When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, in-store shopping came to a standstill. For many consumers this meant a switch to online buying – even for big ticket items like furniture, laptops or TVs that they would have otherwise purchased in a brick-and-mortar store pre-COVID. This shift created a gap in the face-to-face sales process, eliminating a key opportunity to personalize the customer experience. Shoppers seek an engagement that is tailored to their needs, and in-store representatives delivered that personal touch by understanding those unique, individual requirements and suggesting the right product or even several complementary products.Whereas, in the online realm, there is a need to plug this gap and rethink how customers want to engage with the brand.
The stakes are undoubtedly high. New research from OpenText reveals that more than 77% of Indian consumers are more likely to buy again from brands that treat them as individuals, rather than offering a homogeneous service approach. This base of customers will only buy from brands that make them feel they understand their individual preferences, such as communicating with them through their preferred channels or providing tailored deals.
Many popular brands in India have understood this and are using technology to personalize customers’ online experience. For example, based on past buying patterns, such forward-thinking organisations will auto-suggest a list of products that were present in the previous order, but missing from the current one. This small ‘nudge’ helps in assuring the customer that the website knows their buying preferences, and makes the customer feel the service engagement is more suggesting personalized and a reason to stay loyal.
In the case of banks, hyper-personalization helps in automatically suggesting products that are extremely relevant to a customer. This can be gauged by capturing insights from different sources such as browsing behavior or the response of a customer to a particular e-mail, SMS or banner ad. For example, if through the transactions, a bank learns that a customer spends a lot on car rental services, then it can suggest an attractive car loan offer to the individual. The possibility of conversion is significantly higher.
A frictionless experience for customers is key to providing a good experience
Some brands have raised the bar on delivering an exceptional online customer experience. As a result, customers now expect the same level of indulgence as they have experienced with some popular e-commerce portals or banks. Creating a positive customer experience is all about removing friction and increasing relevance: the easier something is to do and the more relevant it is to a customer, the better the experience leading to brand loyalty
Today, customers expect their journey, from researching products to tracking orders, to transitioning smoothly from one digital platform to another while retaining a consistent personalized feel – delivered across any device, at any time. For brands, this means investing in a digital experience platform that enables them to integrate data, information, and assets seamlessly across different environments. Without this in place, brands will struggle to create and deliver the cohesive and personalized experiences needed to win and retain customers.
The survey results show the extent to which the pandemic has transformed customer expectations around brand engagement. Customer loyalty can no longer be taken for granted.The OpenText survey highlights that 68% of Indian consumers would be put off buying again from a brand as a consequence of a bad experience. In fact, the same number (68%) do not believe there is such thing as a ‘customer for life’ anymore in 2021, suggesting that brands cannot solely rely on customer loyalty to recover from bad experiences. The customer’s digital experience has to be enhanced with every online interaction.
Creating a frictionless experience for customers is key to providing a good experience. When buying products or services online, nearly eight out of ten (80%) Indian consumers say that an easy search is very important to them.Voice search on e-commerce portals in the language of your choice is a perfect example of companies using technology to remove any possible hurdles or friction while searching for products. This is extremely useful for non-English speakers. Similarly, the image search feature allows customers to search for a product that is visually similar to the one they have liked online, or they have clicked on their smartphone.
The survey also reveals that more than seven out of ten (72%) prefer to shop with brands that auto-fill and remember their details for next time. There is, however, pressure on brands to store that data securely as indicated by almost 77% agreeing to pay more to do business with a brand that is committed to protecting their personal data.
Delivering exceptional digital customer experiences is a key differentiator
The survey responses demonstrate an ongoing trend in customer experience: customer expectations—especially around digital offerings—are continually increasing. Being able to deliver an exceptional digital customer experience is now a key differentiator.
In the post COVID-19 era, brands in every sector will have to provide predictive and personalized communication across all touch points and channels, to demanding consumers who want to be served as individuals. For 86% of Indian consumers, the pandemic has changed their expectations of what a brand’s digital offering should be.Almost half (48%) won’t use brands if their experience isn’t excellent when buying online. Nearly 77% are now more comfortable with digital only businesses as a result of the pandemic and for 77%of Indian consumers, a personalized digital experience is now vital if they are to come back to a brand time and again.
The research also reveals consumer perspectives on which organisations have risen to the challenge of providing an optimal experience during the turbulence of the last year. More than three quarters (76%) say bigger established brands have been able to offer a smoother digital experience than smaller ones during the pandemic.
But delivering engaging digital experiences across all channels and devices isn’t easy. Investing in technology to manage the customer journey is quickly becoming a key priority for many organisations. In fact, IDC estimated that companies would spend over $553 billion on customer experience technologies and services in 2020.
A digital experience platform can help your organisation develop and deliver rich, personalized communications that map to every critical touchpoint in the customer’s journey. With digital technologies supporting your digital experience strategy, your organisation can create personalized experiences that resonate with audiences on any device and adapt to changing customer expectations with new ways to sell, engage and assist.
(The author Manish Dangwal, Country Manager is India Sales at OpenText and the views expressed in the article are his own)