Retailer innovations during COVID aim to keep customers happy
Excellent customer service has always been the hallmark of well-established, highly respected retailers.
Nordstrom’s, Zappos and Trader Joe’s are a few of the best examples of retailers that make concerted efforts to make and keep customers happy.
Before 2020, many retailers were happy to let those top-rated companies be the standard bearers for superior customer experience.
Meanwhile, many retailers continued servicing customers with no real CX roadmap.
It appeared to the uninformed that the return on investing in the customer service wasn’t worth the time and money spent.
And, the truth was, mediocre customer service was tolerated – until COVID came and retailers were forced to answer a deluge of customer questions and provide new services without much preparation.
In 2020, customer service became the only thing that mattered to customers.
COVID led to an expanded definition of customer service
Image: Anna Shvets
Shopping last year meant dealing with lockdowns caused by COVID-19.
The global pandemic made getting to stores difficult, so, at first, many if not most customers were ordering online.
And while those retailers may have believed they dodged the CX bullet, they were in for a surprise.
Retailers learned the customer service is not simply to answer questions about shipping and billing, but it is also to offer information and help for those struggling with the Coronavirus.
Customers may be desperately searching for products or information on payment options because can’t pay a bill, or are otherwise frustrated by the pandemic hindrances to getting products they need are reaching out via texts, online chat and phone calls.
This year, Forrester predicts customers will continue to look toward retailers for sympathetic customer support.
Forrester Principal Analyst Ian Jacobs recently wrote, “With U.S. unemployment peaking in April, millions of individuals found themselves struggling to pay for food, bills, and other necessities. Organizations must react to provide high-quality, emotionally sensitive customer support in the flexible ways that consumers need.”
In Forrester’s retail predictions for 2021, Jacobs said digital customer service interactions will increase by 40%. That gives retailers many more chances than ever before to prove their mettle.
Self-service options improve customer experience
One way to improve CX, ironically, is to offer more self-service opportunity.
Customers have reported liking to use self-service options, if the process is quick and easy.
In a word, it must be frictionless. For example, a capable site search tool can be invaluable for customers.
Likewise, chat bots are particularly helpful for providing succinct answers quickly; in addition, bots with the power of artificial intelligence bots can reflect whatever personality a brand wants to project.
Adding relevant services based on discerned customer needs
Image: Laura James
Another way to differentiate customer service is to launch a virtual service based on fulfilling a defined need.
Online pet supply provider Chewy, for example, has seen a huge surge in business during the coronavirus pandemic.
But its newest offering, a telehealth service for pets, was launched in response to customers telling service agents about their pet’s problems – while they are ordering food, treats, toys, etc.
The virtual service was on the roadmap for years down the road, but the company saw the need was for now, and launched in October.
Which services will carry on beyond COVID?
Image: Anna Shvets
This year, consumers will let retailers know which innovations will “stick,” and become part of their future shopping expectations.
Top of mind are questions such as: Will the evolution of click and collect to curbside delivery remain a shopping option? Will jewelers continue to offer virtual consultations? How will retailers be able to support the expansion of the sales channel without spreading their staffs too thin?
Those and many others will be answered by 2021 shopping patterns. And perhaps some new “kings of customer service” will be crowned.