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How to recalibrate the customer experience with innovation

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The pandemic fast-forwarded and shoehorned years of digital transformation plans into 15 months. For many brands beyond food and certain FMCG sectors, the digital shopping experience became the shopping experience - in truth, with mixed results. Consumer expectations are now set extremely high. How can brands retain their focus on the end user in the rush to embrace new technology? Indeed, to what degree should they be embracing new technology, or should they be making simple tweaks to existing processes? And, how can we make sure that we are solving human problems rather than using technology as a sledgehammer?

These were among the subjects discussed in “Recalibrating the customer experience with innovation” at The Drum’s CT Fest panel with LiveArea. Experts exploring the new post-pandemic customer experience conundrum of the merged physical and digital environments included Barry Fiske, SVP, experience and innovation, LiveArea; Jos Harrison global head of brand experience and design at Reckitt; and Shir Ibgui, partnerships manager, Syte.

The panel agreed that today, over a year after the first lockdown, an outstanding customer experience requires more than merely single-click buying from social media and free next-day delivery but addressing the more profound question of how to maintain humanity at all points of what is often now a digital-only customer journey.

For some, like Reckitt’s Harrison, it meant many of his company’s brands thinking seriously about e-commerce for the first time, encompassing issues Fiske also identified, such as click and collect. Ibgui added they also had to digitally target generational groups they had not previously focused on, notably “boomers”, suddenly using e-commerce heavily. How to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the challenge?

“The start point for brands in that digital space really should be the heart of the brand itself. What is it? What is the brand's purpose? What is its reason to exist?” Harrison said. “What are we talking about by blending a human experience with a digital one? We shouldn't necessarily default to a transaction moment, because the service that we're providing to the user, may well be information-based, might not be a financial transaction, might not be a product or a consumable. It may even be a referral to a partner brand that can better serve that person's need than, say, one of our brands can.”

Fiske further explored CX beyond the transaction. “The brands that are trying to elevate beyond their products to actually be a part of a movement; be part of a community are the ones using experience to do (something) really powerful. Under Armour isn't just selling shoes and shirts, it’s also selling applications that allow you to map your run and do all of those kinds of things. That becomes really powerful, it elevates the brands to allow them to tell stories; to be involved in the community. Customers feel a real ownership and participation in the brand beyond just the products.

Picking up Fiske’s theme, Ibgui stressed that to acquire and retain a “holy grail” position of being one of the first three brands a shopper thinks about requires a focus on understanding consumers’ human motivations – for example, what Fiske described as: “not just what dress, but what goes well with this dress and how to easily share with someone else where to get that dress.”

Fiske cited the need for a more human interface requiring more human behaviors and expectations such as visual and verbal cues, with less reliance on the not-so-human tool of typing. Meanwhile, Ibgui noted the greater investment historically made at the beginning and end of the shopping funnel: in customer acquisition and financial transaction fulfillment, perhaps at the expense of the middle, which is so important to the end user.

“We often find that the biggest drop off-points for someone in the customer experience are actually in the middle of the journey, once they've routed to your .com, or partners’ e-tail platform,” Harrison argued. “They just kind of get lost, because either there's too much choice or the ways to navigate it aren't as clear or simple as they could be.”

“If a shopper can't find what they need, or what they're looking for, they're never going to find out how great your shipping is or how great your packaging is, because they couldn't find what they wanted in the beginning,” Ibgui continued. “Product discovery done right is personalized and intuitive. It's basically understanding what shoppers are looking for before they can even put it into words.”

Fiske advocated a greater focus on service design. Harrison picked up on this: Internally, Harrison said Reckitt realized that small changes to process could make as big a difference over two years than a huge investment in technology, particularly in the area of managing assets.

Fiske emphasized the need for test and learn: “The key that we always talk about is you cannot start an idea with the technology, you have to start the idea with the customer and, more importantly, the customer problem,” he said. “To make experiences genuinely accessible to everyone, we have to move towards more natural human interactions,” added Harrison. “And, as Shir said, visual gestures or spoken - these are massive step-changes in inclusivity, because there are vast swathes of the population who do find technology either intimidating or physically difficult to interface with.”

Looking to the future, Ibgui said the battle was now only between good and great customer experience, while Harrison argued that segmentation would be even more vital. Meanwhile, Fiske pointed to “headless commerce” as perhaps the major trend to have emerged over the past two years – more so in Europe than the US. Fiske also agreed with Ibgui on the growing significance of NLP (natural language processing), which, alongside visual searches and social purchasing will gradually replace text-based searches. Fiske concluded the session with a re-iteration of Harrison’s mantra to focus on the end user, and making the customer experience, whether physical or – more commonly now - digital, a human one.

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Kendra Clark, The Drum’s US reporter was talking to:

Shir Ibgui, partnerships manager, Syte

Jos Harrison Global Head of brand experience and design at Reckitt Benckiser

Barry Fiske, SVP, experience and innovation, LiveArea

Watch the on-demand panel here.

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