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How retailers can unify the offline and online customer experience

The pandemic has left retailers asking two major questions. First: When people can’t — or won’t walk — into my store, how can I retain customer connection and loyalty? Second: When things return to a relative normal, how will I position my brand for long-term competitive success?

Industry-leading customer experience provides the answer to both of these concerns. Customer touchpoints are moving online and will be staying there even as stores reopen. Forward-thinking retailers are preparing for the future with seamless, streamlined customer support technology.

Some things change, friction remains the bane
Retailers are scrambling to adapt to the pandemic and to anticipate changing consumer preferences. Many of these changes were foreseeable years ago by folks like Andreesen and reflect a permanently altered future for commerce. But consumer expectations of a frictionless retail experience have not waned since the first villager made her first purchase centuries ago.

Wharton’s Baker Retail Center found that “hassle-free customer support” is the most influential factor in creating the best possible customer experience. They also found that when retailers solve problems to a customer’s complete satisfaction, the shopper’s repurchase intent rises by as much as 60%. 

Any friction in the customer support process can undo hard-won brand trust and loyalty, ultimately impacting your bottom line. By one estimate, U.S. companies collectively lost $75 billion  in 2018 just from poor customer service, and that number is growing with the explosion of e-commerce.

Offline and online need one line of support
Physical retailers know how to optimize the familiar customer touchpoints – their storefront, their floor staff, their checkout process – to minimize friction and encourage sales. But retail spaces are now changing in form and function. Stores might become a stage production a stage production, letting customers rehearse the best version of themselves using your company’s products. Or they may take the role of a service or return center in order to keep the customers coming through the door.

Retailers who see where the industry is headed know that online and offline are one customer experience, and customer support is the foundation of that experience. But support is no longer “one size fits all.” Self-service solutions allow customers who prefer solving their own problems to do so, while letting customer support agents dedicate time and resources to the bigger, brand-defining challenges. 

Some companies have always positioned themselves to stand out as customer experience champions. High-end shops like Neiman Marcus employ well-paid, highly knowledgeable staff who epitomize the concept of white glove service. Most brands have also spruced up their online shopping experience or suffered the consequences for not doing so. The challenge comes in managing your customers’ support needs across physical and digital space as seamlessly as they view your brand.

The future of retail is personal
Whether a customer first encounters your brand in person or online, real loyalty will always come from satisfaction with their customer support experience. As that experience migrates increasingly online via e-commerce, the distinction between physical and digital continues to blur.

It may soon be the case that centralized support platforms will let store employees immediately see that you struggled to find the right size or color online, or you’re looking for complementary items to something recently bought. Some analysts even predict that physical retail locations will shift to a sharing economy model for store-level associates to ease workforce challenges. This model would make it even more critical for staff online and off to be able to seamlessly track and address support needs.

E-commerce is democratizing the idea that customers deserve personal attention and knowledgeable support, wherever they shop. Brands need to embrace technology that helps them to centralize, streamline, and control every facet of the customer support experience. 

Naomi Rozenfeld is chief revenue officer at Wix Answers.

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