A recent survey by RIS News and Edgell Knowledge Network, sponsored by CodeBroker, asked 58 senior-level retail executives in North America which business functions drive customer engagement. Astonishingly, the executives ranked the role store associates play in driving customer engagement as least important.
As a consumer, this doesn’t jibe with how I experience brands. I’d argue that front-line staff, especially store associates, have a profound impact on the retail experience. Here’s why:
Why balancing digital and human customer experience is so important
As all of our interactions migrate online, it’s never been more essential to push for greater human contact—and recognize when it happens. All too often, e-commerce and digital platform experiences exclude the true physical and emotional interactions we need as inherently social creatures—and used to get with traditional shopping.
Kurt Grossheim, COO of Synchrony Financial wisely said that “digital technology is simply a tool to assist in the overall customer experience. It’s not THE customer experience. Let customers select their path: technology or human; ensuring both are available is crucial to creating satisfaction.” Synchrony Financial did a study on purchasing decisions and found that 73 percent of consumers think it’s important to interact with a knowledgeable sales associate in order to ask questions and get advice.
This comes at a time when consumers go out of their way to avoid a company after a bad experience. In fact, according to recent research by Ovum for live-chat software developer BoldChat, 82 percent of consumers in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand stopped doing business with a company because of a negative customer experience.
Front-line workers can make or break a brand
Warby Parker is a growing American manufacturer and largely online retailer of glasses and sunglasses—it’s also one of my favorite brands. I was in the market for glasses over a year ago.
I found the perfect pair online, got to the checkout and then started questioning whether it was worth the hassle of shipping and handling if I hadn’t even tried them on. So I abandoned my cart.
A few days later, I got an automated email from Warby Parker that read, “want a better look? We noticed you left these frames in your cart (no judgment—they’re just chilling). If you want to take them for a spin, there’s no risk.” The message was like a friend telling me that it didn’t hurt to take the next step, and that’s just what I did.
After receiving a customary “good news: your order has been received’” email, someone from the Warby Parker customer service team reached out in-person to confirm some details. Every interaction thereafter was with a real person who was helpful, quick to respond, funny and treated me like a loyal customer—or even a friend.
When it to comes customer experience, product and brand image—the top ranked drivers of customer engagement according to the aforementioned RIS study—Warby Parker nailed it. But what led me to tell this story, and forever recommend the brand to anyone who’ll listen, is the increasingly rare human contact and personalized element I experienced with its customer service and e-commerce associates.
What should be driving customer engagement then?
When 63 percent of North America’s top retail execs say that brand image or marketing is the key driver of customer engagement, and customer experience and store associates don’t even make the top three list, I see a disconnect between what consumers want and brands are prioritizing.
Our desire to connect with real people, and get personalized service, creates a unique opportunity for retail executives to deliver a better experience and build stronger relationships. Although great customer service often doesn’t get the credit it deserves, inspired employees—like those I engaged with at Warby Parker—make all the difference in recreating the human experience that’s missing from our digital lives.
Interested in learning more? Download the 'Enterprise Guide to Customer Experience.'