Regardless of industry, everyone is feeling the business changing impact of coronavirus. We’ve seen global chains like JC Penny facing a risk of liquidation after announcing bankruptcy while others like Target manage to attract close to 5 million new online shoppers. What's the difference? An accelerated track to digitization, an emphasis on omnichannel fulfillment, and, most importantly, a focus on retaining a superb customer experience are all driving success for businesses seeking the "new normal."
With social distancing hastening the pace of change in both customer expectations and consumer shopping patterns, businesses appreciate the value of customer relationships more than ever. To stay engaged with today’s shoppers, companies must completely transform their digital, fulfillment, and marketing practices into more proactive approaches suitable for this day and age. Here are eight recommendations for how businesses can stay engaged with their customer base in these unusual times:
Website Best Practices:
Improve your UX
Facing stay-at-home orders and the resulting decrease of foot traffic in brick and mortar stores, many retailers have brought their sales online in hopes of meeting consumers where they are. The demand for online retail services has likewise skyrocketed, with e-commerce sales having increased by 25 percent in the U.S. in just the first three weeks of March 2020 and non-store retail growing 20.5% in April.
But, as more retailers transition to online operations and customers become overwhelmed by the disruptions of daily life in quarantine, getting shoppers to complete their purchases has become harder than ever. Whether it is on the computer or via mobile, hiccups like exceedingly long or complicated checkout processes or having to re-enter shipping information can increase the chances that customers will drop off your site before completing their purchase.
When it comes to engaging with their customers, brands are quickly realizing that they need to deliver a better, faster, and more streamlined user experience (UX). Make it easier for customers to order your products online with the optimization of your checkout flow. By eliminating unnecessary form fields, providing clear CTAs, and introducing type-ahead verification into your checkout, businesses can successfully steer shoppers to the final step of the purchase journey, reducing cart abandonment.
Optimize your site for self-service
In this age of social distancing, your online site may be seeing an upsurge in traffic. To keep up, brands must increase their website's responsiveness, ensuring it is easy to navigate and even easier to purchase from. But what if your consumers still experience difficulties? It’s not always efficient to rely on call center agents and customer service professionals to quickly and efficiently service your online customers, as long wait times can be a hindrance
Instead, customers will need a fast, easy, and reliable way of finding what they're looking for on your website. Introduce customer self-service tools like chatbots and dynamic search functions that can deliver a frictionless, hassle-free CX at the right time, every time.
More often than not, customers would rather skip agent interactions. However, they will still need the power to resolve questions quickly and easily on their own. Integrate bots that recognize who your customers are, including their past order history, customer profile, and demographic data, to deliver informed customer service that travels across all touchpoints.
By enriching your platform with the right tools and powering them with accurate, verified data, brands can effectively reduce friction, ensuring new and existing customers continue to shop with you.
Delivery Best Practices:
Adopt curbside pickup
Today’s shoppers perform daily activities with heightened attention to public health concerns. Wariness of spending time in-store does not deter customers who need access to essential items like groceries and medicine. However, it can drive them into the arms of competitors that offer a greater variety of delivery services.
To stay open while allowing people to shop safely, many retailers are offering curbside pickup. Adopted from the "buy online, pick up in-store" (BOPIS) method, curbside pickup allows shoppers to access necessary items without ever leaving their cars. This protects both customers and employees by limiting the amount of person-to-person contact and promoting speedy buying interactions.
But this practice does not come without its challenges. Failure to organize customer data and validate orders can put a hitch in this otherwise seamless process. With convivence at the forefront of customer need, retailers must ensure they collect high-quality data across all points of sale. Loqate’s easy-to-integrate API can be embedded into numerous eCommerce platforms to accurately verify customer data and make the process of connecting customer profiles and purchase histories online and in-store seamless. Additionally, phone and email verification features ensure that the data presented for pickup matches the data captured during the time of purchase. This leads to lower wait times, minimizes chance of fraud, and delivers a higher quality CX.
Improve last-mile delivery
The pressure to deliver has always been on the last mile. This is even more true today, where Amazon’s same-day delivery reigns supreme and instant gratification is expected. Pre-COVID-19, many buyers expected their orders to arrive in a matter of hours. More recently, delivery can take days due to issues with out of stock orders and limited delivery personnel.
Almost 30 percent of a delivery’s total cost is generated within its “last mile” and failed deliveries cost the logistics industry approximately $17 every time a parcel is returned.
Smarter delivery can improve last-mile logistics challenges that spur from data quality issues due to customer and supplier information being captured from various sources and processes.
