The retail industry is evolving in 2016 all around the world: consumer buying patterns are shifting; retailers are focused on further bridging different shopping channels; mobile shopping is booming, and social media keeps playing a growing role in the customer’s path to purchase. That said, retailers should get a better understanding of all the elements that concur to making the customer experience memorable.
According to cloud-based retail software platform Vend’s 2016 Retail Trends and Predictions report, in a few years, companies will compete mainly on the level of customer experience rather than price or products. Customers are at the core of this revolution. They want convenience, speed, and ease, without sacrificing the quality of products or shopping experience.
Dr. Alisha Stein and Prof. B. Ramaseshan from Curtin University conducted a study, the first of its kind, which looks at the elements that include customer experience touch points. “Customers have experiences every time they ‘touch’ any part of the product, service, brand or organization, across multiple channels and at various points in time. Such moments of truth between the customer and any part of the company are known as ‘touch points’,” write the authors.
The data analysis process revealed seven distinct themes related to the customer experience touch points: atmospheric, technological, communicative, process, employee-customer interaction, customer-customer interaction, and product.
1. Atmospheric (the environment customers notice when interacting with any part of the retail channels in both pre and post-purchase)
This underlines different atmospheric elements at different touch points, and occurs at all stages of a customer’s journey. In digital channels, e.g. online hotel booking, department store’s mobile application design, customers are influenced by colors, graphics, designs, music, layout. In physical in-store environments, things like sensory factors and visual aspects are key components in the customer experience.
2. Technological (customer interaction with any form of technology)
This includes user-friendly websites e.g. buying books online. Technology facilitates transactions in an easier and convenient fashion and is a core component of a touch point in both digital and physical settings (POS, tablets and kiosks). With technology becoming such a big part of the retail industry, Dr. Stein explained that retailers should implement a real-time customer experience assessment strategy.
She added: “Emerging technologies such as mobile applications and in-store tablet feedback systems enable retailers to capture instantaneous customer feedback without overwhelming the consumer at the point-of-experience. Real-time insights offer realistic snapshots of the customer experience through the perspective of the consumer at each individual touch point, providing retailers with instantaneous feedback that enables them to respond promptly to service failures and other issues that have potential adverse effect on the delivered experience.”
3. Communicative (one-way communication from the retailer to the customer)
Retailers provide consumers with informative content and promotional messages through email, SMS, direct mail, TV ads, phone calls, etc. Such communicative elements are important for customer experience during search and evaluation stages, as well as throughout and post-purchase stages.
4. Process (actions customers need to take in order to achieve a certain outcome with a retailer)
This plays an important part in the customers’ perception and evaluation of retail encounters. In physical stores, it involves check-out service time, service process and how the customer moves inside the store. In digital settings, it’s how customers respond to the digital processes on ease of use and technology platform’s responsiveness, whether it’s desktop or mobile.
5. Employee-customer interaction (direct-indirect interactions customers have with retailer’s employees)
Direct interaction is key, especially in in-store retail settings, as consumers rely on experienced employees’ advice and insight in their purchase process. In many cases, this contributed to the quality of the customer experience. Employee-customer interaction also extends to email, phone, and online forums.
6. Customer-customer interaction (direct-indirect interactions customers have with other customers when interacting with any part of a retailer)
This type of interaction is pretty common in the pre-purchase stage. Customers rely on word-of-mouth feedback from familiar sources, online customer reviews, or from individuals with previous experience with a retailer. Customers interact with each other post-purchase too, e.g. a conversation between two customers in a physical store.
This can take place in both physical (e.g. a café) and digital channels (a social network). Customers can indirectly interact with a product on social media, which then prompts them to visit the retailer’s website and easily place their order. When done in a café or restaurant, the authors looked at a customer negative experience with potential long-term repercussions for the retailer as the unhappy customer intended to spread the negative feedback.
Previous research used to look at customer experience as an overall evaluation, limiting the knowledge of the key decisive moments between the customer and retailer. This study sets the groundwork for the development of a theoretical model of customer experience. The results offer retailers an understanding of the clear touch point elements that happen along the customer’s journey that improve customer experience.
Sources & Read more:
Stein, Alisha, and B. Ramaseshan. “Towards the identification of customer experience touch point elements.” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 30 (2016): 8-19. (link)
Vend’s 2016 Retail Trends & Predictions Report