Every retailer understands the potential value of a personal relationship with the customer. Even today, when we can buy goods from anywhere on earth with a few clicks of a mouse, in every town and city there are retailers that outperform rival stores because of the bespoke service they offer.
But the painful reality is that establishing a personal bond with individual customers is harder for omnichannel retailers. While it’s true that digital retail generates a lot of data relating to individual customers, which can be extracted and utilised both online and in the store, few businesses have successfully struck the balance between helpful and uncomfortable. Avoiding inappropriate, over-frequent or intrusive interactions, at the same time as tailoring interactions sufficiently to enhance the overall customer experience.
In future, retailers continuing to fail in this respect will become increasingly vulnerable to their competitors. A growing number of consumers now expect a certain standard of customer service from retailers, including an understanding of buying preferences and purchasing history. They are comfortable with personalisation if it is unintrusive and helps them to find and purchase the goods they want, using their choice of channel and fulfilment option. Ultimately, those retailers unable to offer this level of customer-centricity will lose market share.
Clearly there is a need for retailers of all types and sizes to improve personalisation, particularly in the store. Excellent in-store service, incorporating some degree of personalisation, needs to be one of the primary reasons for a consumer to visit in the first place.
Retailers must start using data more effectively to ensure they have a single view of the customer across all channels. Not only that, they need to use these data insights to offer some personalised elements to in-store service as well as during online interactions.
For those who invest, increased use of personalisation has benefits beyond conversion rates. It also helps retailers to learn more about their customers, telling them which are most valuable today, and which are likely to offer the greatest value during the course of their relationship. This business intelligence can then inform marketing and stock management strategies, along with the development of systems used by customer-facing staff in the store.
An additional benefit for the retailer is that a customer relationship may be so strong that an individual will act as an advocate for the brand. While they may do so informally and voluntarily anyway, in conversations with friends or through social media, by managing that relationship more closely, retailers may also be able to persuade them to participate in authorised activities or programmes. In return, they can be rewarded for recommending that retailer to others.
In future, technology will continue to help personalise interactions between retailer and consumer. This is regardless of whether those interactions are with staff in the store or contact centre; with automated self-service or information systems in the store; through consumers’ mobile devices inside or outside the store; or through other online interactions.
Integrated technology platforms that can support such interactions are already available and used by growing numbers of retailers. These technologies will need to cater to a huge variety of customer preferences around interactions and transactions. They will need to be flexible, allowing retailers to adapt strategies as consumer preferences change. They will also need to be scalable.
Only by using technology with these capabilities can omnichannel retailers offer the best possible personalised customer service to their customers. If successful, this approach will enable them to extract the maximum possible value, in monetary terms, and in business intelligence, from each interaction and transaction. This, in turn, will increase loyalty, advocacy and profitability.