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How to Create a Digital Consumer Experience That Doesn’t Lose the Human Element of Retail

E-commerce sellers have been placing a lot of emphasis on a positive digital experience, but there is still some uncertainty about what that looks like in practice. With a wide range of new technology solutions and tools now on the market, online merchants risk getting distracted by flash and not delivering where it counts.

Instead, experts at experience management platform Medallia recommend that retailers focus on the human element, social engagement and consistency. Erica James, Medallia’s global head of retail practice, warned about the tendency to rely on technology to replace — rather than support — these person-to-person interactions.

“We know that in retail, just as in many B2C environments, often what drives a ‘wow’ customer experience is the impactful interactions between customers and frontline staff,” said James. “While many brands are trying to address that human touch relationship via chat bots or personalized recommendations tee-d up by algorithms, it is no substitute for two people engaging in two-way dialogue.”

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This is not to say that merchants should avoid leveraging technology. Tools that allow for virtual formats for customer service, such as using video calls for personal shopping appointments, can provide a seamless way to move a customer relationship online while maintaining the personal connection. Similarly, having sales associates engage with customers directly through online chat tools can help foster those relationships.

Social media can be deployed in a similar fashion. Rather than using these digital channels purely to pump out automated or algorithm-focused content, James recommends that brands look to engage more intimately with their audience base. By creating genuine moments of conversation and entertainment, brands can keep shoppers engaged in the brand and encourage future sales.

“Nurturing social communities to bring like-minded customers together, hosting exclusive networking or sales events through Instagram Live, showcasing customer stories as a part of a larger storytelling campaign — [these] are all ways that brands can provide some additional value add to customer’s experience,” said James.

Video is a particularly good medium for these kinds of engagements, as it allows brands to present a human face — literally — and convey a more sensory experience than static text or email might achieve. It can also convert from a one-way communication to a dialogue, through the use of a comment section or other methods of gathering customer feedback. Additionally, brands can utilize video within their other communications for maximum benefit.

While these individual elements are all useful, James emphasized that there is no single solution that will create a successful customer experience. Rather, it is important to use these tools to create a “sustained pattern of consistent, relevant and proactive engagements.” It is the reliable and repeated nature of the experiences that will be more likely to build long-term loyalty in customers.

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