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Leveraging Modern Tech to Redefine the Retail Experience

Leveraging Modern Tech to Redefine the Retail Experience

By Ford Blakely, SVP & GM, Medallia Zingle

No longer is the gold standard of personal service limited to face-to-face engagements. With COVID-19 accelerating the digital transformation of almost every aspect of the retail experience, customer shave flooded online channels to browse, convert and get support. In response, brands of all sizes are leveraging advanced technology to create top-quality customer experiences at a level most often associated with the in-store, personal touch provided by exclusive labels.

Consumers’ evolving expectations for things like contactless service have prompted retailers to modernize their engagement strategies, opening up new opportunities for all brands to not only deliver exceptional service, but anticipate the needs of their shoppers. And the truth is, in an industry that consistently touts the value of customer loyalty, the adoption of tech tools like intelligent messaging have become integral to success -- empowering all types of retailers to quickly resolve more customer issues while reducing total calls into the call center, as well as drive growth and boost revenue through interactive 1:1 customer conversations.

Redefining Personalized Service

Of course, as the retail industry goes through this extreme transformation, the very idea of what it means to provide premium customer support has changed. No longer is the idea of an elevated brand experience determined by a price tag. Rather, it’s about building strong relationships, and utilizing deep customer understanding to deliver retail experiences that resemble the personal touch iconic brands are known for. This is something that has proven to be extremely beneficial in this new era, as retailers foster relationships from a distance.

In their quest to deliver that all important personal touch, while servicing massive amounts of customers online or over the phone, retailers have revamped their customer experience strategies to allow for better customer relationships across more physical and digital touchpoints. Brands at every price point have reshaped the experiential retail movement since the onset of the crisis, evolving their stores and ecommerce sites far beyond merely being points of transaction.

As part of an overall digital experience strategy, outdated web chat functions have been replaced with technology that supports scalable, real-time text communication. By striking a balance between bot and human support, brands are able to adapt to the overwhelming increase in support inquiries and immediately eliminate points of friction in the buyer journey.

As retailers are broadening into an omnichannel imperative, leaders in experience management ensure the gold in conversational messaging data isn’t siloed into lost treasure, but is integrated directly into the customer experience management process and is providing premium levels of customer understanding and engagement. By embracing this type of digitization, it not only empowers retailers to get to know their customers better, but to stay ahead of their behaviors -- which in a society increasingly reliant on instant reply and convenience -- can prove to be the ultimate luxury.

As tech entrepreneur and author Andrew Medal asserts, luxury is in the details, and paying close attention to these details can transform any brand from middle-of-the-road to indispensable. And while no one could have predicted just how much the retail experience would shift in such a short period of time, real-time messaging technology has paved a path for all brands to resolve customer issues in the moment.

Real-Time Communication Puts Premium Experiences Within Reach

Even when life returns to some semblance of normalcy, it’s clear that an effective messaging and communication strategy will be integral for retailers looking to retain positive customer relationships beyond the pandemic’s reach. Real-time communication platforms like texting are, after all, the preferred communication channel for consumers in ordinary times. Texting is especially popular amongst millennials, whom we know are retail’s most influential consumers and also a demographic that is single-handedly transforming the meaning of luxury experiences. To illustrate the value that they place on this form of brand communication, one study found that 77% of millennials are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers support via text.

But where real-time communication also pushes customer experience to new limits is through service recovery. All brands, whether they’re high-end or high-street, fumble the ball every now and again. And while mistakes can cause significant damage to a brand’s reputation and customer base if left unchecked, they can also be substantial brand-builders when addressed quickly. How? Consumers are more likely to report issues sooner if they can do so via text, which enables businesses to correct issues before they become bad reviews. Additionally, when a brand does resolve an issue, 1-in-3 consumers say that they actually feel more emotionally connected to it.

Of course, it’s these types of individual relationships that set personalized experiences apart from the ordinary. And real-time communication is proving to be a critical facilitator, and indeed, a key differentiator.

Creating Differentiation Through Predictability

Retail has always been driven by evolving consumer needs and expectations. Historically, this has been a gradual evolution driven by factors and events that to a large extent are able to be forecasted and addressed in advance. However, when the pandemic hit, consumers’ attitudes and behaviors changed instantly in response to urgent concerns over health and safety. These drastic and sudden shifts were impossible to see coming, and as a result, retailers were forced to throw their strategies and plans out of the window and left in a highly vulnerable, reactive state.

However, with real-time communication strategies and integrated technology that enables retailers to listen to customers at scale, businesses can gain access to a variety of rich, actionable data that empowers by injecting a level of predictability into even the most unpredictable situations.

Identifying trends is crucial under any circumstance, but at a time where many businesses are under increased pressure to conserve resources, optimize sales and do more with less, it’s more important than ever before.

Predictability also provides a much welcomed competitive edge. Studies have shown that one of the best ways retailers can differentiate themselves from competitors today is to be “perceived closer to consumers...” As such, the onus is on retailers to make sure they continue to keep their finger on the pulse of consumer behavior in order to create closer connections and make faster and smarter business decisions.

Building Relationships That Drive a Lifetime of Loyalty

Retailers must continue to think through every aspect of the omnichannel customer journey and find ways to stay connected to their customers at every step along the way. With the industry going through so many dramatic changes, the idea of experiential retail is changing and so too is the definition of what it means to provide an elevated brand experience.

Today, an elevated brand experience is one that harnesses new strategies and innovations to build deeper relationships with customers and employees. By leveraging real-time communication to provide personalized and anticipatory experiences, modern retailers can create an elevated shopping experience and drive loyalty at a time where personal connection is the greatest luxury of all.

Ford Blakely is the founder, SVP & GM of Medallia Zingle, acquired by Medallia in 2019. (NYSE:MDLA) 

As a frustrated consumer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Ford Blakely worked to find a way to make it easier for customers to interact with companies and get their needs met in more personalized ways. As a result, Zingle was born in 2009 as the first two-way, business-to-customer messaging platform. Ford was able to order his coffee via mobile phone, and busy people across the US joined him in skipping the waiting line. 

At the helm of Medallia Zingle, Mr. Blakely works with Medallia CEO Leslie Stretch, and a global team, to provide much needed, real-time and contactless communications solutions for enterprise and mid-market companies. He continues his mission to make the experience of being a customer effortless