By Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee.
As the retail sector strives to keep pace with the change in consumer behaviour and ever-increasing customer experience expectations, failure to differentiate can often spell the end of a business. The retail landscape has never been more competitive than it currently is, so it is crucial for businesses to embrace digitalisation and new technologies to gain and maintain a competitive edge in today’s market. With retailers like Bonmarchéand Coaston the brink of collapse, it is vital for brands to constantly be at the top of their game in order to survive against competitors and market fluctuations.
Overall, brands are failing to offer good customer experiences and, as a result, are facing struggles – longstanding womenswear retail chain Bonmarchémade this evident when shares in the company recently dropped 18%after a warning that profits would fall short due to weak consumer demand. Other retailers have also fallen prey to the worsening retail environment, with several well-established chains having closed stores or seeking serious financial restructuring in order to survive, including Toys R Usand Debenhams. It is becoming increasingly clear, that change needs to happen, and brands need to innovate to survive. Incorporating small but impactful technological changes could therefore be the answer, making a big difference to a business’ operations – and its profits.
Digital transformation is huge and can often feel like a mountain to climb. However, despite what retailers may think, it doesn’t always require huge business model changes and drastic process shake-ups. As it becomes clearer that customer experience is the key to driving sales,businesses should not overlook the benefits of making small changes that can greatly enhance the experiences of their customers. This is especially crucial given that a majority of adults (56%) would choose digital resources over their significant others for recommendations on products and services, according to a recent study published by Datastax, which puts the value of ‘word of mouth’ into a wider online experience pespective.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can help retailers analyse customer behaviour and journey data and assist in identifying their individual needs – so they can then be met. By starting to predict what customers want, and need, AI (in tandem with machine-learning) can elevate the whole shopping experience to another level. As it stands, only 7% of retailers currently use AIto enhance their services, and this should increase as retailers see the benefits that AI-driven technology can provide.
Thread, an online start-up, has used AI to assist men in selecting clothes – and subsequently raised £16.7 million from investors, further demonstrating that retailers should look to new, AI-driven technologies to stay competitive. Interactions and conversations between humans and brands become more productive for both parties with AI-enabled technologies. This is because these technologies combine artificial intelligence and data to provide analytics – learning from and responding to a slew of data points in a way that no human ever could. With these analytical insights available, high street retailers can provide the empathetic, responsive service that customers appreciate and increasingly demand. It’s a win-win: consumers get a customised service, and retailers benefit from their improved customer satisfaction which builds brand loyalty and ultimately helps boost market position.
Despite what retailers might think, AI doesn’t always have to mean going as far as installing a team of robot workers to keep up with the digital landscape. However, robot-driven technologies can certainly help. When it comes to the specific technology elements that retailers can implement to start reaping the benefits of digital transformation, dynamic call numbers are just one example of how simple elements can offer huge growth benefits. Simply put, these are unique phone numbers, assigned to each visitor, that are automatically displayed on a brand’s website or in a digital advertising campaign. This simple feature gives businesses the ability to track a specific customer’s journey, and provides extended data insights into that customer, helping to deliver a tailored customer experience.
Retailers can also look to geographical call routing as a method of attracting their target customers across different regions. Call routing allow users to understand the digital context of each visitor, such as by discovering why they were visiting the site, where they came from, and why they ultimately contacted the brand. With this rich contextual data, businesses can then target the customers who truly want to buy and prioritise the journey of these customers through to specific call handlers who are trained and equipped to handle their enquiries most effectively.
Using a dashboard to analyse customer insights and enabling call tracking are also simple functionalities that businesses can utilise to drive growth. For example, enabling customers to text customer service departments, instead of having to call them (and most likely be put on hold or stuck in a long queue) can help speed the process up – both for customer service teams and for customers themselves. This is especially effective when targeting key audience demographics. For example, millennials tend to prefer text messaging over making phone calls,so for businesses who cater to this age range as their primary sales segment, implementing this type of tech is a no-brainer.
By putting customers at the heart of a business’ operations, retailers are able to use data insights to not only enhance customer experiences, but spend money better in the long run and increase customer loyalty. Previously, advertising and marketing campaigns have involved putting large chunks of money into campaigns to increase profits, without receiving targeted insights post-campaign as to its effectiveness. For example,Allclear, an insurance specialist, freed up £20k of their marketing spend based simply on customer insights within three weeks – a prime example of how small tech tweaks truly can make all the difference.
In today’s vastly competitive marketplace, businesses must utilise every tool they have to minimise their risk of failure – and maximise their chance of success. This doesn’t always mean spending lots of money – but using the right technologies effectively to enhance customer experience for maximum business benefits.