With the extra benefit of geocodes and reverse geocodes, businesses can add a bonus layer of intelligence to any customer address. Geocodes enable any location to be displayed on a map and can be entered into a GIS application for even more precise location accuracy and ensuring the package is delivered successfully. This enables customers who may need custom or non-contact services to request deliveries to specific locations that are otherwise off the map, such as garages or back doors, Click here to learn more about improving last-mile delivery with Loqate and what3words.
Marketing Best Practices:
Adopt loyalty programs
In the best of times, sharing perks like gift cards and member-only promotion codes is a welcome show of appreciation and a great marketing strategy.
To further incentivize shoppers, reward your most engaged customers with a loyalty program designed to provide personalized experiences such as special member-only sales and discount codes. Since roughly 20% of your customers contribute 80% of your revenue, consider giving preferential treatment to your most valuable customers to foster lifetime loyalty.
Maintaining engagement with the people in your loyalty programs can be done through a variety of channels. Considering that a large percentage of the population is quarantined at home, practices like direct mail and SMS push notifications can be great tactics for grabbing the attention of customers who are feeling bombarded by increased email communications.
Address verification can help ensure that your communications reach the right customer at the right time. Our Capture solution lowers the chances of error within customer records by auto-completing, correcting and standardizing input data in real-time. Combined with email validation, and phone validation, retailers can improve the accuracy of all avenues of customer data and use this single view of the customer to further customize loyalty program offerings.
Build new relationships on social apps
For some people, social distancing brings along feelings of loneliness, detachment, and isolation. But, just because we must remain physically distant, doesn't mean we're forbidden to connect with our community. Rather, in times like this, maintaining some form of human contact, whether it be a corporate Zoom meeting or sharing TikTok videos with your friends, can be a great way to stay optimistic.
Unsurprisingly, social media has become one of the most effective channels for connecting with customers. Twitter usage is up, with 164 million people on average having visited in the past quarter. There’s also been a noticeable shift in social media activity. Every generation, including 30% of millennials, 29% of Gen X, and 15% of Boomers, has increased their usage, making social the best medium to share branded content and invite user-generated content (UGC) from customers.
For example, NYX recently used TikTok to boost its brand awareness by 42%. The famous makeup brand invited their followers to "pop your gloss" and try out multiple shades of lip gloss while singing or dancing. Additionally, one random winner received $1,200 worth of NYX products. The paid campaign saw over 2 million user-generated videos created and over 10 billion views.
Try proactive communication
Businesses looking to stay engaged with their customers should lean into over-communication to provide information, stability, and security to their customers. Craft your customer messaging carefully as the times call for an improved focus on segmentation and personalization as well as an extra helping of empathy and sensitivity.
Customers are getting bombarded by every company that’s ever had their contact information. To stand out from the clutter, avoid generic mass blasts; instead, send personalized and relevant communications.
What people want more than ever is transparency. Be clear about the practices you have in place to support the safety of your customers and employees. Consider how you can help most during this difficult time. Support them with educational content regarding the pandemic or share industry-specific tips that might motivate them to become more engaged with your brand.
Regardless of how you choose to communicate your message, ensure that you highlight both your organization's value, as well as your wish to be a pillar to the community.
Promote brand building and community support
In the years to come, how corporate brands position themselves in social, political, and environmental affairs will significantly affect how consumers perceive their brand. Brands are expected to take a stance on major issues affecting the public, advocate for the public, and give back to society. These values can make or break your customer relationships, as 68% of customers refuse to buy from companies with poor ethics.
Since companies often benefit greatly from the communities where they do business, customers believe this relationship should be mutually beneficial. 76% of them think companies are responsible for giving back to the communities where they do business.
Prove your value to the global community by showing a sense of gratitude to the public. Show your willingness to go above and beyond by donating a portion of your products' proceeds to a charity. Consider partnering with another organization to deliver food and goods to people in need. By volunteering your time and money to a worthy cause, you not only evoke loyalty from existing customers but also attract new customers who share the same beliefs. Recently, we covered 80 companies around the globe who are giving back their communities, such as Amazon, who launched the $20 million AWS Diagnostic Initiative to accelerate COVID-19 research, and Nike, who is repurposing shoe materials to create full-face shields for health workers.
No matter how you choose to give back, be sure to highlight what your company has learned from the pandemic and inspire confidence that you will be there for your customers long term.
The “New Normal”
We do not know when, but we do know that the COVID-19 crisis will ultimately come to an end. While recent events have made customer engagement a significant challenge, with the right tools and an awareness of changing consumer expectations, brands can arise from this crisis with stronger customer relationships than ever before.