6 Smart Ways To Improve the Customer Experience for Retail Post-COVID-19


Consumer behavior has gone through a fundamental shift owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. People have shifted their priorities to health, safety, and convenience. The old understanding of customer experience will have to change, and businesses, especially retailers, will have to reorganize their customer service approach.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of lives across the world. A virus, once unheard of, has within a few months entirely changed the way people would do their businesses. During the lockdown, people who were averse to buying online became more comfortable using digital methods to engage with businesses across industries. A consumer trends report by AccentureOpens a new window in June showed an increase in ecommerce purchases of 160% from new or low-frequency users. Further, there is increased concern among consumers about their health and safety.

Now, as economies reopen after a prolonged lockdown, businesses, especially retail store owners, should consider these changing customer behaviors and attitudes. They will have to rethink how to serve customers and enhance their experience if they already have not. In this wake, four experts weigh in their opinion.

1. Build Relationships With Customers Digitally

The pandemic brought changes in the way people interact with businesses. There is also a shift in what customers consider basic digital capabilities of organizations. As such, it is not sufficient for companies to focus on digital transactions alone. You will also have to focus on building customer relationships digitally. You can create engaging content and relevant product information to connect with customers in a meaningful way. On a product level, you can provide information, such as product description, availability, reviews, pricing, and promotional offers.

On a service level, you may have to go beyond your contact centers to train brand ambassadors who can engage with your customers in a meaningful and authentic way.

Dawn AndersonOpens a new window , global lead, customer sales and service, AccentureOpens a new window says:

“COVID-19 has ushered in new ways of living and working. Focusing on digital transactions alone is not enough. To remain relevant, companies need to embrace digital engagement (that is, build closer relationships with customers). The emergence of new digital customers, who will likely continue to interact with organizations online even after the pandemic ends, will require companies to analyze how to maintain the right customer sales and service channel mix.”

Further, customer trust has gained much importance during the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers are more inclined to make purchases only from brands they trust. According to Anderson, companies will be forced to make difficult decisions during and after the pandemic to retain that trust. For example, online retailer ASOS had to let its customers know that it was increasing its standard delivery by up to 11 days during the pandemic to avoid disappointing its customers. The approach did pay off as the company grew its active customer base by 16%. Sales too rose 10% with “steady improvement” despite the pandemic.

Anderson says, “Capitalizing on new customer preferences and ensuring digital engagement will become a competitive advantage for companies. Those that can build these capabilities, and sustain them, will see a positive impact on reducing costs and increasing the percentage of total revenue derived through ecommerce.”

Learn more: Increased Mobile Shopping Is Here To Stay – How Should Retailers Adapt?

2. Leverage Digital Media To Engage Customers

Along with embracing digital channels, more consumers are increasing their media consumption across devices significantly. According to eMarketerOpens a new window , consumers spend an average of 13 hours, 35 minutes per day on digital media in 2020, which is an hour more than that of 2019. Out of the devices and content formats that saw engagement, smartphones, and digital videos witnessed more consumption. These touchpoints will play an essential role in bridging the gap between the digital and in-store shopping experience in the coming years.

Matthew ConlinOpens a new window , co-founder and president, FluentOpens a new window , says:

“Beyond promoting use of their own brand apps, marketers should also tap into the applications where consumers are spending most of their time. Since states began issuing stay-at-home orders in mid-March, Americans have turned to their devices as a source of entertainment. With consumers, especially Gen Z, downloading new gaming apps while in quarantine, brands should consider leveraging rewarded video and other similar ad formats that provide value to the user. As time spent with digital video also gets a boost from the COVID-19 crisis, brands should consider investing in creating compelling video content that is optimized for a vertical, mobile-viewing experience.”

3. Use Technology To Enhance Customer Conversations and Support

Ever since the pandemic hit, people have been restricted in their movement. As a result, conversations with businesses have predominantly gone online in the absence of in-person interactions. Intercom, a conversational relationship platform, recently analyzed conversations with its customers. The company found an 8% increase in support conversations during the initial few weeks of the pandemic. The company also collected industry data across several businesses. This data showed that 47% of support teams reported increased inbound volume since the pandemic started.

