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This article was contributed by our friends at Forbes.
Whichever way you look at it, 2020 has been a year for the history books. The closure of many businesses, some companies skyrocketing fast due to COVID, nationwide lockdowns, and the constant reminders that ill health lurks around the corner, have fundamentally changed consumer behavior and the way in which businesses interact with their customers.
As a result, customer experience has become a hot topic over the past year, with many businesses leaning heavily on the feedback they gather as a means of guiding them through the minefield of pandemic-induced restrictions. As businesses plan ahead for 2021, they are all taking with them the lessons they have learned over the course of last year, and the importance of customer experience is going to take center stage in the post-pandemic recovery process.
Customer experience during the pandemic
Many businesses have experienced drastic changes in the way consumers are shopping. “It’s more about necessity and it’s done in a more focused way,” says Randy Lambert, VP of Operations at Shoe Station, one of the U.S.’s largest independent shoe retailers. “We have seen a lot less grazing in our stores and we find that people are coming in with a purpose. If they need a new pair of running shoes, they go in, look at the running shoes, pick out a pair, buy them, and go. They get what they came in for and then they’re out.”
It is no longer acceptable to simply monitor customer experience within a single channel, such as in-store or online, because many businesses are no longer operating within those binaries.
Companies that used to exclusively operate on main streets are now entering the online space for the first time. In fact, according to new data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, department stores are expected to decline by over 60%, with eCommerce projected to grow by nearly 20% in 2020. As a result, many organizations have had to change the ways in which they monitor and gain feedback on their customers’ shopping experience.
For those not used to the eCommerce landscape, this has been quite a learning curve. The lesson learned is that when it comes to navigating the complex relationship between digital and physical commerce, an omnichannel overview of customer experience is necessary to ensure consumer needs are being met, regardless of whether they are browsing inside a physical store or shopping online.
The changing ways in which consumers are interacting with businesses during the pandemic has had a profound impact on the data that businesses collect, and how that data is translated into positive change within the company. Many companies have made the decision to invest their time and money into gathering feedback in whatever way they can in order to ensure that their customers’ varying experiences meet their changing expectations of what shopping means during a global pandemic.
“As it relates to our customer experience, it’s critical to listen to what your customers are telling you,” adds Randy. “Some are going to tell you what you’re doing wrong and some are going to tell you what you’re doing right, and it’s important to gauge both the positives and negatives and set your course from there.”
Where is customer experience heading in 2021?
Moving into 2021, assessments need to be made not only of how businesses intend to continue operating on a fundamental level, but also the ways in which they can utilize the resources they have, as well as emerging technologies, to give customers the best possible experience.
As the market accelerates, businesses need to continue to adapt the ways in which they gather customer feedback and remain open to making changes to meet these evolving consumer habits and keep track of the fast-paced world of commerce.
The key lies in the data. Data has always been and continues to be a business’s best friend, and customer experience data is arguably one of the most valuable sources of information. Technological advancements have made gathering real-time data extremely easy, with the use of both physical and online tools, but also with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). The rise of AI and ML within the customer experience space is revolutionizing previously mundane and manual tasks, such as utilizing written feedback in a survey, by automating how natural language is processed, making it quicker and easier to get fast, actionable feedback, which is now more necessary than ever.
Moving forward, companies are beginning to greatly benefit from increased transparency with regards to their customer experience data. By opening up the findings from customer feedback to their customers, organizations are able to both communicate and demonstrate the value of constructive feedback provided by their customers. Meanwhile, sharing data with employees enables staff to feel more involved with the wider business and allows them the opportunity to react to and provide insights on the day-to-day running of the organization. Employee feedback has always been an extremely valuable asset when creating a customer-centric strategy, and the insights gleaned from employees who are on the ground, listening and observing, can contribute heavily to the strategic changes implemented from the top as companies move into a new, dynamic era of business.
“I am a very firm believer that patient experience is tied to everything from clinical success to employee engagement,” says Katherine Salkanovic, Director of Patient Experience at Las Vegas-based Cure 4 The Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization treating children dealing with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. “Each of our employees is an ambassador of the feedback tools we use because it’s important to the entire organization. My vision is to change the way patient experience is done in the state of Nevada, so that everyone is on the same page. It’s not about age gap or reimbursement from Medicare, it’s about families going through the worst time of their lives and us helping them.”
As businesses have been forced to evolve, so have the means through which they gather and utilize customer experience data. Looking to the future, businesses must ensure that, regardless of how they choose to operate, customer experience should be a top priority. With new technology emerging all the time, implementing strategies to create the best customer experience possible has never been easier and will only continue to evolve and mature as time goes on.