Black Friday and Cyber Monday have evolved into two of the most significant ‘event’ days in the retail calendar and, due to their success in driving customer participation, have morphed into anything from ‘Black Five-day’ or, as I recently read, ‘Black-vember’.

As Andy Street, the former John Lewis CEO, said a couple of years ago, “the genie is out of the bottle” and these events are now with us for the foreseeable future (and with Singles Day yet to really materialise in the UK, are only likely to grow). Therefore we need to consider how we maximise the beneficial impact as we head in to the season that is increasingly make-or-break for many retailers.

Establishing a good reputation

As a good friend pointed out to me a short while ago, “you only get one reputation, and it is hard to build, but easy to destroy” and therefore consideration of how peak trading periods are executed with retailers, and their partner businesses is crucial to their longevity.

During such a busy period, standing out from competitors is important, but it is also worth recognising that standing out for the right reasons is crucial. Whilst we may offer enticing deals, it has become clear in recent years that not every retailer wants to play purely on price. Differentiation can be achieved by being a ‘sea of calm and tranquillity’ whilst others are caught in the frenzy.

This works both online and offline, and I think that it is notable that some retailers are now using the ‘Black’ week to launch new ranges, new store services, and curated events. From a fulfilment perspective, driving or further enhancing a reputation for providing superior, reliable and consistent customer experience can have a material impact on longer term reputation.

At Yodel, we focus heavily on the four things that consumers value the most when it comes to the delivery of their online order – it arrives on time, in good condition, delivered with a great attitude, and that they are kept informed from the point of order. These are the four key elements of our service proposition that contributes to the overall brand experience provided by our partner retailers.

Ensuring a multichannel approach

To ensure they are providing a truly convenient service for customers, many successful high street retailers have developed a coherent multichannel approach which enables customers to shop in a way and at a time that suits them. As consumers flip from catalogue to online, to store, to contact centre, the brand experience must be consistent and resilient.

‘Desertion at the press of a button’ is an all-too-familiar reality in modern retail and therefore the ability to be consistent and transparent within an organisation is an absolute necessity. Increasingly, customers are buying goods from far-flung parts of the world as confidence in payment systems, fraud protection and return/refund processes increases – and therefore transparency across value chain partners becomes crucial in managing customer expectation, and delivery of promises.

Investment in (appropriate) technology

The modern retail Customer Experience undoubtedly relies heavily on technology. A joined-up supply chain, offering smooth and repeatable end to end execution is key. Whilst technology has always been key to ensuring that goods and information flow in a consistent and timely manner, there are now many technologies that ease the flow in ways that I could only have dreamed of in the early days of my career.

Whilst innovation used to be a high-risk adventure, it is increasingly safe and comparatively predictable in outcomes. As a result, we see the adoption of AI, Blockchain, and other technologies moving at a pace that would have amazed retailers and partners only 20 years ago.

As we close our development programmes and enter ‘tech freeze’ for the peak trading period, the investments that are being made are increasingly robust and designed to enhance the customer experience. We are now in an era of the super-user being the norm, and IT partnering is more regularly organisational standard, with the focus being on service metric improvements.

Communication is key

Whilst technology plays a key role in the development of the service proposition, there is one thing that is clear in my mind. Whilst we can deploy myriad system enhancements, the one thing that cannot be replaced in full is the ‘human touch’. Automation can take some of the burden off the retail process, but that ability to engage with a human being to gain a specific insight or resolve a particular problem is, from my perspective, a core element of the model.

Clear channels of communication are necessary to ensuring retailers and their suppliers are kept fully informed. Most importantly, customers need to be furnished with a level of information about the delivery of their purchases that provides the peace of mind that the promise made at the checkout will be kept.

Our research at Yodel, through our 2018 UK Customer Experience Award-winning ‘Have Your Say’ feedback programme, indicates that customer satisfaction drops dramatically if customers don’t feel informed (from an average net promoter score of +88 to -41). It is therefore important to ensure that permissions are gained in the right way, with the customer given the opportunity to give the right level of instruction, such that proactive updates can be sent, tracking links provided, and notifications ‘pushed’ so they can be updated and feel comfortable with the progress of their order.

There is a justifiable expectation of complete transparency at all stages of the fulfilment and delivery process and communication also offers the opportunity to build closer, longer lasting relationships.

Customers increasingly understand the pressures that retailers are under around Black Friday and our research also shows that around a third of shoppers acknowledge that deliveries may take a little longer in the run up to Christmas. While they are happy to wait, it’s important to communicate delivery times effectively, and importantly at the point of checkout (39 percent expect to be given a firm delivery date at the time they place their order) and to make sure that those promises made at the checkout are realistic. 

If things are delayed, due to unforeseen circumstances such as the weather or the vagaries of the road network, successful retailers, with the right technologies within their value chain, can make sure their customers are kept informed and updated. Clear, unambiguous, and proactive communication can not only support the customer experience but will also drive down customer service costs.

Get these aspects right across the retail and partner network, and your peak season can lead to a long term, sustainable and profitable customer relationship – it is not just about the deal on the day.

Have a great Peak Season!

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