Hi Coreen, tell us about yourself, your background?
I have spent more than a decade working with some of the world’s most influential retail and transportation brands, specifically helping to improve customer experience by using various automation technologies. Over the years and after working with numerous employers like Oracle and Blue Prism, I have come to learn that all brands want to put customers at the heart of their business. But too many are held back by either a lack of vision or understanding of how to make this a reality, given the current operating, resource, and technology restrictions. However, with customer expectations increasing by as much as 10 years in just the last 12 months, I have seen many brands push these barriers aside as part of their innovative survival strategies.
Today, my focus is helping brands imagine the art of the possible. By using the right intelligent automation technologies to fill in the gaps, I advise them on how to create new customer journeys to deliver moments that matter.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
When the pandemic struck, consumers were faced with few options for grocery delivery, as slots were being reserved for the most vulnerable. Then, when they braved the shops, they were faced with empty shelves due to panic buying and supply chains not being able to keep up. As a result, shopping habits changed almost overnight. Some consumers started sourcing items from local independent stores, while the vast majority flocked to retailers who had eCommerce offerings.
For many retailers, the sheer volume of orders, and subsequent requests related to returns and refunds, left customers frustrated in long calling ques, with few getting a resolution on the first call. Naturally, this was compounded by the emotional distress of being in lockdown during what was a scary and uncertain time.
But there were a few exceptions. Brands that were agile in their approach and took quick and decisive steps, on average, faired far better than those who tried to weather the storm.
- Uber, for example, took early data forecasting and quickly realized that their ride-hailing service would see a dramatic decline, potentially leaving their staff out of work. At the same time, however, their Uber Eats business saw a huge increase, so instead of letting the ride-hailing staff go, they simply redeployed them into the Uber Eats business, which helped the company gain a significant bump in its Net Promoter Score (NPS).
- Another example comes from a global telecom provider, who had just 30 minutes to evacuate its 6,000-seat contact center in Spain. Luckily for them, the company had already been using technology to remove unnecessary administrative tasks from their staff, who were now able to serve their customers from home at a time when they needed it most. Not only did they not suffer any disruption to service, but they also managed to increase call answering rates, reduce average call handling times and improve first-call resolution, leading to the biggest single increase in customer experience to date.
At the end of the day, customers do not expect retailers to be perfect, but they do expect retailers to know them and treat them like the individuals they are, especially when things go wrong. Using technology to drive data insights and personalized recommendations is the only way to do this at scale.
Coreen’s tips for personalization
What tips do you have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?
This is something I get asked about all the time, “Customers don’t want to give us data; how am I supposed to improve their service without it?” This is a common conundrum, but customers can’t be blamed. They’re not used to the data they share is used to help them. While it is a bit of a “chicken or egg” scenario, brands must realize that customers need to understand the value of sharing their data before they can be expected to comply. But there are many ways you can do this, even with the generic data you already have, which will help them offer information more freely in return.
- Consider a typical product insurance process: The renewal is due, you have all the customer information, and you send out an email confirming this detail, as well as the renewal terms. The customer then clicks on the link and logs in, only to find they now need to manually complete the form on the back end. This isn’t the experience you or your customers desire. How refreshing would it be if they found a pre-populated form already there (which they could edit if they need to), and all they needed to do is click a single button to renew it?
- What about an e-commerce site that offers search filters? Customers use the site on a regular basis to make purchases, but every time they come back, they need to reset these criteria. Surely, based on previous orders and search history, the company should be able to pre-populate this search criterion, showing the customer only the items they are most likely to want – along with the option to change these if they need to.
- I think we can all remember the days when we shopped at our local market in person with our loyalty card in hand. But do you remember the first time you logged in online and saw all your favorite items nicely laid out for you? How amazing was it to find that you didn’t have to manually search or scroll through thousands of items but still had the option to search for something you hadn’t purchased before?
Once you start surprising customers with this kind of personalization and helping them understand how their data is ultimately improving their experience, they will see the value in giving you more information, which will allow you to offer new services – for example:
- Fashion retailers have more opportunities to offer personal shopper services online, including highlighting only the items that come in their size, preferred colors, within their price range, and from their favorite designers. Retailers can even narrow it down further by only displaying what’s in stock or available for next-day delivery. This would save the customer from hours of tedious scrolling and result in a higher lifetime value, leading the customer to provide even more information to further improve this service going forward. It’s quite possible that they may even pay extra for such a VIP service.
The sky is the limit, but we first need to stop thinking about how things used to work and instead focus on what customers really want.
