COVID-19 has changed the way consumers interact with businesses and meeting their expectations, virtually and in real life, is a must, writes ActiveCampaign founder and CEO, Jason VandeBoom
Forced to take your relationships with customers online during the past 18 months’ multiple shutdowns? Join the club. Around Australia, thousands of businesses pivoted to digital in order to maintain continuity, once ‘business as usual’ became an impossibility. According to Crazy Domain's Online State of Australia's Small Businesses 2021 report, 52 percent of retail and fashion business owners said the pandemic had encouraged them to invest more in digitising their businesses.
The Australia Post 2020 ecommerce Industry Report described the trend as ‘ecommerce in overdrive’.
‘Both retailers and shoppers have had to make a major shift to selling and purchasing through online channels. Shoppers who wouldn’t usually buy online, for example, older demographics, are quickly learning to use this medium; as are retailers who have not previously held a strong online presence,’ the Report noted.
Many of those retailers are continuing to do more of their dealings with customers virtually. This seems unlikely to change, given consumers have become comfortable transacting online and accustomed to the ease and speed of services such as ‘click and collect.’
Customer experience counts
Whether they’re browsing your website, asking questions via live chat or fronting up to your premises in the flesh, today’s customers are a highly discerning bunch. They don’t just want a product or service that meets their needs; they want to deal with a business that provides superlative service at every stage of the customer journey.
Give it to them and there’s a good chance a one-off shopper will, in time, become a loyal repeat customer who brings word-of-mouth business to your company, without you having to lift a finger, or spend a cent.
Here are some of the ways you can up the quality of your customer experience, without breaking the bank.
Smarter self service
Do you look for concierge-style personal service, or are you just as happy to help yourself, if it’s quick and easy to do so? A growing number of Australian consumers and businesses now fall into the latter category. Investing in platforms and solutions that make it simple for them to evaluate and order the products and services you offer, without having to spend time on the telephone or queuing in store, is likely to result in happier customers and more repeat business.
Sydney-headquartered graphic design platform, Canva, for example, offers a free plan so that anyone can trial its platform. While some customers may ultimately upgrade to a paid membership, many customers are satisfied with the core functionality of the free subscription. At the same time, while many using the platform may want to access other high-quality design assets such as stock photos, music, and videos, there’s no need to sign up for a paid subscription. Canva allows users to purchase virtual tokens that they can cash in for these assets when required.
Australian founded software development and collaboration tools provider, Atlassian, also starts its customer engagement journey with a menu of services, which highlights product features, and then includes a comprehensive list of support options. However, Atlassian also outlines the details, for example, noting specific hours when support is available and the initial response time when there is a service disruption.
Customers have the option to pay for higher levels of service and availability. Atlassian customers know when the company has gone the extra mile to solve a problem, for instance, if a customer support representative responds to an issue over the weekend even though weekend support was not on the services list. In addition, Atlassian also offers service credits and provides full disclosure about how to request these credits if the company fails to meet its stated uptime service-level agreement.
Few people enjoy uncertainty. In life and in business, individuals and organisations like to know what they’re getting when they lay their money down. Companies that over-sell and under-deliver find this out to their cost, via their complaints process or, as has become more common in the digital era, via a string of damaging online reviews. The latter can be difficult to rebut effectively and can cause significant brand and reputational damage. Setting clear expectations for customers – about the products and services you provide, how much they cost, when you’ll deliver them and how you’ll respond if there are quality issues – can help you avert some of these issues. It also makes clear to your team the standard of service you expect them to deliver and can inform their response, should they be asked to deal with a customer complaint.
A long view
Successful businesses aren’t built on one-off purchases. They stay in business because they continue to deliver value – and a great customer experience – to their customers, across the lifespan of a long relationship. Deepening your understanding of customers’ needs will help you to do the same. In the process, you’ll be reminded that ‘value’ isn’t one-size-fits-all. For some customers, it will be represented by additional bells and whistles. Others will remember and reward the supplier that offers white glove service when they sign up, or timely reminders when it’s time to re-order, or renew a subscription. Find out what resonates with your customers and you’ll find it easier to get them coming back for more.
Achieving profitability and growth in the post-COVID era
While each region is recovering differently from the COVID crisis, the next couple of years will be challenging ones for many Australian businesses. Acknowledging that consumers’ behaviour has changed significantly and taking steps to improve the quality of your customer experience will serve your enterprise well as you recover and rebuild.