Differentiating between physical stores can be a relatively simple process for a consumer. Take a shopping mall: each store has distinguishing elements both tangible — store size, lighting, temperature, display types, number of personnel — and more ethereal — employee demeanor, the feeling you get when entering, even the store’s smell. Shoppers in a physical store have many differentiating factors at their disposal to make decisions about where to take their business.
But as the co-founder of a company that provides omnichannel messaging services, I’ve seen firsthand that in a world where physical stores have given way to digital storefronts, differentiating between two similar brands on a screen can be difficult, if not impossible. Without the decision-making data that physical stores provide, what makes one online brand stand out from another that offers the exact same product or service? With physical stores shuttering and e-commerce sales surging as a result of the pandemic, this digital differentiator challenge must now be a top priority for the C-suite.
Benefits Of Prioritizing Customer Experience And Engagement
The shift from physical to entirely (or nearly entirely) digital can put customer experience (CX) and engagement at risk, forcing brands to make a decision: Do you attempt to recreate the store’s physical experience or build a custom experience for the digital world, which comes with its own set of unique expectations and habits?
No matter the path, brand CX and engagement matters a lot. PwC research found that 65% of consumers are more influenced by a positive brand experience than by advertising. Gone are the days of lowest-cost-reigns-supreme; if they’re able to, consumers want to have an experience that comes with both personalization and convenience. In fact, 43% said they’re willing to pay more for these added benefits.
Brands and C-suites should view this as an opportunity, not a challenge, to deliver the high levels of CX and engagement today’s digital-savvy customers clearly want. Here’s why:
- CEOs: Positive customer experiences lead to more loyalty. Exceeding customer expectations is the key to retaining current customers and creating customer loyalty. My company conducted a study among 5,000 consumers in Israel, India, Brazil, the U.K. and the U.S. to better understand how consumers view digital communications a year into the pandemic and their expectations for the future. We found that 78% of consumers have increased their expectations when it comes to the way brands communicate. With greater loyalty will also come greater profits.
- CTOs: Customer expectations depend on the technology in place. Many companies that didn’t rely on technology to facilitate customer interactions before 2020 have surely had to change their ways. And no C-suite role can innovate as effectively and rapidly as the CTO, making the CTO’s place at the customer engagement table vital. As customer expectations continue to evolve through the pandemic and beyond, the CTO should work side-by-side with the brand’s engagement teams to adjust technology to shifting consumer behaviors.
- CMOs: Better customer engagement means better customer data. Customer data is one of the most prized possessions of a business. Without this data, brands cannot begin to understand what drives customers or make changes when necessary. Strong engagement breeds trust, and trust breeds loyalty. Over 80% of U.S. consumers say they will continue to buy a brand they trust, 78% say they’ll recommend the brand if someone asks, and over half say they are happy to pay more for a brand’s products or services. This level of loyalty tied to trust increases engagement with the brand, driving more valuable data for marketers to leverage.
How To Put Digital CX Into Action
As business slowly begins to return to something vaguely resembling pre-2020, C-level executives should consider incorporating the following strategies to create an environment that fosters positive customer engagement experiences.
- Go omnichannel. This allows you to reach your customers on their preferred channel, as some may want to engage on social media, others on chat apps or through SMS. Conversocial found that 75% of consumers prefer to communicate over messaging rather than by phone or email, and a study by my company found 78% of enterprise marketers report that their most effective digital engagement channel was SMS. Brands need to look beyond email marketing and engage a dynamic omnichannel approach that’s as diverse as your customers. Through my experience in the omnichannel space, I’ve found that there are some challenges to be mindful of with this approach. One core challenge is maintaining a consistent brand voice across multiple channels. Your brand should look, feel and sound consistent across email, SMS, chat apps, chat bots, etc. Another challenge is data sharing. Data is the lifeblood for marketers whose job depends on knowing how their consumers think and act. Customer data captured on one channel should be shared to inform marketing actions on others.
- Get personal. Most customers now expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. Personalization, which marketers agree has a big impact across the customer journey, is expected by customers, who want a tailored experience as they progress from discovery to purchase. A recent Salesforce report found 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalized. Customers also expect personalized messages on each channel; Salesforce found that 76% prefer different channels depending on the context of the message.
- Ensure frictionless. With so many brands offering the same products and services, creating a frictionless experience top-to-bottom is one of the best ways to ensure customers will come back. For many brands that suddenly saw massive traffic spikes on their digital storefront when physical locations closed, it’s tremendously important that customers get the same seamless experience they’ve grown to associate with your brand.
Strong customer experience and engagement are fast becoming the new law of the digital marketing land. This shift was accelerated by the pandemic but had been taking shape over the past few years. With many businesses expected to remain digital-only, now is the time for the C-suite to place CX and engagement at their table.