediacy. More and more of our conversations with retailers are around how to best surface data to customers to help drive the right customer journeys, maximise product availability and ensure colleagues are in the right place at the right time. These employees must also be equipped with the right information to drive best in class service. 

Through our specialisms in customer experience and workforce transformation, REPL are uniquely positioned to provide advice and guidance on how to use technology to meet this challenge.

Theme 4 – Traditional industries are transforming with digital

The phrase digital transformation is almost passé. Almost all business strategies and transformation are underpinned by digital technologies and all retail sectors have been disrupted.

REPL has a deep specialism in fuel retail which is undergoing an unprecedented and epochal change. The rise of electric vehicles (EV) continues unchecked with forecasted sales of between 8-12 million units by 2025. In the UK there are now more EV charging points in the UK then petrol stations. Charging these vehicles will increase dwell time, giving fuel retailers the opportunity to enhance existing propositions and develop new offerings. 

Electric Car Chaging

But it is not just about EV. It’s important to understand other market trends as well.. For example, connected and autonomous cars, IoT and the wider digitisation of customer experience. All of these will work together to change the way consumers engage with fuel retailers. 

REPL are working with multiple fuel retailers to help them deal with the technology challenges this heightened level of change brings. It is also important not to forget that, while it is easy to focus on these new and exciting trends, they will take time and be introduced slowly.

There will be a long period of time when they coexist with the current status quo. This means fuel retailers will continue to make the majority of their revenue from traditional fuel sales for quite some time. This requires them to continue to run and invest in their core infrastructure and provide high quality services for the majority of their customers. All of this against the backdrop of a highly competitive and low margin industry. Ensuring they invest in the right technologies at the right time will be critical for the future of fuel retailers and this is where REPL can help.

Theme 5 – Standards are being raised in privacy and digital wellbeing

Retailers recognise that data security and processing, in particular the framework introduced under GDPR, is not a one-off exercise. From head office to shop floor, retailers need to ensure that people, processes and platforms have data security standards embedded at every interaction. This not only meets their legal obligations but provides an environment in which customers feel their data is secure. Data security, privacy and best practice remain highly relevant and emotive topics for all retailers.

In terms of wellbeing, The Mental Health Foundation found that approximately 70 million work days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health issues in the workplace, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. It is therefore essential that employee wellbeing is recognised by retailers. Processes and tools need to be put in place to support employee development, facilitate feedback and provide engaging and rewarding roles to create a positive, healthy, inclusive environment. The right colleague experience will drive the right customer experience.

One thing is clear: customer experience remains king and technology is vital to achieving the right interactions with consumers. At REPL we believe retailers must look at their IT landscape and ask the question “How can I?”:

  • quickly deploy new offerings for both customer and colleague
  • gather the data that allows me to test and adapt these innovations
  • create an environment where operational teams can deliver and support change at pace
  • engage with my customers and colleagues to create a continuous feedback process”

REPL are leaders in retail transformation, with over 350 passionate people across six countries. We’re big enough to deliver and small enough to care. When you’re embarking on your next retail technology innovation, give us a call to discover what we can do for you or contact us here

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