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The last, best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experiences they want everywhere.
Customer Experience led the charge at many of the sessions and discussions throughout the National Retail Federation’s Big Show at the Javits Center in New York City this year. There wasn’t a single session, demo, gadget or sidebar conversation that didn’t make a connection to how it enables or delivers on some aspect of the customer’s interactions and experiences with brands and retailers. Not since Omni-channel consumed everything-retail a few years have I seen a topic get some much singular attention.
There are a lot reasons for this. First, it’s the right philosophy and being validated one transaction at a time. Second, I think the industry has, for the most part, optimized and sorted out many of the efficiency gains and fundamentals of omni-channel fulfillment which dominated the store and online integrations of the last few years. The bad news is that some could not keep up and are making the wrong headlines recently. The good news is that with omni-channel came a lot of data, and that data is focusing the attention on what customers want and need, and opening up new ways to connect with them.
It was an intensive few days of keynotes, insights, labs, and coffee talk about how to be customer-centered. Below is compilation of the best ways in which retailers will continue to lead the way with customer experience in 2017:
Know your customer. For many retailers, there is a still a long way to go to understanding who their customers are, what they want and need, how they like to shop, and what triggers conversion and retention. But the best brands have tapped into both the quantitative and qualitative reasons why and are able to test and adapt quickly.
Know your competitors. Keeping tabs of the experiences that your customers expect and where you stand with respect to your competitors is critical to making the right decisions on where to invest in the right experiences. You can’t do everything, so make sure you know the table stakes and a couple of places to make big bets.
Bring your customers in. Progressive brands are bringing more customers into the design process, crowdsourcing, sharing, and building enthusiasm as their customers become part of the brand. Deep data mining is valuable but diverse approaches with small groups of customers pay big dividends.
Be consistent. Seamless, always-on, mobile-everywhere, with one version of the truth. Anything short of this fractures every part of the experience and erodes confidence and trust very quickly.
Reinvent stores. The best predictions are putting online sales at 20% of all sales over the next 10 years. That means that retailers (who follow the consistency rules we mention) will still have a secret weapon in their stores. Digitally integrated stores that build community and transform into destinations for their customers will provide experiences that cannot be replicated online.
The empowered associate. The burden on associates to sell, service, fulfill, and be the face of the brand has almost saturated. Retailers are finally investing in the associate experiences so they can facilitate a great customer experience.
Get real about innovation. Innovation and technology have gone hand-in-hand for years, but innovation is really about finding and meeting your customers unmet needs quickly. Organizationally and culturally, innovative organizations are finding out how to think big, start small, experiment, and act fast. It’s better to build continuous improvements and flexible capabilities than to try and predict the market in 5 years.
Get aligned. Speaking of organization and culture, the omni-channel wave has forced traditional retail organizations to abandon multi-channel silos and pyramids and acknowledge that the customer-centered business is a new way of thinking, operating, and communicating. The old days of aligning business and IT or store and .com have given way to aligning both around the customer.
It was a great NRF this year and we’re looking forward to working with our customers on these and other advances this year.