Dale Renner is CEO and Founder of Redpoint Global, the leading provider of customer data platform and customer engagement technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused societal ramifications that are endless. While some industries are more impacted than others, the forthcoming challenges weigh heavily on customer-focused organizations.
The immediate fallout has been severe. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail sales plunged a record 16.4% in April, including an 89% year-over-year decrease for clothing and accessories stores. Brooks Brothers joins a growing list of iconic retailers to file for bankruptcy protection, including Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney and J. Crew. Meanwhile, changing consumer behaviors are reflected in an increase in online sales and other no-contact transactions. As April retail sales plummeted, e-commerce sales increased 8.4% during the same time frame, accounting for a 19.4% share of all retail sales. A Gallup survey reveals that 36% of Americans used a curbside pickup service during a one-week period in May, up 17% since a similar time frame beginning late March
This is a new reality that brands must adapt to in the weeks, months and years to come. Businesses must recognize that customer behavior and expectations are evolving at a rapid, unprecedented pace. They must meet new expectations, or they will struggle to survive.
The changed consumer base is likely here to stay, with consumers carrying over new habits and becoming more demanding than ever of the brands they interact with. In this environment, businesses will need to meet customers through multiple online channels and consistently deliver meaningful, relevant and contextual engagements. This could entail increased options for telehealth, a transformation of physical retail, hybrid digital-physical engagements or other customer engagement models yet to emerge.
Aggressive Movement Toward Customer-Centricity Is Mission Critical
A company we have been working with that is renowned for its knowledgeable sales reps who engage authentically with customers has been looking to digitally replace this highly valued in-store experience. They, and others like them, need to capture the same authenticity digitally in real time, conveying trust, relevancy and transparency in every interaction.
The forgiveness for errors in this environment is razor thin. Mistakes create a trust problem, introducing friction and frustration into the customer experience that derails a customer journey. Mistakes can be as simple as making product recommendations that do not match expectations, sending the wrong order or arranging a delivery that fails to account for a customer’s preference for a contactless interaction.
Getting the right data about a customer’s wants, needs and desires is important, but ultimately, delivering a superior experience is about infusing each interaction with relevancy and context in the moment of engagement. The context must be understood through data, and businesses need real-time insights into how to optimize every interaction, using behavioral and transactional data as clues to make relevant recommendations for each customer throughout and across journeys. Businesses need to deliver each interaction as perfectly as possible, which includes accounting for how a specific interaction fits into the overall customer journey. Each experience builds upon the previous one — even if it was seconds ago — to ensure that the next experience is relevant and is perfectly in sync with the customer at a particular moment of the journey.
Strategic Realignment For Future Success
Transforming how your business delivers the perfect customer experience is more than a marketing challenge; it’s whether your business survives and thrives. Leaders in every organization should consider this to be a strategic imperative — or thriving and even surviving may prove difficult. Even when economies reopen, it may be extremely shortsighted for any business to simply think about reverting to a tried-and-true business model. How do you deliver the perfect experience for a customer who is reluctant to walk through the door of a physical location? You fundamentally need to reassess every interaction to see what you can to do optimize and maximize opportunities.
People will continue to buy, consume and pay for services, but if you fail to adjust to their needs — at their cadence — they will simply find another company that will better serve them. Every consumer has their own definition of the best, fastest and safest experience for them at any one moment. No matter how loyal a customer may have been, most consumers are rethinking the right mix for them.
Creating and persisting a customer-centric approach of driving individual engagements with highly personalized moments of interaction, as well as real-time and event-driven engagements that are unbound by channel, is the way businesses must operate in the new reality. If not already underway, customer-centered marketing must become a fundamental part of the business DNA.
Defining Your Brand Promises Critical To Success
What is your brand promise? Is it clear and understandable to everyone who interacts with your business? Do the experiences you deliver mirror that brand promise? For a long time, brands could continue to do well enough without clearly defining what they represented, but consumers were already demanding more before the pandemic. You need to unequivocally deliver on your promise in a world where the consumer is ever more elusive and often presenting in completely new channels of interaction.
A brand promise is so much more than a tagline for a business; it is the heart of how you should run every aspect of your business. It is, first and foremost, about transparency and authenticity in the delivery of products and services.
The brands that will emerge stronger in 2021 and beyond are those that are truly customer-centric. It will be readily apparent to customers which brands prioritize their needs and deliver a fundamentally frictionless customer experience. Brands that ignore the new reality will indeed pay the price.
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