In today’s turbulent retail landscape, online and offline needs alignment

By Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru

In recent weeks, most household names on the high street have shut their doors to the public and many are now seeing an unprecedented demand for online services. This is a big concern for any not championing an online presence, and the struggle for bricks-and-mortar stores will continue even after the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK begins to lift. The need to align offline and online operations has never been clearer. For those already successfully combining the two approaches with omnichannel customer engagement, successfully navigating this pandemic should be far
more manageable.

Retailers both online – and on the high street when we return to normalcy – can make momentous gains by adopting industry-leading omnichannel best-practice, and ‘connecting the dots’ between the many customer data-points and the consumer’s overall experience of the brand. With customer experience now the key differentiator in the retail sector, and as the situation around COVID-19 continues to put pressure on businesses, how can technology save our high street?

Migrating offline to online
There is a common misconception that the retail market comprises two separately operating businesses: an online business and an in-person business. But, the current reality means the same customers must be able to exist in both scenarios. Whether the customer is on their device at home, or walking around a physical retail space with a device to compare deals in store with competitors, as they will return to doing in the future, there is an urgent need to be able to communicate effectively across all channels that the customer chooses, and whenever they choose to use them.

Online shopping holds immense power in its ability to collect, store and process data points on individuals. It allows for complete personalisation of the shopping experience, and opens up more real-time direct and opportunistic communications with the customer. But only for those retailers who have laid the foundations of best-practice omnichannel communications with customers.

Implementing true omnichannel at a time when communication is key
Omnichannel is often incorrectly used to describe communications that happen across various channels but that are managed in siloed compartments. Having multiple channels available in a business’s customer service model is great, but excellence only comes when performance is consistent across all of them. Ideally, there should be no weak links that threaten to degrade the service customers receive, which is what makes a customer service experience omnichannel, rather than multichannel.

Utilising a cloud contact centre that offers the level of integration needed for a true omnichannel experience could be the make or break for retailers during the current situation around COVID-19. Many retailers will have different systems controlling different departments, the truly omnichannel contact centre can bring together different information systems so they work in tandem, both internally and externally. This level of omnichannel operations not only makes internal communications and processes easier and more automated, but it benefits the customer and, ultimately, strengthens their relationship with the brand.

The future of retail engagement
So, how can the contact centre become a truly omnichannel engagement hub to support retailers through this difficult time? As an industry, the contact centre’s implementation of the latest technology, such as AI and machine learning, is progressing at record speed, and making a huge impact on customer experience along the way.

Customers increasingly value and expect real-time responses to support enquiries. This means that agents who don’t have to spend time searching for answers to customer enquiries are much better placed to meet today’s service expectations.

To deliver on this requirement, it’s likely that the traditional Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems most retailers use will be replaced by much more sophisticated and effective Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems.

The sudden increased demand for ‘as-a-service’ omnichannel offerings across all sectors is clear. However, any retailer that wants to succeed during these challenging times needs a comprehensive understanding of how to nurture happy, long-term customer relationships across all existing and future channels of engagement.

Customer experience is now the key differentiator in any business, but most especially in retail. Customers now expect an attentive and efficient long-term relationship with retailers who can seamlessly navigate their interactions across every channel. Mastering this will prove absolutely essential to achieving short- and long-term success throughout COVID-19 and beyond.

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