Blended Experience

In 2022, modern retailers will face many challenges as the industry continues to recover from the global pandemic. During the unpredictable lockdown, retail brands were forced to transform their in-person experiences to digital ones. And now, according to our most recent EX & CX Retail Trends research, both customers and employees expect a blended experience.

But what does the term “blended experience” really mean? Well, it’s essentially bringing the digital experience to the in-store experience. Hence, “blended”. Still not getting the gist of it? Then let’s take a look at three concrete examples we’ve discovered based on data our Strategic Insights Team collected from consumers and employees across North America. Here’s what people are truly expecting:

Blended Experience #1: Buy Online, Pick Up Instore

It’s no surprise that being able to buy products online is an expectation, but customers also want options on how to receive said product. During quarantine, retail stores often offered same-day home delivery, curbside pick up, and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS). The question is, which of these will last? 

For employees, curbside and delivery have proven expensive to operate and don’t drive sales like in-store traffic does (especially if retail employees are working commission).  Meanwhile, because delivery is no longer considered a free necessity, and because curbside pick-up times aren’t as flexible, customers are less impressed with these options. So, BOPIS is a compromise: customers get to easily buy products online and receive their items relatively quickly, while employees get to engage with customers in-store while avoiding the obstacles those pickup types present.

Blended Experience #2: Pick Up, Walk Out (Automatic Payment)

After a long two years, customers and employees are used to a contactless experience and find it convenient for reasons beyond COVID. Additionally, with grocery stores continuing to capitalize on self-checkout experiences and innovations like Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out technology, more customers are expecting the retail industry to follow suit. Simply removing checkout lines can save retail stores over $37.7 billion and allow customers to shop without the hindrance of wasting time waiting in line.

Blended Experience #3: Virtual Try-On

Augmented reality in retail blew up during the pandemic. And, with the many social media filters that younger customers use daily, it’s no wonder that virtual try-on capability has emerged as a top expectation. Of course, customers would rather not wait to change in a stall or travel all the way to a store, but the real kicker is that virtual try-on actually minimizes a lot of risk for them.

One of the greatest barriers for online retail experiences is the reality that customers can’t really try on what they buy. With a virtual feature like this, customers get a visual sense of how the items they’re eyeing could fit in their lives, without ever having to leave home. After a virtual try-on experience, customers are reassured that their purchases truly suit their desires, reducing the chance of returns.

The In-Store Experience of the Future

It’s clear that, when it comes to retail, customers want a blend of digital and in-person experiences, not just one or the other. Both types of experiences have their pros and cons, and it’s our job as experience professionals to deliver an integrated interaction that brings forth each of their valuable qualities. Hopefully, these examples can help your brand take a second look at the experience you’re currently providing customers and spark meaningful Experience Improvement (XI) this year.

But this dynamic doesn’t stop at just blended experiences. The retail world is being impacted by changes in feedback methods, the influence of social media, and the Gen Z perspective. There are many opportunities beyond blended experiences for retail stores to meet customer needs, which you can learn more about in our new eBook: EX & CX Trends: What Retail Brands Need to Know in 2022.

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Retail shopper looking at clothes

Black Friday is right around the corner and you know what that means. Shopping, shopping, and more shopping! But not just any kind of shopping. This once a year occasion means customers are looking for the perfect gift for someone special—and the best deals they can find for the best and most luxurious products on the market.

The thing is, any customer making a luxury purchase will have high expectations for not only the product, but the experience—whether it’s online or in store.Bridging that physical and digital gap is about as easy as finding a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday, and the need for an accessible online experience is only growing as customers prioritize ease and convenience. 

Here are three elements for luxury retail brands’ to consider when closing the gap and delivering that premium level customer journey!

Element #1: Let Customers Speak—and Listen When They Do

Just as you ask for feedback in store, provide those same opportunities for customers when they shop online. Physical and online shopping experiences are significantly different, so you need to collect and analyze feedback from both channels. 

Knowing what’s working and what’s not in each type of experience can teach you how to create a smoother and more connected experience for customers. And it’s most important to communicate back to your customers that you’re listening, you’ve acted, and change is quickly coming.

