Customer experience is on everyone’s minds these days. In the world of retail, customer experience has become a more important success factor than ever before. Retailers can no longer compete on price or convenience: it may, in fact, be more convenient AND more cost-effective for a customer to order a product online and have it shipped to their door than to drive to the mall down the street for the same item.
There have been loads of articles and research studies published in recent years about the impact, importance, and ROI of customer experience. It is unquestionable that both physical and online retailers must make great experiences a priority in order to survive and thrive.
When we read about customer experience, the term customer engagement is often not far behind. In fact, they are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Here’s how Forrester defines the two terms:
- Customer Experience (CX) is “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.” (Forrester)
- Customer Engagement is “the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence an individual has with a brand over time.” (Forrester)
It’s interesting to consider that customer engagement can be both a contributing factor to customer experience as well as a result of the customer’s brand experience. Although customer experience and customer engagement are often discussed in tandem, customer education is a term that comes up much less often. Yet, it’s a key factor in creating great customer experiences and is perhaps more important today than ever before.
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Customer engagement is something different, it’s a behavior and attitude, an outcome of customer experience.
– Bruce Temkin
Today’s customers are equipped. They serve themselves when they shop online, and many even prefer self-service options in stores, like kiosks and self-checkouts. In the 2017 Customer Experience & Unified Commerce Survey by BRP, educating both customers and associates is listed as one of the five key elements of customer experience. As customers research, shop, buy, and interact with brands, education should be a key priority for retailers, because it can facilitate the sale, make shopping more convenient, and even reduce the cost of serving customers over time. Here are some ways that education can impact the customer journey before, during, and after the sale:
BEFORE. As customers browse and research options before making a selection, equipping them with the information they need to make an educated choice is important. The more you can educate customers and deliver the information they desire, the better you can control the messaging and the more they will engage with the brand. Pre-purchase information can include ratings and reviews, detailed product information, photos and videos, user guides, and much more, depending on the type of product. In fact, a recent UPS survey of online shoppers found that detailed product information is the single most important factor cited when customers are searching and selecting products. (UPS)
DURING. Educating customers during the sale is equally as important as the time leading up to it. In physical stores, there are a number of ways retailers can educate customers, which may include:
- Clear product signage and price/shelf tags
- Interactive kiosks
- Product samples
- Hands-on demonstrators
It’s important not to forget the influence sales associates have in the process of educating customers. Sales associates who use mobile tools to perform product lookups, orders, and clienteling are well-equipped to positively impact the brand experience. Sales associates are a key part of the overall brand experience, so it’s important to make sure that they have the information and tools needed to answer questions and inform customers proactively about product features, benefits, as well as added services, brand events, discounts, and promotions.
AFTER. Since building brand loyalty is a top goal for nearly every retailer, it’s important not to forget the post-purchase customer experience. Hopefully, customers will continue to interact with the brand via different channels, which may include telephone hotlines, e-mail, websites, and, more than ever, social media. 92% of retailers now support customer interaction via social media (up from 75% last year), however, 72% of those retailers feel that the current interaction needs improvement. (BRP) Continuing to make brand and product information available and to be receptive to customer inquiries after the sale is an important component to the customer experience and contributes to long-lasting customer loyalty.