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
Absolutely. In fact, I would argue that if businesses aren’t already doing it, they are very much falling behind.
As stated earlier, retailers have had to innovate to survive, which has led to transformation projects being rolled out almost overnight at a speed and scale that would have seemed reckless before the pandemic. But across the sector, there is now an acceptance that the disruption and speed of change we have seen over the past year are set to become the norm rather than the exception.
Accenture recently described the coming years as a “period of unpredictable and muted economic recovery, bringing to life a new era of the Never Normal,” defined by fast-changing shifts in cultural norms, values, and behaviors.”
Inevitably, once it becomes safe to do so, many people will return to in-store shopping because humans have an instinctual need to group together, touch and feel products, or talk through their options with an expert in the field before making significant purchases. For many, this is also the more enjoyable social aspect of shopping.
However, the general shift toward digital channels will not be reversed, as consumers have become smarter and more accustomed to the ease and convenience that online shopping delivers. To keep up, retailers need to get smarter too.
Fundamentally, consumers’ demands have not changed. They still want information about the product and to buy it at a good price with minimum hassle. But what has changed is the pace at which the internet has enabled these needs to be fulfilled, raising customer expectations even higher.
Retailers who do not meet these expectations will lose customers to those who do. And some of those needs may even be better met by companies that look very different from today’s typical retailers. Remember, consumers can now access a seemingly limitless “always-on” product range online. Combining this with direct-to-consumer trends will mean shoppers will become much less reliant on retailers to curate products and instead will see them as product distributors.
For shoppers to remain loyal, many of my customers predict that they will ultimately demand a seamless, hyper-personalized, and immersive omnichannel experience, with the option to view products in person should they want to.
Therefore, the technology innovation needed to drive this will become more important than ever.
Social media pages have become crucial for companies in most industries, especially in eCommerce. What’s the most common mistake you see in a company’s social media strategy?
Offering new and different channels to engage with customers is a great way to stay front of mind and connected with your customers, but only if you use this as part of a comprehensive 360-degree omnichannel customer journey. Nothing is more frustrating than engaging and purchasing from a brand (who gains a lot of additional personal data from social media), who then fails to respond to support queries on the same channel. This then requires the customer to have to pick up a phone and speak to a contact center agent, who knows nothing about the order or previous social conversations. Ultimately, this leaves the customer annoyed that they must provide all that history again… potentially more than once!
If you are going to offer a range of communication channels to your customers, whether that be in-store or through eCommerce websites, social channels, chatbots, SMS, or support contact centers, make sure they are all cooperative. This will reduce the customers’ effort, improve the NPS and reduce inbound calls into the contact center.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?
The Cult of the Customer by Shep Hyken. It talks about how, in today’s competitive business climate, satisfying your customers is no longer enough. You have to be better than that, by giving them experiences they won’t forget.
The book includes dozens of examples of companies that have designed and executed a strategy to create a customer-focused culture, shifting from “uncertainty” to “amazement” and turning customers into evangelists. Proving that it can be done if only a brand is willing to make the necessary cultural changes.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?
There is no “one size fits all” here, as it very much depends on what your business does and how they do it. But one of the positives that have come out of this pandemic is that brands have been able to identify which processes are critical and which are less so. Looking forward, leaders will need to put in place business agility and resiliency plans that are solely focused on how best to keep delivering =-at scale.
I believe that 6,000-seat contact centers are a thing of the past. People have proven that they can serve customers just as well from home, which means many brands are making huge cost savings on smaller office spaces and reinvesting this cost savings back into secure and compliant digital technology and new customer offerings.
In situations where people cannot work from home, I believe we will see an increased focus on employee satisfaction, which, as we know, ultimately leads to customer satisfaction.
The biggest challenge here is for leaders to understand that between customer expectations, fluctuations in demand, and the resulting competitive innovation, the retail sector will never be able to return to a pre-COVID-19 operating model. So, working on continual improvements and achieving operational agility while also reskilling and redeploying your people along the way needs to become an urgent consideration.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
A 100% customer effort score. At the end of the day, no matter who you are, what company you work for, or what title you hold, we are all customers of other brands. And this metric is the single most important aspect that determines whether I complete a purchase with a new brand.
If you lure me in with an advertisement and I cannot find the item within two clicks, or you make me fill out a form, only to ask me to give you all the details again when you phone, you can forget about getting my business.
When brands focus on removing effort from the customer’s journey, they also increase sales and customer satisfaction.