These questions, and ones like them, are keeping business owners across the U.K. awake at night as they plan strategies to move out of lockdown (again) over the coming weeks.
Businesses have spent much of the past ten months scrambling to adapt to extraordinary circumstances. While the fight against COVID-19 is not yet won, with a vaccine in play, there is at least light at the end of the tunnel.
A year of transition
2021 will be the year of transition. Barring any unexpected catastrophes, individuals, businesses, and society can start to look forward to shaping their futures rather than just grinding through the present. The next normal is going to be different. It won’t mean going back to the conditions that prevailed in 2019. Indeed, just as the terms “pre-war” and “post-war” are commonly used to describe the 20th century, generations to come will likely discuss the pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras.
We know from previous disasters that consumer confidence will recover (think Roaring 20s after the 1918 Spanish Flu), yet how fast it will recover is an open question. It stands to reason however that spending will only recover as fast as the rate at which people feel confident about becoming mobile again. And at a local level, it’s clear that business leaders can take action that will ensure that they’re top of mind as consumers head out into their communities once more to spend their money and satisfy their craving for human connection.
COVID protocols are critical
Businesses that have spent years spending small fortunes on building a loyal customer base could see their customers turn away in their droves if they don’t get the basics right in terms of COVID-safety. Customers simply will not shop in an environment in which they don’t feel safe. Frontline teams have a huge role to play in ensuring that protocols are put in place and remain in place for the foreseeable future. According to research carried out by MSPA Europe/Africa last year, the average customer likelihood to return and recommend rating increases by 149% when all COVID safety protocols are in place, compared to when they are not.
Indeed, React’s own mystery shopping research identified that supermarket staff had started to become complacent with COVID-safety protocols as early as July last year, making customers feel uncomfortable enough to consider taking their custom elsewhere. The fact that this issue that was only picked up by the government in December perfectly demonstrates the power of mystery shopping in helping individual businesses understand how to maximise footfall and grow market share before it’s too late.
Bricks and mortar can still prosper
With e-commerce on the rise, in order to remain relevant, there’s little doubt that the physical environment must evolve to offer something different. It must become a place to ‘experience’, rather than simply being a vehicle for transacting. And businesses should not overlook the importance of their employees in helping deliver this evolution. Because make no mistake, it’s the frontline that needs to support, and in some cases drive, this evolution, by taking opportunities to engage with customers, talk to them about products and match those products to customers’ needs and wants.
Interestingly, studies highlight that investment in ‘digital development’ is seen by retailers as their number one priority this year. However, whilst some form of joined up, omni-channel experience is clearly important to the switched-on 2021 customer, it’s likely that there are simpler fixes available to businesses leaders that would have a more immediate and positive impact on customers as they return to high streets, shopping centres and retail parks across the country in search of memorable, meaningful experiences, inspiring surroundings, and face-to-face conversations.
Retailers should be focusing on their frontline teams, instilling in them the need to deliver an engaging, empathetic, and informative experience to their customers as they open up their doors once more. It won’t be what they sell but how they sell it that’ll make the difference. Customers can now order any product in the world, but they can’t order the smile, the greetings, the dialogue, the surprise around the corner, the smells, the inspiration, and the humour that come along with a physical customer experience. If businesses succeed in responding to social, community needs, we can look forward to an era where physical environments will again be the go-to places providing great everyday experiences and building meaningful relationships.
Customer-centricity = resilience
There’s no doubt that customer-centric businesses are predisposed to benefit post-recession. We know from past experience that the starting point matters in a crisis. Forrester’s analysis of the financial crisis of 2008 shows that customer experience leaders saw a shallower downturn, rebounded more rapidly, and achieved three times the total shareholder returns in the long run compared with the market average. The message is clear; those businesses that are better positioned to meet and exceed the expectations of their customers in a consistent and repeatable way will continue to outperform the competition as we emerge from this crisis.
The truth is that in 2021, customers want businesses to give them what they’ve always wanted. Products that are good quality, address their needs and are worth the price. They want to spend money with businesses that make their life easier, provide them with a good quality experience and fit with their values and sense of self. These elements, in addition to the belief that businesses care about their safety and well-being will be the deciding factors in terms of where customers decide to spend their money this year.
Steps businesses can take to drive a “super” in-store experience
When it comes to developing a great in-store experience, there are five characteristics that successful businesses have employed to ensure that they deliver against customer expectations. This was true before the pandemic hit, and will become more even important this year:
1. Surprise: Great businesses surprise you with something that customers didn’t anticipate, giving them a reason to visit the physical store as opposed to ordering from their sofas.
2. Unique experiences: Successful companies look at the pain points in the customer experience and look to completely redesign them. This will become more important to customers as they navigate the store in lower numbers and the need for social distancing. Omni-channel options and speed of service solutions should be considered here (click and collect, buy online, return to store etc).
3. Personalisation: From customisation of products to a meaningful conversation with a member of staff, it’s imperative the customers feel that they are being spoken to as individuals, and solutions offered that are personal to (and perfect for) them.
4. Engage customers on a deeper level: Physical experiences are the most powerful when they engage multiple senses, allowing customers to feel completely transported by the experience. The opportunity to test and physically hold products and discuss them with experts will help drive store traffic.
5. Repeatability: A consistent experience is crucial to the successful execution of your brand promise. Every member of the team needs to know what their role is, and what’s expected of them when dealing with customers. This doesn’t need to be rocket science, but it does need to be genuinely delivered.
Doug Stephens, Retail Prophet
By delivering a “super” experience to every customer, every time, you will maximise footfall opportunities and ensure you remain ahead of your competitors in 2021.