It’s no secret that the retail industry has been severely affected by Covid-19-related shutdowns and a crumbling economy. Despite non-essential retail being allowed to open its brick-and-mortar stores, there is still much uncertainty about what exactly lies ahead for the sector. Pair this with the pressure of ensuring brand survival throughout the rest of this turbulent year, many retailers are being forced to make difficult and drastic changes to their business functions and structures to survive.
For some, this new approach to business means many retailers have had to close stores. A recent example being that of John Lewis. In order to cut costs and adapt to new ways of consumer spending it has also taken the decision to focus on its online proposition.
Echoing a belief in a continued growth in online shopping, the pure-play online grocery retailer, Ocado, reckons the switch to online shopping will be permanent. Its chief executive has said, “As a result of Covid-19, we have seen years of growth in the online grocery market condensed into a matter of months; and we won’t be going back.”
Though retailers are facing many challenges and have to think creatively about how to connect with their customers, now is a key moment for many to make their mark despite lean marketing budgets. To do this, they will need to develop robust marketing plans in conjunction with customer service teams, that are based on listening to customers’ needs during these trying times. This link is crucial as retailers navigate a future. So, what exactly does a strong listening and feedback strategy look like?
Bring customer service and marketing together
Whether or not customers purchase a product, throughout their customer journey, they experience the brand. What is their experience and how is this being measured? In many cases, customer service teams claim to listen to feedback and act on each individual case, for example, complaints or refund requests.
However, it is rare that these conversations and insights are aligned and shared with marketing teams – good and bad. This means common issues or requests from customers are not heard by those who are responsible for customer communication in an extremely competitive market. Solving this problem involves bringing these two teams together and talking.
Combining data for the bigger picture
Understanding the critical data that is generated by marketing outreach and customer service is a huge first step to understanding how to make that data work effectively. Many brands are able to gain insight into the entire customer journey by looking at engagement data, which helps paint a clear picture of which customers are engaged, what they care about, and how they’re responding to the information coming from the brand. Customer service insights in particular are important because they provide qualitative customer feedback that cannot be represented by clicks or purchases.
It is this direct, verbal feedback from customers to customer service teams that brings highly valuable insights. Survey data shows 71% of people expect brands to have all the information when contacting customer service, which would help serve the 90% of people that expect resolution to their issue within 24 hours. By merging these data sets and incorporating direct customer feedback, marketers will understand customers’ needs first-hand: what brings frustration, and how best to serve them?
Keep up to date with existing and new audience needs
Trends come and go, but the impact created from them can resonate for a long time. Being mindful of how customers respond to these trends, by listening to them, enables you to see the potential opportunities to market effectively to them. Take that thinking one step further includes capturing trends across other demographics that are not necessarily within your target market. This can be based on demographic, location and other factors, but doing so is important for retailers as new audience segmentation allows them to reach new audiences that can help with profitability long-term.
For example, an athletic apparel retailer can consider the kind of engagement they’re getting from an older demographic and figure out how to configure product messaging to fit that segment. They could potentially sell the same pair of workout leggings that previously focused on sports performance for comfort and style. Same product, different messaging. Audience discovery and trend monitoring can breathe new life into brand products and services, giving them the ability to pivot and stay relevant.
Proactive feedback loops
If retailers rely solely on customer service for feedback, they will likely get a skewed view of their customer base, that will likely often lean towards the negative side. This is because customers often connect with customer service primarily for two main reasons: to ask questions or complain. This is where the viewpoint can become inaccurate.
Successful brands will, therefore, proactively seek feedback throughout the entire customer journey, rather than just from customer service teams alone. This means considering customer acquisition journeys, pre- during and post-purchase, and allows for a well-rounded view of how customers perceive a retailer. Using tools like feedback polls provides great input here, as brands can judge and test parts of their customer journey, including web site usability, content rating, email or social media surveys.
Moreover, as retailers develop their feedback mechanisms pre- during and post-purchase, they should ideally also strive to create what’s called a ‘value-add data exchange experience’. As an example, this is where brands might offer 10% off a customer’s next purchase for completing a small survey. The brand gets valuable insight and the customer gets rewarded for this exchange and redeems the offer through a retention programme – a win-win all around.
Compared with the beginning of the year, the retail landscape is vastly different. Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically too. People shop in-store with masks and e-commerce continues to take preference for many. Through this time there is clearly no doubt that there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. As retailers continue to navigate the challenges and tricky times ahead, it will be important for them to listen even more closely to their customers and their needs as they focus on their future.
Sam Counterman, director of marketing, Northern Europe and global digital lead, Selligent Marketing Cloud