Hence, companies should use technologies like chatbots and messengers to enhance interactions and support provided to customers.

“Our data also shows that customers used chatbots to initiate 68% of conversations that mentioned ‘COVID’ or ‘coronavirus’ with their customers from February to April. The pandemic has increased the number of daily conversations businesses are having with the customers, and they’re relying on chatbots more than ever to triage customer inquiries or resolve problems.”

According to Church, chatbots can be effectively used in three scenarios:

  • To resolve simple customer queries faster than human support.
  • To route the customers to the right self-service resources or the right team member, in case of a complex need.
  • To increase the level of personalized conversation with customers.

Learn more: Tech Can Help Put Customer Experience First As Businesses Reopen

4. Communicate With Your Customers Proactively

The pandemic has left several questions in the minds of consumers. While they will have certain queries for your company, it is a good idea to be proactive in reaching out to them to reassure and provide them information. Proactive communication provides them the much-needed relief and helps you build trust with them. It further lifts a significant burden from your support teams.

Church says, “Your customers have lots of questions during this time and likely will continue to as the pandemic unfolds. Instead of waiting for them to contact you, proactively reach out and provide all the answers, information, and reassurance they need. Not only will this go a long way in building relationships and trust with your customers, but it also delivers much-needed relief to support teams who are overwhelmed and under-resourced. By preemptively and proactively answering questions and providing the information customers need, time is freed up for support teams to focus on more complicated and nuanced customer inquiries.”

You can further direct your customers to the right knowledge base to answer safety, security, and COVID-19 related questions.

5. Create Content That Adds Value To Consumers

The digital world offers consumers more choices in the way they explore and buy products and services. Hence, it has become necessary for businesses to incorporate strategies across the online and offline world to provide exceptional retail customer experiences. Irrespective of what channels organizations use, content plays an indispensable role in connecting and delivering personalized experiences to consumers. Businesses should take care that the content they provide is engaging, personalized, and adds value.

Bridgette DarlingOpens a new window , product marketing manager, AdobeOpens a new window Campaign, says:

“Be authentic in your communications and understand what will resonate with your audience for the message or offer you want to send. Your customers may be looking for more helpful or educational content right now instead of offers. Providing content your customers crave can keep them engaged and potentially even convert them into an advocate. Another great example of this is Vitamix. As people started cooking more from home, Vitamix shifted their campaigns to help people discover new ways to cook, eat healthily, and still have a good time. They started sharing cooking demos from home, and even tips and tricks to help people make the most of limited grocery hauls.”

6. Use Customer Data To Offer Personalization

For businesses, especially retailers, it is important now more than ever to understand and be mindful of people’s unique circumstances and serve them accordingly. Businesses need customer insights to serve them better and offer them personalized services. For retail store owners, technologies such as location-based targeting can deliver appropriate messaging to customers.

According to Conlin, “Insights into purchase decisions and down-funnel actions will be invaluable in identifying and responding to consumers’ needs, no matter where they are in the customer journey. According to a recent report from ForresterOpens a new window , comparing current versus future investment in personalization efforts, loyalty programs, and pricing will see some of the largest increases from B2C marketers as they adjust their strategy in a post-COVID-19 world. While consumer spending across categories may be down, this is a great time to launch a loyalty program to build meaningful relationships with customers and drive long-term retention.”

Further, once businesses collect data, it is necessary to activate it to provide relevant offerings to customers. They can do this by feeding data into AI/ML tools to understand more about their customers’ interests, buying behaviors, and patterns. This will help them create personalized experiences

Learn more: 8 Experts on How Marketing Strategies and Budget Should Evolve During COVID-19

To Conclude

The pandemic changed a lot of things. It has brought uncertainty, increased attention to health, and the need for convenience. These aspects are reshaping how customers deal with businesses. However, three things remain constant: the need to understand customer concerns, maintain strong relationships, and improve customer experience. Retail companies that can understand this new customer behavior and are ready to serve customers with a new mindset will reap huge benefits.

How do you think businesses can improve retail customer experience? We would love to hear from you on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .

This article was updated on 01-February-2021.