Element #2: Don’t Choose Online Retail Over Physical, You Need Both

Digital experiences aren’t meant to entirely replace physical ones. They’re meant to allow customers other options that might better suit their needs. Factors like flexibility and convenience influence how customers shop, but it doesn’t mean one experience is objectively better than the other. The best experience isn’t digital or physical. It’s one that fully matches the customer’s preferences. The goal then is to make physical and digital experiences work in harmony. 

Element #3: Keep Your Brand on Point to Tell a Consistent Story

Your digital and physical customer journeys must not only match in quality, but in branding as well. The way you communicate to customers along each digital touchpoint, whether it be a newsletter sent out by email or a personalized message on the website after they purchase something, should keep consistent with your brand’s style, messaging, and tone of voice.

It’s also vital that the digital experience adheres to human-like interactions as if the customer was actually in the store. And that comes through with a unique branding voice and character. Customers shouldn’t feel like they’re purchasing from a robot dispensing products and services, but a human being behind their screen.

Of course, we know that digital and physical experiences aren’t the only aspect of the customer journey that luxury retail brands need to pay attention to. Read this report if you want to learn more about bridging the experience gap and how to improve personalization and emotional intelligence in the new luxury retail age.

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As customer demands have grown more complex, so too has the idea of what to do about the customer experience (CX), especially when it comes to digital experience strategy. It was never enough to scoreboard-watch numbers and react to situations only as they occurred in real-time; if you want to forge meaningful connections with customers while strengthening your bottom line, you need to constantly be aware of what drives their digital behavior. This is one of the first steps toward Experience Improvement (XI), and it’s something brands need to implement if they want to not only retain customers, but make a difference with them.

The following are three quick methods brands can leverage to learn what drives customers’ online behavior, enabling them to begin or continue a cycle of continuous improvement:

  1. Challenge Your Assumptions
  2. Know Your Drivers
  3. Leverage All Your Data

Method #1: Challenge Your Assumptions

This is an important step to take no matter how well you know your customers. Like we said earlier, CX expectations are changing, which means that it never hurts to reevaluate your brand journey through your customers’ eyes. So, with that goal in mind, create some surveys, interview your customers, and map out your current journey. You might be surprised what you learn!

Once you’ve got your customers’ current expectations in mind, leverage those to get to know your clientele better as people. Being personable is its own reward, but customers will always prefer an organization where everybody knows their name. Besides, better knowing the people who sustain your brand causes employees to become more invested in the mission and vision.

Method #2: Know Your Drivers

It’s always a good idea to take a hard look at your customers’ behaviors; especially the ones that seem to correlate with growth, retention, and finding the moments that matter. When you find those behaviors, you’ve found the things that have the largest impact on both customers’ interactions with your brand and your business as a whole.

Knowing what these behaviors are can provide a ton of intel and context on how to brush up your customer touchpoints, map new segments of your customer journey, and how to reach those individuals for new products and services that you know they’ll love. This ties into the notion of future-proofing, i.e., knowing what your customers may want before they themselves even know, a foresight that will make your brand even more competitive.

Method #3: Leverage All Your Data

Knowing how your customers behave is great, but it’s only half the battle. The final step toward understanding what drives your customers’ digital activities is putting their behavior against a backdrop of other metrics. Financial data, operational information, and other contextual information belong in that backdrop. So too do sources like social, VoC, CRM data, and website/app data.

The Power of a Well-Executed Digital Experience Strategy

Pulling all of this information together can take time, especially if it’s siloed with multiple teams, but if you can pull it off, you’ll have a 360-degree view of your customer that goes beyond ‘just’ digital drivers. This holistic understanding allows your organization to not only build a hyper-accurate profile of your customer, but also unites your entire organization around it, enabling you to create meaningfully improved experiences that bring customers back, create a stronger bottom line, and boost your organization to the top of your vertical.

Looking to add to your digital experience strategy? Our latest eBook lays out four quick wins that will put some points on the board for you customer experience team in the best way possible! Check it out here.

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What Holiday Shoppers Expect In Store & Online

Do you know what holiday shoppers need from you this season? What about what matters most to them in store? Or what is most important to them when it comes to their experience on your website?
Holiday Shopping at a Mall

Do you know what holiday shoppers need from you this season? What about what matters most to them in store? Or what is most important to them when it comes to their experience on your website?

