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Vincent Placer, Comdata expert in Retail and e-commerce sector, shares his insights on the continued customer evolution and the need for a seamless experience.

Digitization has profoundly transformed the retail sector. Thanks to the development of the omnichannel and to the potential of online sales, nowadays merchants are required to make considerable investments both in terms of technology and new skills. A targeted customer experience strategy is in fact increasingly necessary to tailor the retail experience to customer expectations, optimize the supply chain and retain those who visit the store.

If you look at mature retail players and e-commerce, consistency is the common ingredient to success, especially when it comes to innovation. This omnichannel consistency is critical in delivering the same procedures and centralized efficiencies that enable a global value proposition across a consistent customer journey, in store, on the website, on the delivery…

Customers want experiences
For e-commerce, to succeed, it’s not just about cost saving, but maintaining consistent efficiencies. As such, retailers must first ask themselves, “how can I convert any interaction into a sale?” Once they have an answer to that question, then they must focus on how to enrich the customer’s experience. On the other hand, for specialized distributors, providing exceptional service is critical. These distributors no longer just want to sell a product, but rather a solution and an experience which is worth something to the customer.

It is even more fundamental for brick and mortar stores, in a framework where online and offline purchases are increasingly becoming part of a single experience. Statistics show that customers, despite a growing digital approach, are returning to stores and sometimes increasingly feel the need for a "physical" interaction with the brand. This is why companies have begun to understand that it is necessary to offer a service that is adequate to expectations and to develop a  true entertainment experience at the store.

customer interaction

Data are the future of retail
As brands continue to iterate and refine their digital strategies, it’s clear that personalization is a defining factor in customer satisfaction. With the space in AI-powered customer experience rapidly expanding, there are a number of solutions that especially stand to revolutionize e-commerce as we know it.
Retailers who do not take advantage of the capabilities offered by artificial intelligence will not be able to identify consumer tastes, thus missing the chance to increase reach and engagement levels, as well as sales volumes and channeling speed.
Advanced analytics support retailers in combining and processing historical and contextual data, which is a real opportunity to approach the customer as an individual through a customization process.

How to use AI to improve the customer experience
Utilizing artificial intelligence tools to gather, study, and personalize the customer experience from beginning to end is crucial. Many software vendors are integrating AI into their solutions because it offers a fast and efficient way to analyze your customers' browsing and shopping habits, which in turn can help you fine tune your site to more efficiently convert shopping into sales as well as fix user interfaces that may cause customers to drop off.
One possible application for AI is to understand the reason for cart abandonment, like having too many steps, a lack of flexibility and poor shipping and payment options. Another way to use AI is to look for patterns in returns and the issues that drive them, like size issues or damage in transit.

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Future trends in technology: chats and post-sale
The digitization of commerce is changing consumer expectations and inspiring new and unprecedented shopping patterns and experiences. Brands must capitalize on the emerging markets of voice-powered technology and digital assistants to  reinvent their customer engagement strategies or face the possibility of extinction. The presale journey is very important too. Chat, for example, is very useful in this part of the funnel. However, it is less useful post-sale as questions become more complex.

Virtual showroom: a new way to interact with the product
An expected trend is for messaging apps (i.e., WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) to be leveraged by retailers more and more as they offer an ability to interact. Today email is becoming less and less effective and with the increase in direct messaging, there will be a need to create a better user experience there as well. The same interaction level with customers and the same development trend is expected for showrooms which may soon shift more and more onto the virtual. With a virtual showroom, customers can play a video reproduction of the store on their smartphone and locate themself virtually inside it, enabling a complex new way to interact with a product.

Voice assistants in retail
We also expect things to come from voice assistance, such as Alexa. The industry is not there just yet as the consumer market is primarily still using these voice assistants as a speaker to broadcast music. Ultimately, we will find a new way to interact with voice that is not too intrusive and can answer complex questions.
Within the next 3-5 years, we expect to seamlessly integrate between brand application and voice assistant.

alexa

BPO and customer experience
At the end of the day, Customer Management-BPO capabilities allow brands to focus on what they do best such as designing positioning, brand experience, etc. Fewer and fewer companies are executing on what isn’t considered their ‘core’ and they are no longer doing it  on their own. When companies outsource, however, they can truly concentrate on their strengths. Overall, this will continue to be an upward trend. Building multi-channel relationships with customers, making the brand proactive and personalizing the shopping experience - these are the three key elements of the BPO of the future.

BPO Innovation Shift
There has been a shift from the past. BPO was traditionally here to serve as an interaction manager that would answer requests. Today, you need to have people that can assist sales to add value and greater knowledge about an offering. The first innovation in retail is to bring in more expertise coaching and then to determine which tools can be used to add a relevant layer that can help the customer ‘dream about it’. Furthermore, today the mix of human ability and technology is creating the so-called augmented agents, i.e. agents who have the skills to interact with automatic elements such as bots and algorithms that allow them to be more  effective and create conditions for a more sophisticated CX, which is an important means of differentiation.

Showroom innovations
For example, focusing on showroom innovations. Comdata has created a   showroom for Samsung in Mexico where customers can not only ask about the product but interact with it as well. The same applies here for detecting the needs of the customer. As an example, if there was prior browsing behavior that could be provided to the advisor, it would enable them to personalize inputs and create a more relevant personalization. These example tools would empower the advisor and ultimately be able to create a better customer experience.