Could a personalised shopping experience be the next step for South African retailers?
With the rise of industrialisation, shopping became a mass-market, impersonal experience. Today however, we are seeing a significant trend back to an experience-driven economy. Personalisation has become an essential dimension for the delivery of a rich shopping experience, and delivering a customer experience that is tailored toward the needs of shoppers is a significant competitive advantage.
In South Africa, online shopping is growing due to increased availability and affordability of Internet, as well as growing trust in the medium. However, physical stores remain an important customer touch point, creating an omni-channel shopping environment. Retailers are therefore faced with the challenge of creating a seamless, and personalised, experience across both online and physical stores.
South African retail challenges
Local retailers are on par internationally when it comes to aspects such as merchandise planning, supply chain management and so on. However, the slow adoption of online services has led to slow demand, as well as the slow take up of online logistics processes. The South African market is only just beginning to embrace the omni-channel shopping experience, which means that there is much room for improvement.
However, this also means that local retailers can learn from international best practices and applications, in order to deliver personalised customer engagement. One area of opportunity here is the loyalty card scheme, which South African retailers have in abundance, but which produces vast amounts of data that is not being used to full effect.
Becoming customer-centric in a meaningful way is essential in today’s world. However, in many instances retailers remain stuck in the traditional model of competing on price. This is no longer sustainable as products have become increasingly commoditised.
Differentiation needs to move away from price points and into the realm of creating personalisation and engaging the customer in the shopping experience. As the world becomes increasingly globalised and online shopping becomes available from anywhere and to anywhere in the world, local retailers need to address these challenges to remain relevant and competitive
Personalisation in context
Loyalty programs are an excellent way of obtaining detailed information about customers and their shopping habits. With the right analytics in place, these programs are a veritable gold mine for retailers. In addition, we are beginning to find that customers are willing to share personal information, if this leads to the evolution of a personalised shopping experience.
Retailers need to take advantage of this and engage their customers in conversations, which can be done via social media as well as direct interactions and feedback. Utilising this information, retailers can gain a better understanding of shopper expectations, preferences and habits. This information can then be used to offer a tailored experience to the customer.
Personalisation needs to be contextual, and must move past the current mode of channel-specific and generic segmentation, which does not leverage information on specific customers and their buying habits. When customers swipe a loyalty card before their purchase, or includes their loyalty card number in their online profile, a record is created of every item they buy, whether online or in a physical store. By analysing this information, retailers can then create relevant offers across all channels. The uptake of these offers can then provide further insight into both individual and household profiles, which can in turn be used to more accurately predict customer behaviour in future.
Frequently in global markets, shoppers will begin their experience online and complete a transaction in store, something that we can expect to see in the local market as well. Retailers therefore need to facilitate personalisation across channels, which can be done using smartphones and other personal shopper devices.
For example, an app on the phone can guide shoppers through the aisles to easily locate items based on their shopping list, previous purchases, or indicated preferences. It can also suggest complementary products, provide customised offers and more Furthermore, the option to have all or part of the order delivered to the shopper’s home can be incorporated. Store assistants can also be furnished with devices to enable them to assist customers in real time and deliver excellent service.
Maintaining customer trust
While the creation of a personalised experience is important as a competitive differentiator, it is just as important for retailers to know when to stop. Overdoing the personalisation can result in an overwhelming experience, and not in a good way. In addition, while competing on price is no longer the preferred option, retailers need to be sure not to exploit a captive audience with outrageous and extreme pricing.
The most important criterion to keep in mind is that customers should always feel that they are in control. They should be able to decide how much information they wish to share and trust that the information shared will be used to provide a better shopping experience. Furthermore, retailers need to keep their pricing reasonable, and not charge an excessive premium for convenience or a personalised experience. The retailer must instil confidence in customers, which is an essential component of a shopping experience that is both seamless and memorable. This will enable retailers to sustain and expand their loyal customer base.
Personalisation – the key to differentiation
Predictive analytics is the future - and that includes the shopping experience. Being able to accurately predict what customers may purchase, and offer tailored deals that suit their needs, will help to engage customers and provide a new level of competitive differentiation. However, there is a fine line between personalisation and invasiveness, and retailers need to be careful not to overload or otherwise exploit their customers.
Customers need to be rewarded for sharing their information, not taken advantage of, as getting personalisation wrong can severely damage the relationship between a retailer and its customers, and can cause customers to become immune to offers and retailer communications. In South Africa and Africa in particular, mobile is a significant opportunity, and retailers should tap into the potential of this channel to deliver seamless customer engagements and experiences.
By Jaco Barnard, Head of Retail at Wipro Ltd, South Africa
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.