All non-essential retail shops in England are on a mission to attract customers ever since the 12th of April when lockdown restrictions were eased for the first time in a long while. Whereas some people are excited to return to the high street, others are cautious. Retailers now have to offer something special to both attract and retain customers.

Today, we have with us Shankar Balakrishnan, VP EMEA at Medallia, to comment on the situation and share his unique business insights. As an experienced management expert who counts worldwide known brands for customers, Shankar gives his opinion on how retailers should prioritise tasks in this unique situation.

With more than a decade of experience in a customer experience industry, how would you describe the now always changing trends? Is the situation drastically different than before?

Everything has accelerated by the pandemic. Data and digital signals begin to play a more crucial role in the customer’s experience, and competitive companies are trying to keep a strong focus on them. As a result of the crisis, customer experience has gained even more attention, and we can expect this to remain in effect even after the emergency subsides.

For example, an organisation’s response time is now measured in hours (if not minutes) to meet the increased customer expectations. Today’s consumers have many avenues to share a negative experience, such as posting about it on social media, and brands are trying extra hard to avoid bad online reviews.

At the moment, we are in uncharted territory as there is no baseline to compare against. We need to adapt constantly to get things right and grow an organization alongside the customer experience.

We suppose the shift to digital and changed in-store experience will remain long after shops reopen. Does that mean the old methods we used to understand customer behaviour are not effective anymore?

The more traditional methods of collecting direct customer feedback – such as surveys – certainly still have an important role to play, but companies simultaneously need to evolve to meet situational needs. With the buying journey now interconnected across physical and digital touchpoints, we have to think simultaneously about what’s going on online and in the trenches.

Furthermore, the shift towards the personalisation of the customer experience developed alongside digitalisation means that customers today expect an individualised relationship with a brand. Everything needs to be personalized, from login and checkout to the marketing emails.

In a fast-moving digital world where one element of a customer’s journey can undermine all other parts, organisations need to feel the pulse of the customer by looking at all interactions and understanding the links between them. The 360-degree view of the customers should include signals such as clickstream data, online reviews, contact centre conversations, and in-store talks with employees. These should then be unified with a solicited, primary feedback across the entire journey.

Considering the challenges retailers face these days, trying to capture the fluctuating customer experience seems like an extra hard thing to do. What methods would you suggest?

The beauty of today’s customer experience lies in the simplicity of gathering consumer feedback. Organisations no longer need to rely on one system or type of interaction, as technology can help us to capture feedback from every possible place.

However, it can be much harder to understand and predict situations in-store. Businesses that want to meet increased customer expectations need to combine customer behaviour insights with the right change management tools. Now when retail staff is likely coming back from furlough to work in-store, this is essential for answering customer’s needs throughout the entire organization.

Medallia helps businesses understand customer and employee experience through the SaaS platform. How does such a platform overcome the challenges of intelligently analysing the unstructured signals of customer behaviour?

In today’s extremely competitive retail landscape, businesses must constantly improve their ability to predict customer behaviour on a large scale.  

Technology is the key. Now, it’s easier than ever for customers to provide feedback through various channels and media such as contact centres, chatbots, videos, or online reviews. Likewise, companies can more easily collect rich insights from the provided feedback by harnessing the power of technology. AI can analyse text, speech, and facial expressions to recognize the sentiment in real-time, which was not possible before.

In the same manner, the Medallia Experience Management platform tends to integrate all the structured and unstructured information and comb through it to isolate the real actionable insights. Its main goal is to understand and prioritise actions with the most positive influence on the overall customer experience. Throughout the action, we can make impactful decisions without wasting resources.

People know you as an expert in advising Fortune 500 companies on experience management strategies. Do you have a secret or two to share with retailers who are looking to stay alive and grow at this point of the pandemic?

Possibly my worst kept secret is that investing in your customer experience means listening to both your customers and your employees. Linking the two and keeping your finger on the pulse of their experiences gives a unique insight into what is working well for your business and what is not.

My other advice is to take the data seriously but not become too fixated on scores and surveys. The devil is in the detail. Instead of being preoccupied with Net Promoter Scores and employee engagement results, we should try to understand the details behind these ratings and turn them into actionable insights. This way, we can empower customers and inspire employees to drive performance and cement brand loyalty.

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