How to win the customer experience today and post-pandemic

Stephanie Nerlich / November 2020

Stephanie Nerlich is the executive managing partner at Havas North America. Here, she shares the agency’s global consumer research findings and advice for how brands can adapt to deliver meaningful customer experiences.

Nearing the end of a most challenging year, people are slowly beginning to shop again. But they’re doing so carefully and consciously, buying local and embracing e-commerce more than ever.

Going forward, brands will need to be ready to adopt a variety of in-store and online measures to cater to today’s shopper. Savvy yet cautious customers expect a safe in-store experience on top of quality service, have a growing desire for personalisation, and want an online experience that’s as engaging and humanised as an in-person one. Meeting these needs leaves many brands faced with a massive undertaking in order to survive.

To understand what’s top of mind for customers, Havas CX surveyed a combination of 2,000 prosumers — early adopters who are forward thinking, influential, and proactive in what they do and share — and mainstream consumers across the U.S., U.K., France, and China.1 What we learned will help brands deliver meaningful customer experiences now and in a post-COVID world.

3 icons represent the takeaways for brands that want to capture early adopters’ attention. Rating stars: Catch up to customer expectations. Person icon: Humanise experiences with personalisation. Clock: Rethink “time spent” metrics.

Catch up to customer expectations

As customers shop more across digital platforms, they’re confidently demanding an end-to-end experience that rises to their expectations. Digitally mature, customer-focused brands able to meet people’s needs during the pandemic have left their competitors scrambling to improve or lose market share. Last, best interactions mean brands must meet evolving customer standards to remain relevant. That is, the last, best experience a shopper has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.

If your website is currently your primary storefront, prioritise the experience. According to our survey, 78% of prosumers and 59% of mainstream consumers want to easily connect with a human, whether that’s through chat or video interaction, even when there’s no physical store. Be mindful of additional fees, especially if your online store is the only available option. Today’s customers see maintaining digital storefronts as cheaper than brick-and-mortar, and paying more for services feels backward and penalising. They’re much more likely to buy from a brand if they offer free returns (91% prosumer, 84% consumer), free shipping (89%, 85%) and fast delivery (86%, 74%).

Line drawing of a human silhouette with thought bubble: 78% of prosumers and 59% of mainstream consumers want to easily connect with a human, even when there’s no physical store.

Simple and helpful also wins when it comes to site content and merchandising. People are burned out from spending so much time online; don’t make them dig to find what they need. If a human isn’t available, 62% of prosumers and 39% of mainstream consumers want real-time chat with automated customer service. They’re also more likely to buy if they can find easy answers to their questions (89% prosumer, 77% consumer) and see customer reviews (87%, 71%).

Customers no longer have tolerance for brands whose digital experiences are driven by costs and legacy tech. They’ve become accustomed to user-centric champions and expect nothing less going forward.

Humanise experiences with (the right) personalisation

Personalisation isn’t just a marketing buzzword, and many brands are getting it wrong. To customers, personalisation is knowing them beyond inserting their name into an email. It’s removing friction from the experience, based on their previous interactions with your brand.

Personalisation should connect online to real life, leveraging digital to make the day-to-day easier. The majority of prosumers (81%) and mainstream consumers (59%) alike expect retailers to make their in-store visits faster and safer via personal appointments and digital queues. Online, they not only want real-time human connection, but one-to-one shopping advice, curated choices and help making decisions (73% of prosumers; 56% of mainstream consumers).

Use customer data to personalise future experiences as well. In a post-pandemic world, 65% of prosumers and 47% of mainstream consumers want recommendations based on their past purchases. And loyalty needs to be reciprocated: 88% of prosumers and 75% of mainstream consumers want brands to reward their loyalty with special prices and promotions.

Personalisation should connect online to real life, leveraging digital to make the day-to-day easier.

Model personalisation on the way local store owners treat regular customers, not the latest tech capabilities. Technology is a means to meet the needs of customers. While it helps us know a lot about them, data should be used to improve their experiences first and foremost. In a world where consumers are more mindful of privacy and how their information is used, showing how it can create positive, helpful experiences for them is essential.

Rethink ‘time spent’ metrics

The days of people wanting to explore a website are long over. In a one-click world, where time is a precious commodity, customers are here for the stuff, not the site itself. They want to choose when and where to spend time with brands, and they trust brands that respect that time.

For 92% of prosumers and 78% of mainstream consumers, your site or app must, above all, be fast and easy to navigate. Don’t belabor people with time-consuming interactions or get in the way with flashy experiences that create slow loads or “clever” navigation. This includes checkout. Rote interactions should be as frictionless and minimal as possible; 92% of prosumers and 83% of mainstream consumers want a checkout process that’s quick and easy.

Line drawing of smartphone and a checkmark: For 92% of prosumers and 78% of mainstream consumers, your site or app must be fast and easy to navigate.

Consider creating benchmark metrics from your customers’ POV. Instead of trying to maximise time on site, see how fast you can get your customers through the experience. Allow them to choose where they pause and spend time. Most likely, it will be looking at the things only your brand can provide.

The pandemic has opened new avenues for brands and customers. This isn’t temporary; our behaviours are changing, and the role of brands is shifting. The opportunity, and mandate, is to rethink what the customer experience should be. Now, more than ever, strategic plans must be put in place that address customer experience at the heart of a brand’s digital and retail footprint.

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