In today’s competitive sales landscape, many believe the price of a product or service has become less important in purchase decisions. Instead, delivering a highly personalised experience is the new customer battleground.
With the UK facing a tough cost of living crisis, the price someone must pay for goods or services can never be overlooked. But businesses are beginning to see how a smoother customer experience (CX), packed with personalisation, can achieve longer-term loyalty and greater financial returns.
A CX focus could take many different forms. Some could use customer data to target effective discounts or generate seasonal offers by analysing spending habits. Within e-commerce it might include suggestions for upselling extra goods and services that complement an existing or planned purchase.
Others might decide to add additional support services or levels of advice to personalise a suite of products, ones that best suit an individual’s lifestyle or might match more accurately with a corporate client’s needs. This could be in-store or over the phone, both before and after purchase.
Alex Thomson is regional vice-president of Quantum Metric, a company focused on continuous product design in the online retail space. He says that creating a “standout, positive customer experience” is about looking at what customers are doing and why they’re doing it.
“To entice customers and demonstrate a dedication to CX, retailers need to rethink their online stores,” Thomson says. “Personalised services give online retailers an opportunity to stand out. These could include virtual or AR [augmented reality] sizing through apps, ‘try before you buy’ or clothing loan schemes. In turn, retailers can reach higher customer lifetime values (CLVs), the pinnacle of customer loyalty.”
Customers don’t actively expect personalisation all the time, Thomson says, but it makes a “huge difference” when it’s there to offer convenience. “Such experiences include things like providing offers on items that have been left in baskets or pre-empting the purchase of essentials based on when a customer last bought them,” he adds.
“It can even extend to making the suggestion at the point the person is most likely to buy, which could be different for individual customers.” For example, a popup on opening the app or a short ‘did you forget’ note at checkout.
E-commerce has had a strong pull for many customers since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the role of a store or physical venue shouldn’t be overlooked in driving personalisation. Such experiential spaces can now deliver a highly personalised customer experience, especially to meet specific local and community needs.
Bridget Lea, managing director of retail at EE, points to its new store in London’s Aldgate East. “We’ve created an experiential space where customers can get expert advice, or just have some fun with the very latest technology,” she says. “As part of EE’s commitment to deliver the most personal and local service on the high street, the new store has been designed to be a hub for the community with an event space available for local groups to use to host workshops, support meetings and be an informal place to get tech support and advice.”
Lea also highlights the role that omnichannel plays in investing in a more personal customer experience. It needs to include a seamless process from one channel to another, depending on the customer’s preference. These include online, over the phone or in-store.
“Investing in customer data-driven insights allows us to make better decisions to deliver personalised offerings to our customers in-store, which ultimately delivers a better experience, not solely focused on price,” Lea adds.
In the healthcare space, a Bupa Global analysis of cash-rich and time-poor customers showed an appetite for increased personal guidance and greater tailoring to individual needs. Its research found that 52% of ultra-high net worth customers struggled to find time to deal with issues relating to health and wellbeing.
The health provider launched a dedicated ‘lifecare concierge manager’ for such individuals, who will gain an in-depth understanding of that customer’s lifestyle and medical conditions and then manage their appointments and claims with the minimum of paperwork.
Putting people first
Such personalised human interaction shouldn’t be just for the wealthy. Nicolas Hammer is CEO of Critizr, a customer interaction management platform. He argues that putting people at the heart of personalisation is the next evolution.
Hammer believes things have now moved beyond digital technology and algorithms and references the idea of ‘conversational commerce’. “This is about personal, one-to-one interactions throughout the customer experience, pre, post and during store visits,” he says.
It means “allowing shoppers to communicate with friendly, engaged, problem-solving, proactive human beings in real time.”
No one wants the impersonal, disjointed processes of the past, Hammer argues, or a chatbot that can’t get the specific answers they need. Although today’s shoppers are highly digitised, he says, more than ever they prefer dealing with real people.
“The challenge, of course, is how to achieve this in a business at scale. Retail teams have to be active in the same channels where their customers are, ready to enter the conversation, whether that’s in-store, online, by text or messaging app, or even delivering to the front door. From the customer’s point of view, it should feel seamless. And it has to be fast,” Hammer adds.
On a smaller scale, guitarfxdirect.com, a UK online retailer of globally sourced, boutique effects pedals for guitars, exemplifies this theory. The nature of its products and customer base means they value human advice within a personalised customer experience.
The company now offers follow-up customer care to check on people’s pedal purchases. It has combined that with boosting its customer communication: for example, being sure to advise customers of their position on waiting lists ahead of highly anticipated pedal launches.
“There is always a trade-off to some extent between pricing and customer service,” says managing director Simon Viney. “People feel they have a connection with the people in the business. We’re always happy to chat pedals.”