It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway into 2015, but savvy marketers are already looking ahead to 2016, planning out their strategies for breaking away from competitors and drawing in more loyal customers.
Unlike previous years when competition was more focused on price and features, 2016 will be all about attracting and retaining consumers through providing the highest quality customer experience possible. As you analyze your marketing priorities for 2016, here are five key customer experience trends to focus on.
1. Crossover Between In-Store and Online
It’s becoming increasingly common for customers to expect retailers to provide them with a completely seamless experience between both their online (including and sometimes specifically mobile) and brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, retailers are working diligently to meet this demand and keep shoppers happy. Aeropostale, for example, has experimented with mounting tablets on the walls of their stores so that shoppers can learn more about merchandise and look up reviews in-store.
Additionally, mobile users can connect with the retailer by making use of apps that provide photos and videos of trendy outfits. One of the sometimes subtle takeaways here is the focus on complete outfits, rather than individual pieces. We expect to see a lot more of this in 2016.
This trend will also extend to point of sale (POS) systems. More and more consumers are interested in making use of mobile payment systems, meaning that retailers need to consider how the various POS platforms converge and what is the right solution for their business. Some stores have even played with the idea of taking POS systems directly to the customer. When lines become extremely backed up, sales associates can go into the queue with tablets to complete customer purchases, not only reducing wait times, but the number of frustrated shoppers and abandoned carts as well.
2. Customization via Advanced Location Tracking
Mobile GPS systems are a great way for your customers to find the retail location that’s physically closest to them at any given time, but expect to see location services become even more advanced in 2016.
Take a look at iBeacon. This positioning system developed by Apple utilizes a Bluetooth low energy signal that enables nearby mobile devices to track its position with extreme accuracy. Retailers are looking at this as a new means of delivering more detailed and personalized messages to consumers.
Marketers are looking at ways to develop, manage and measure customized in-app messages that will be triggered by user behaviors and location data from platforms like iBeacon. This technology is allowing marketers to send personalized emails and ads to customers based on recent visits to points of interest including retail stores, concert venues and sports stadiums.
3. Multichannel Customer Service
There was a time when consumers had no other option but to visit a store or call a 1-800 number in order to receive customer service. With the increased dependence on mobile technology, this is no longer the case.
In order to boost customer experience, retailers need to be prepared to deal with shoppers through multiple channels and make it easy for customers to connect using the method that they prefer. Various studies have shown that approximately half of all consumers would rather text or chat online with an agent over other methods of communication. This means that it’s important to provide a seamless communications experience for customers in 2016 and to make it as user-friendly as possible.
Amazon, for example, has embraced the concept of co-browsing. It’s “Mayday” support service for Kindle HD products allows users to see and talk to an agent in a small window on the Kindle screen. The agent, in turn, can see the user’s screen and take over so that they can guide the customer through the issue. This eliminates confusion and frustration on both ends, allowing for better service.
Other retailers are looking to social media for cross-channel customer service improvements. One example allows customers to tweet their concerns directly to a company. The company can then tweet back with a custom link that will only work for that specific customer, taking the interaction from social media to a private phone call with an agent. The ability to seamlessly move from one channel to another is a significant improvement to customer experience.
4. How-To Content
When customers are struggling with a product, one of the first things that they do is conduct a Google search in order to find answers. Instead of letting some unknown third-party provide information to consumers, a growing number of marketers are recognizing the value of creating accurate on-line “how to” content directly from the source as a means of improving customer experience.
In 2016, we expect to see the most successful retailers launching full YouTube channels, blogs and other media sources that cater to this need. This type of content will not only assist users with repairing merchandise that they have broken, but will also provide them with information that will enable customers to get the most out of the product that they have.
5. Delving Deeper Into the Voice of the Customer
The way that a consumer feels about a brand or company has a much larger impact on customer loyalty than the effectiveness of a product. As a result, retailers have turned to voice of the customer (VoC) solutions that work to capture customer opinions and preferences to provide useful insights.
With advancements in data mining, retailers should plan on taking this information to another level in the coming year. Beyond surveys, retailers will be making use of predictive analytics, sentiment analytics and other programmatic solutions.
Ultimately, 2016 will require much more focus on customer experience than in previous years. Be mindful of these trends as a springboard, but never stop evolving your marketing tactics.