Critizr is Europe’s leading VoC platform. Founded in 2012, it is used by over 80 of Europe’s biggest companies to drive customer obsession and transform the way they listen to and understand customers, empowering local staff to take action and deliver a great customer experience every day.

As we head to the end of what has been a tumultuous year for retail, some new research into the nation’s shopping habits has revealed a couple of interesting Covid related trends. Firstly, consumers are increasingly shopping local – as much as 40% more, with 46% of people likely to continue these changed habits (Deloitte Digital, June 2020). Secondly, shoppers place more value on real people in retail – with nearly three quarters saying they would stop shopping with a retailer if human beings were replaced by technology (Retail Choice June 2020).

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Amongst all the disruption, these trends offer valuable nuggets of insight for customer obsessed retailers. They show us that the goalposts of what great CX looks like are shifting. And that businesses must urgently find a way to enable human conversations and local connections with their customers.

Engaging with customers on a personal, real time level can seem a daunting task – and for good reason. Customer expectations are at record levels. There’s a need for fast, relevant responses, a sense that each customer is personally managed and valued, and thanks to the rise amongst all age groups of online shopping, businesses need to keep conversations going as customers flit from offline to online across an array of digital channels.

The penalty for getting it wrong is high. More than product or price, customer experience is now the key brand differentiator (it drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, according to a Gartner study in 2019).  Customers hold all the power in business relationships and they are informed, connected and increasingly quick to move to a competitor if they’re not happy (1 in 3 customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience, while 92% will completely abandon a company after two or three negative interactions, Future of CX Report, PwC).

So what are the new rules of customer conversations in retail? How can businesses capitalise on the value now placed on retail’s local, human side to drive customer loyalty for the long term? Here are Critizr’s eight rules for getting it right.

1. Every customer, every time

From charming compliments to furious complaints, and everything in between: make sure you respond to every customer enquiry. Even if you’re not sure how to solve a problem or find an answer, reply in the first instance to show customers that you care.

2. Deal with the negatives

For dissatisfied customers, a large majority simply want to know that their problems have been heard and that the company is striving to solve them. So quickly acknowledge them before moving on to dealing with the issue. And remember to listen. Time spent trying to really understand the customers’ problem will be well spent, building trust and loyalty.

3. Maximise the positives

Complaints will naturally be more urgent for your team, but neglecting other feedback is an all too common mistake.  There’s a goldmine of information out there if customer listening is comprehensive, so make sure you respond to compliments and suggestions – as well as channelling them to staff to boost morale.

4. Manage expectations

The digital revolution means that people communicate at speed. You need to strive for as fast and efficient a response as possible to keep customers happy. Set response rates based on your own industry and business size and communicate these to customers. Remember that the channel will influence these targets. Live chat users want an instant response, social media posts expect something back in a few hours, email enquiries can wait a bit longer.

5. Make it personal

Where possible develop processes that allow staff to humanize customer interactions. Customers have come to expect a more personal, empathetic service from retail staff and standardised responses make them feel like a number. If responses come from a named member of the team, with the same person continuing the conversation till it concludes, customers will feel valued.

6. Make it seamless

The switch to digital in people’s daily lives and the ongoing nervousness about physical interaction in stores is leading to more online to offline customer journeys. Factor in management of the increasing number of conversations taking place online. And if your processes are currently disjointed, make urgent changes to deliver a pain-free process for your customers.

7. Empower local teams

As retailers embrace digital transformation, they need to find ways to respond to ‘always-on’ customer demands. The best way to do this is by devolving CX power to local teams. Traditional customer service departments can’t provide the real-time, personal responses that modern customers expect. Frontline retail staff can, because they have local context, they can respond and take action quickly, and they can build a personal connection that builds trust and loyalty. And modern technology means they can be looped in and empowered to become CX champions in their own outlets.

8. Take action

A big, but all too common mistake, is to view customer feedback as a two-step process: customer contact followed by business response. This misses the most critical component: action. Think about it as a loop, with every customer conversation making something happen that drives positive, company-wide benefits – fixing a problem, winning back a dissatisfied customer, generating insight into a new trend, rewarding staff, or making a business critical change to the way you operate.

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