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The human element: heart of Retail’s digital Customer Experience

  • Clock logoJuly 25, 2017
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New technologies are fast becoming ubiquitous: in all sectors of the economy, brands have had to adjust to an increasingly digital, mobile and automated world. But digital does not mean impersonal. The key to success in the future is meeting the demands and expectations of customers for a fair balance between automated assistance and interaction with human agents.


Making the digital world more human 

« M-commerce has become the driving force of e-commerce. 82% of transactions on Alibaba during last November’s Single’s Day took place on smartphones. In China, mobile transactions have surged on payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Wallet where it has become the norm. Today’s customers are m-connected and tech savvy, yet nothing about them is virtual: in addition to the freedom, variety of options and ease that mobile digital can offer them, they expect to be able to interact with a representative, receive personalized advice and have an altogether original experience », observes Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne, General Manager EMEA and Founder of The Social Client, digital consulting agency and company of Acticall Sitel Group.

Brands need to reinvent their customer experience management strategy and engage in personalized exchanges through which customers feel valued and listened to. Similarly in-store sales teams need to be involved, attuned to all the new technologies and truly become enhanced customer advisors.

Ultimately, it’s a win-win approach where brands must develop a humble and considerate customer relationship based on regular, informed and versatile interactions with their customers: Be proactive yet unobtrusive…

Read also our article on the 2017 trends emerging in retail 

Back to physical reality

The Global Consumer Pulse survey conducted by Accenture Strategy corroborates this analysis and reports that while 3.0 customers want autonomy and real-time service 24/7 anywhere in the world, 73 % of them seek out human interactions to help them resolve a problem or get advice. 79% would rather deal with a person than with a machine, 58% favor brick and mortar as the most personalized and best retail channel over all others, 44% physically go to a shop before ordering on line.

Amazon was quick to react to these insights. Capitalizing on the success of its pop up stores, the e-commerce giant implemented a real-world touch point strategy and opened 3 brick and mortar book-stores in 2016 and plans to open six more by the end of 2017. As of October 2016, this expansion program includes food retail stores.

Emotionally rebranding the Customer Relationship

Besides the importance of having a human contact at pivotal times within the customer journey such as subscribing to a contract, making a purchase, requiring aftersales assistance… maintaining that personal relationship with the customer is absolutely crucial. Figures from the Accenture Strategy survey highlight the importance of a continuous and caring relationship: « a dissatisfied customer is the most difficult customer to win back » explains Fabrice Marque, Managing Director at Accenture. More than half of the surveyed consumers who said they abandoned a brand because of poor quality of service won’t consider giving it another try. Paying careful attention to customers in their presence remains the best way to appraise their needs, expectations and possible frustrations.

Human experiences first

Digital experiences are increasingly mirroring our physical ones, through online communities that aim to reproduce the same kind of interactions you can have in-store. On their end, sellers have to go above and beyond their purely technical or commercial role to build and sustain a relationship based on emotion and trust, and to create an unparalleled in-store experience. Play-retail, which the French cosmetic brand Sephora headlines, ties into this touch-try-play dynamic which centers on the customer and turns retail into a genuinely entertaining shopping experience.

More than ever, digital expansion and automation must be accompanied by enhanced human services. Customers expect emotion, expertise and authenticity from brands. It’s not about humans competing with machines, it’s about machines collaborating with and empowering human beings.

Watch our video from the European Customer Day 2017 on future trends and human-robot cooperation 

Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne underlines the fundamental distinction to keep in mind for Customer Relations: « Digital offers unprecedented opportunities for brands in retail to create original and personalized experiences in order to better serve the customer both on and offline. But we must look beyond digital and automation to the kind of Customer Experience we want to deliver”. If bots can fulfill first-level services and therefor free up time and space for brands to reinvent the Customer Experience, the truly differentiating added-value of that experience will depend on a human advisor, not a robot.


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    Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne

    Directrice Générale EMEA

    Après avoir travaillé en tant que consultante et responsable marketing pour plusieurs acteurs du marketing communautaire en France et à l’international, Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne rejoint le Groupe Acticall pour co-fonder The Social Client en 2011.

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