How to Combat the Death of Customer Service in the Digital Era
The rules of engagement are shifting and customer acquisition has never been more expensive. But savvy retailers can cut through the noise with a little thought and planning.
Growing up working in my parents' store in Montreal taught me a lot about running a successful retail business. Back then, advertising wasn't as sophisticated. Instead, most retailers had to rely on an old-school approach to customer acquisition: really good service.
Today, brands have physical, digital and social media to consider, and laws around collecting and tracking consumer data are changing the game. With customer acquisition costs reaching upwards of $100 per customer, it's easier than ever to blow your whole budget just trying to make an impression.
Instead of throwing all your eggs in acquisition at the top, take a look at where (and why) your customers are dropping out the bottom. It's critical to consider not only how you're drawing in new customers, but what's keeping existing shoppers coming back.
An old-school approach to a modern problem
Many e-tailers make the mistake of viewing customer service basics as bells and whistles and don't spend the time or money to invest in them — big mistake. While e-commerce has changed the look and feel of customer service, it's even more critical in the digital era.
In fact, there are lots of clever ways to leverage technology to ensure you're showing up for customers where they need you. With email services, merchants can improve their dialogue with customers by notifying shoppers about where their item is in the delivery journey. They can also explain how to use the product, and follow up to check in on customer satisfaction.
Online mattress companies are killing the customer service game. Take the Toronto-based Endy, for example. Their bed-in-a-box comes with a 100-day trial period and a hassle-free return policy. But they go even further — donating unwanted mattresses to people in need so returned product doesn't end up in a landfill.
These things may seem small, but they make people feel valued and can help retailers stop problems before they start. For Endy, it's paid off — its customer experience has earned them an average 4.9/5 star rating out of nearly 30,000 reviews. Excellent service is an opportunity to delight your customer to the point they become an ambassador, which should be the goal of every transaction.
Create an insider's feel for your best customers
Speaking of ambassadors, one thing hasn't changed in the move from physical to digital: Word of mouth is still the most effective way to sell anything. So, build a community vibe to keep existing customers engaged and spark FOMO in the uninitiated.
One way to build a community around your brand is to focus on giving your customer an immersive and memorable experience. An important point: Experiences don't have to be in-person.
Once exclusive to brick-and-mortar, toy retailer CAMP became known as a destination for families to explore, play and shop. However, when the pandemic disrupted in-person gatherings, CAMP had to pivot. It introduced a new experiential e-commerce platform where kids can shop with the help of an animated bear named Scout.
Experiential retail can deliver the personalized, exciting interactions shoppers crave while creating an insider's feel. Case in point: cycling clothing and accessories purveyor, Rapha, has in-store organizing points where people can find other cyclists to go biking with.
Whether it's online or in-person, there's something you can do to stimulate conversation around your product and pique your customers' interest. Think long and hard about who your customers are and what extras they'll be impressed by.
Ask yourself what story you're trying to tell
The Internet is a big place. Shopping journeys are increasingly fragmented — a Google search can land prospective customers on a random product page with no idea of how they got there. It's why merchants must ensure they're communicating their story on every page.
Technically speaking, this means making sure your SEO is dialed, your product photos are compelling and you're making the most of your presence on other channels like social media.
With skyrocketing advertising costs, businesses need to get better at using all the tools at their disposal. Even deeper, retailers have to ask themselves what they're appealing to — are you selling convenience? Rock-bottom prices? Maybe it's sustainability or experience.
Consider Costco. The retailer decided they were going to compete on price. But it found a clever way to keep customers engaged and retained with its membership model.
Brands that skip this required effort will find it to their detriment. Your customers want to know who you are and what you're about. Studies have found 42% of millennials and 37% of Gen-Z want to know details like how products are made before they buy.
When you think about it, there are few companies that have achieved a large amount of success without firmly establishing who they are in our minds. So, figure out who you are and own it.
Sure, we had fewer channels to worry about in the years I worked for my family's business, but the acquisition strategy we used then is just as relevant today. Our goal was to make the most of every engagement the moment someone entered the store.
Yes, privacy law changes have complicated acquisition, but I think it's for the best. When tracking shoppers isn't so easy, merchants work harder to connect more meaningfully. To me, those are the kind of relationships worth cultivating — and achievements brands can be proud of.
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