How and Why to Improve the Customer Experience Using Technology
Read Time: 5 Min
Contrary to the so-called retail apocalypse, the retail industry remains a force to be reckoned with. IDScan.net’s retail clients will tell you this, as will the attendees at NRF’s Retail Big Show next month in New York. The industry may look different than it did five, ten, or fifty years ago, but what industry hasn’t been affected by technology?
While rise in e-commerce has forced brick and mortar retailers to change their habits, new technology has also provided opportunities for retailers to connect with their customers on a more personal level; to enhance the customer experience.
Customer Experience Defined
According to Accenture’s Jill Standish and John Jones, the customer experience is “a memorable, tactile, sensory experience, as well as access to expertise.” In other words, “customer experience” describes how a customer interacts with a store, its products, and its people–and how the retailer interacts back.
Why the Customer Experience Matters
Why is the customer experience so important? Online retailers have several advantages over brick and mortars, but the customer experience is a competitive advantage that brick and mortars maintain.
E-commerce is transactional. It’s fast, easy, and convenient in ways that brick and mortar is not. Different labor, real estate, and inventory models allow online stores to sell items for cheaper than they can be sold in-store. For these reasons, brick and mortar retailers have a difficult time competing.
On the other hand, e-commerce cannot compete with an in-store experience. Revisiting the customer experience definition, an online shopping experience cannot provide a tactile or sensory experience, and the access to expertise is limited. Look at Vistaprint: after 20 years of online printing, the company opened a physical store in 2017 after realizing “its customers want a physical location to see the company’s business cards, invitations and other promotional materials in person. There’s that tactical, sensory experience again. This in-store customer experience remains the differentiator with which online retailers cannot compete.
Ways to Enhance the In-Store Experience
Now that we understand the customer experience and why it matters, let’s look at manageable steps that retailers can take you improve the experience customers have in your establishment.
It should come as no surprise that 97% of global customers say that customer service is important in their decision-making process. Looking at Standish and Jones’ definition of customer experience, the words “access to expertise” stand out. Encourage your staff to engage customers, arm them with knowledge about your products, empower them to educate help customers make decisions. And don’t make customers have to search for someone to help them. Walmart is having its employees stock shelves during the day–historically they’ve done it overnight–so that staff can be in the aisles and available to answer customers’ questions.
Engage the Senses
As we learned above, Vistaprint customers wanted to touch and feel the paper they were printing on. Apple wants customers to interact with its products and even requires its Macbooks be opened to a certain angle. Customers can’t hear how speakers or headphones hear when purchasing products online, and brick and mortar florists can offer customers a feel and smell of flowers in ways that online florists cannot.
Disney prides itself on adding magic to every experience, so it should come as no surprise that this extends to its retail stores. Its new store model includes a theater where customers can view movie clips and previews and offers store news “such as reading time, scavenger hunts and more.” The Disney example may sound extreme, but the lessons can be applied to all industries. A clothing retailer, for example, can show a dress being worn around town on a TV monitor while a manikin wears the same dress for the customer to see, feel, and try on.
How Technology Helps the Customer Experience
Technology offers retailers opportunities to personalize and enhance the customer experience. An obvious example of using technology is collecting email addresses and using the email list to notify customers of sales and new product announcements. However, technology has made it possible to move beyond this mass email list and engage customers on a more personal level.
Technology helps retailers learn consumer habits and create news and announcements targeted specifically to each customer. For example, when a customer pays at Starbucks using its mobile app, Starbucks can log certain information about the purchase. Over time, Starbucks can learn each customer’s preferences and send them targeted emails and app notifications accordingly. Facial recognition, like that offered by IDScan.net, can also aid in a personalized customer experience by recognizing customers and allowing staff to greet them by name. Staff can also offer product recommendations.
Thinking of how technology can enhance the customer experience, in the Disney store example above, technology is at the forefront of the customer experience. A new addition to multimedia capabilities is the use of ever-evolving augmented reality technology to allow customers to interact with products on a whole new level. This can include customizing products and entertainment among others.
It will be interesting to watch how technology evolves and where applications of new technologies are applied to the customer experience. Until then, retailers have a variety of ways to improve the customer experience using high and low tech solutions.
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