Since the start of the pandemic, retailers have worked fast to create or improve their online customer experience (CX). Now, as we settle into 2022, aspects of the customer experience, such as personalized product recommendations, seamless omnichannel customer journeys, and friction-free checkout processes, are now table stakes.
As e-commerce growth continues to slow in the wake of the digital pivot, winning and retaining customers will depend on adopting a more customer-centric approach to marketing and customer service — and data will be the key.
Customer-centricity is a concept that's been around for a while. Its definition has many variations, but at the core of them all is the idea that the customer is the center point around which all decisions are made, including product and service selection and development, brand engagement, customer support, and more.
Customer-centricity requires, in Gartner’s definition, “the ability of people in an organization to understand customers’ situations, perceptions, and expectations.” This understanding allows brands to deliver value with every customer interaction, per Amazon.
A customer-centric approach can set brands apart from competition and help them grow. McKinsey found that “top-performing user-centric companies outpace their peers in terms of revenue by nearly two to one.” The research firm also found that these top performers roll out new experiences rapidly “and test them with consumers to increase their chances of success.”
Here are four areas where we see room for customer-centric ecommerce improvements and innovation in the year ahead.
1. Customer-Centric Social Commerce
Social commerce provides an immediate, shareable product discovery and shopping experience that's already personalized by most retailers for their audience and customer segments, and sometimes for individual customers. That’s all good CX practice but it doesn't quite achieve customer-centricity.
Customer-centric social marketing brings together brand or retailer content, influencer messaging, advocacy, and a like-minded community, all of which align with the customer’s needs, wants, and values, across all social media touchpoints. This approach requires a messaging shift away from focusing on brand identity and customer experience, toward aligning the brand with the customers’ values, expectations, and goals.
When you focus on what your customers love, the problems they’re trying to solve, and the values they hold, you can create targeted, personalized social content that highlights the benefits and value alignment of your products or services. At the same time, you can provide a customer-centric context using influencer content and community interaction to enhance your customers’ social experience and get feedback to make it even better.
2. Chatbots and Conversational Apps that Center the Customer
Because customers expect instant service when they have a question or an issue, the market for chatbots is growing fast. Grand View Research forecasts annual chatbot market growth of nearly 25% through 2028 as businesses look for ways to engage with customers more efficiently. However, simply adding a chatbot to an e-commerce site does not necessarily create customer-centricity, or even improve customer service.
That's because many basic e-commerce chatbots offer customers a limited menu of options, which may or may not meet their needs. More advanced customer chatbots use natural language processing to understand and respond accurately to complex customer questions. However, if these chatbots are not fully trained, the result can be the dreaded “I’m sorry, I didn't understand your question” response that so often frustrates customers.
By contrast, a customer-centric chatbot conversation draws on real-time and historical customer behavior and purchasing data to tailor the conversation to the customer’s interests, needs, and purchase history. Data allows the chatbot to make more accurate recommendations, deliver personalized answers to customer questions, and focus the interaction on the needs of the customer instead of on the technical limitations of the chatbot.
3. Customer-Centricity in the Metaverse
While we are all waiting to see exactly what the metaverse experience will be like, the expectation is that it will center individual experiences in a way that recreates real world leisure and shopping journeys.
That means customers will be in charge of whether, when and how they engage with brands and retailers in the metaverse. Already, we see fashion brands like Nike and Balenciaga and other businesses including Sotheby's investing in ways to meet customers where they are or will be in the metaverse.
Because the metaverse is a complex and not fully defined space, the Harvard Business Review recommends a few best practices for brands planning to engage metaverse users. These include focusing on your customer segments that are most likely to be metaverse users; experiences that can be enhanced by the metaverse, like virtual try-ons, product demos, and social commerce events; competitor activity in the metaverse; and strategy adjustments as the metaverse evolves.
4. Customer-Centric Insights from Your Voice of Customer Data
As you develop your customer-centric ecommerce plans, keep in mind that customer expectations and behaviors are always changing. Continuously collecting and analyzing the voice of customer data can help you evolve your customer-centric experiences to keep up. That data can also help you enhance your end-to-end customer journey by improving customer recognition and personalization, reducing conversion friction, and mitigating false declines of customer orders that break the customer experience.
For example, in our 2021 State of Consumer Attitudes on Fraud and CX survey, we found that 25% of online shoppers across five countries reported at least one false decline between March 2020 and March 2021. Among those survey respondents, 49% said they experienced more false declines during that period than they did in 2019. More than one third of online shoppers in the survey said they would complain on social media after a false decline.
Those complaints can cause brand damage, but they also provide insights that companies can use to improve their checkout and customer authentication processes.
Of course, brands don't need to — and shouldn't — wait for negative feedback to collect voice of customer data. Data from surveys, focus groups, social discussions, chatbot conversations, and other customer service interactions can show what customers want, the problems they're trying to solve, and the things they value. All of that information is the core to building a customer-centric marketing plan and improving it over time.
— David Fletcher, SVP, ClearSale