They say every once in a while, there comes along a new technology that disrupts the entire industry and changes the way we see things. Almost a decade after its arrival, digital technology has transformed the retail industry in how customers purchase, evaluate, receive, return, or use products. We hear stories such as ‘Shoppers fleeing physical stores’, ‘Great mall exodus’ and so on. Indeed, Marc Andreessen’s prediction that e-commerce will overtake retail businesses seems to become truer every day.
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Sadly, that’s hardly the real story. E-commerce growth has slowed since its inception and is expected to go on the same way. Research suggests that at best, e-commerce will take up not more than 18 percent share of the entire industry. Part of the slow growth rate can also be attributed to the failure of e-commerce companies to correctly gauge and learn from the customer experience. While there is no denial of the fact that e-commerce has facilitated more interaction with customers, it is necessary to measure the overall picture of customers’ experience with the company rather than a distorted view of measuring their satisfaction level right after purchases. It is necessary to realise that what people really desire is not products but satisfying experiences.
Customer experience: top priority for executives
According to a recent study by Accenture (in cooperation with Forrester, 2015), improving the customer experience received the highest rankings when asking executives about their top priorities for the next 12 months. Multiple firms such as KPMG, Amazon, and Google, now have chief customer experience officers, customer experience vice presidents, or customer experience managers responsible for creating and managing the experience of their customers.
This increasing focus arises because customers now interact with firms through myriad touchpoints in multiple channels and media, and customer experiences are more social in nature. These changes require firms to integrate multiple business functions, and even external partners, in creating and delivering positive customer experiences.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty
One key element of understanding and managing customer experience is the ability to measure and monitor reactions to firm offerings, especially assessing and evaluating customer attitudes and perceptions. Satisfaction has primarily been conceptualised as resulting from a comparison of the actual delivered performance with customer expectations. Hence, giving false hopes may really be detrimental to the overall success of the firm.
There are three focal points at which customer experience can be enhanced: pre-purchase (customers’ interaction with the brand, category, and environment before a purchase transaction); purchase (customers’ interactions with the brand and its environment during the purchase event itself) and post-purchase (customers’ interactions with the brand and its environment following the actual purchase). Analysing the customer journey through these stages helps in considering myriad possibilities of enriched customer experiences at each level.
In the current decade, the major movement in customer management has been on customer and brand engagement. Customer engagement attempts to distinguish customer attitudes and behaviours that go beyond purchase. For instance, providing quality after-sales services and an established customer grievance redressal mechanism strengthens the relationship of the company with its customers and can be a driver of co-creation, social influence through word of mouth, and customer referrals.
There is no denying the fact that customer experiences matter, and if e-commerce companies plan to stay around for a while, they should consider creating superlative experiences in favour of their customers. Although human experience has been studied for hundreds of years, customer experiences can still be researched upon to provide a delightful customer journey throughout.
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