The Customer Is The Channel

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2019 Holiday Prep Survival Kit


Heading into the 2019 holiday season, perfecting the customer experience is more important -- and more challenging -- than ever. 

Omnichannel merchants of all sizes are struggling against the dominance of a handful of mass merchants, with Amazon alone dominating some 44% of all sales on the Web. With products and pricing becoming less viable as differentiators, many sellers are positioning themselves as niche experts backed by stellar customer experience. Technology researcher Gartner found that two-thirds of companies already consider themselves to be competing primarily on customer experience - and that number is forecast to rise to 81% of companies by the end of this year. 

Consumers, too, increasingly value customer experience; they’re willing to pay a premium of 16% to companies that provide great customer experiences along with quality products and services, consultancy PwC found. On the flip side, just one poor experience can drive 17% of U.S. consumers to find another brand, while several poor experiences can drive away 59% of shoppers. 

But even as customer experience assumes a leading role in brand value, delivering truly standout service is more challenging than ever. That’s because:

  • Shopping is everywhere. The rise of eCommerce has spurred double-digit revenue growth for years, and now mobile is ascendant, with browsing on smartphones making up the majority of time shoppers spend online with brands. Add to the mix nascent efforts at native commerce for social media platforms from Facebook to Snapchat, opportunities for enabling transactions on devices from watches to refrigerators, and the rise of pop-up retail and other reinvigorating takes on traditional stores, and it’s easy to see that merchants face a steep challenge when it comes to providing smooth, agile service. As consumers increasingly expect quick and flawless execution of online-to-offline services such as Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS), merchants must find new ways to coordinate operations internally and to assist shoppers across touchpoints. 
  • Information is ambient and intimate. Gone are the days when an argument over movie trivia or a sports record lasted the span of an entire meal; nowadays, the debate ends instantly with a quick Google search via smartphone. With such ready access on demand, consumers expect to access brand and product information at any time. Search engines on mobile devices are just the start; as the machine intelligence behind voice recognition grows more sophisticated, the intermediaries of screen and keyboard are increasingly being replaced by digital voice assistants and smart speakers. With information everywhere, consumers expect to be able to access what’s personally relevant:  Searches containing the phrase “for me” rose 60% from 2015 to 2017, according Kleiner Perkins, while inquiries about resources “near me” skyrocketed a whopping 900%

To meet these challenges, merchants are providing customer assistance through ever more outlets and formats -- and increasingly rely on artificial intelligence (AI) to help process and respond to the growing demand for relevant information and assistance. More than half of marketers globally surveyed by Business Insider are already using AI, and BlueShift found that among U.S. B2C companies, 64% of marketers predict they’ll increase AI use in the coming year. 

The peak holiday season raises the stakes still higher for standout service, with shoppers’ expectations running high for convenience, savings, and service within a tight calendar of sales events and delivery deadlines. With fourth-quarter sales representing up to 30% of retailers’ total yearly revenues, it’s crucial to demonstrate customer service prowess during the peak season in order to compete successfully in a crowded marketplace. 

As merchants head into the final countdown to the holidays, this guide provides a comprehensive overview for delivering a proactive differentiated customer experience across touchpoints.  The following pages detail

  • The proactive service content merchants need, and the formats and touchpoints shoppers use to find it
  • The omnichannel handoffs sellers must execute flawlessly in order to deliver a seamless, responsive experience
  • How merchants can build on customer interactions to encourage future re-engagement and repeat purchases

With these fundamentals in place, merchants can meet and exceed customer expectations for quality customer experience during the holidays and beyond. 

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