If you’re unsure, don’t simply guess what your customers are looking for. Instead, check out this infographic we created based on a study we did that surveyed 5,000 North American customers about their expectations for the holiday shopping season!

What Holiday Shoppers Expect In Store & Online

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Have you ever wondered how important digital interactions are to the customer experience in financial services? According to PWC, more than 45 percent of banking customers say they only interact with their bank through digital channels. This means that for almost half of a bank’s customers, digital experience (DX) all but equals customer experience (CX). The large majority of banking customers are multi-channel and the most frequently used channel is online.

Retail banking may be on the bleeding edge of the financial sector in the transition to digital, but insurance, wealth management and SMB banking are moving along a similar path. The frequent presence of an advisor or agent has somewhat mitigated the rush to digital for these businesses, but every facet of the industry faces the same push and pull forces.

  • Companies are being pulled by consumers who increasingly manage and live their lives digitally and are accustomed to always-on services through online, on-the-go and social channels.
  • Equally important, financial services providers are being pushed by the growing challenge from FinTech firms making inroads in the market with their digital-only offers supported by cutting-edge technology.

These market forces mean that over the next few years more customers will be digital-only and an increasing share of interactions will be digital. The maturation of Generation Y and Millennials all but assures that digital-only and digital-dominant users of financial services will become increasingly prevalent. As such, DX will become more important to, even the primary determinant of, CX.

The Speed of Change Which Companies Must Keep Pace

When the Internet became a popular means for conducting transactions and disseminating information, financial firms were quick to encourage customers to move activity online. These early efforts were pushed by the banks for efficiency and cost-savings. The focus was on function and static content.

The rush of innovation and technology adoption has crossed an inflection point in the past five years or so. Function is now tables stakes and has been overwhelmed by design and form, static content has been supplanted by the interactive, and digital delivery for operational efficiency has been trampled by the need to offer digital experiences that meet the rising expectations of customers.

The pace of change has caught the industry flat-footed. Designing a home page that is consistent with the company’s brand image and customer experience is one thing. Delivering on this promise is far more complex in an increasingly mobile and social world, not to mention the emerging domains of Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), let alone wearables and IoT (Internet of Things). Keeping up with the “best next Customer Experience,” as Gartner puts it, is like being the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass,who says that you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place; “if you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” This is the speed of change with which firms must keep pace.

Focus on Strengthening Relationships

The starting point is an over-arching strategic perspective: digital tools are not meant merely as stand-alone applications that are easy-to-use and minimize customer effort. Rather, the approach to digital needs to be integrated across channels and built on the premise that the objective is to offer delightful, engaging digital experiences that contribute to the larger goal of promoting superior customer experiences. In other words, the digital experience is a means to strengthening the relationships that are the backbone of the financial services industry.

Easy to say, tough to do. So here are a few specific suggestions.

  • Map it.Customer Journey Maps will detail and illustrate the scope of digital and non-digital channels and touchpoints, the complexity of the challenge, as well as help set priorities.
  • Aim for sticky.This means engaging and interactive.
  • Design for mobile first.Four-fifths of Internet usage is via mobile. Flip the old model: explicitly design for mobile, then move to online.
  • Make it relevant.Personalize and anticipate needs. This means built-in intelligence.
  • Omni-channel vs multi-channel.Go where customers go. This means also being social and offering SMS; video access to reps, agents or advisors; click-to-chat; and the emerging technologies, which will continuously evolve.
  • Onboard for DX.This doesn’t mean using traditional onboarding approaches for digital applications; it means adopting digital tools to facilitate digital onboarding.
  • Measure and remediate.Digital is real-time, making it critical that firms have real-time feedback programs in place, supported by closed-loop procedures to mitigate the risks of disappointing or simply unengaging digital experiences.

It is hard to imagine how even the largest banks can accomplish this on their own, so partnerships will be critical. Internally, the lines separating tech workers and the product/marketing teams need to be erased.

Get Rid of the Extra Overhead

Tomorrow started yesterday in the race to keep up, let alone differentiate on CX and DX. The FinTech firms – most with their singular focus and technology pedigree and without the overhead burden of branch networks or offices – are designed for a continuous sprinting leapfrog of innovation. Traditional players also carry the additional overhead weight of heightened security demands and regulatory standards. That is the playing field on which financial services firms must compete and they need to start running twice as fast now.

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