Today, data anxiety and online shopping co-exist slightly uncomfortably. Should this be of concern to retailers? If people are concerned about data sharing but still shopping online, can their concerns about privacy be ignored on the basis that it isn’t influencing their behaviour? It’s a question of balance, transparency and consistency.
When customers can order almost anything to anywhere via one tap on their smartphone, assisted by AI-generated recommendations, chatbots and digital assistants, resisting that level of frictionless convenience is hard. But as businesses actively employ new technology to nudge customers to digitally self-serve, removing the human element from the customer experience, how can a business craft a personal relationship with a customer in an increasingly digital landscape?
While the human touch may have become a luxury, its impact remains undeniable.64 Customers often choose brands because of the quality of their customer service. Emerging markets give much more weight to customer service, whereas brand choice seems more nuanced in established markets.
Organisations have used personalisation to increase sales and customer loyalty for generations. It has come full circle. At the dawn of retail, the degree to which a shopper received a personalised service was a key driver of sales. Successful shopkeepers built personal relationships with their customers. Chain retail stores then disrupted and depersonalised these relationships, but digital now offers the chance to rebuild them.
The best personalisation is targeted, intelligent and saves people time. The worst is the opposite. We see this in blanket emails from retailers, washed with a tacky veneer of personalisation through a light peppering of your first name. This form of communication is outdated, and can be damaging.
Brands therefore cannot rely on the use of a first name in the way a shopkeeper may have done. It’s a hollow gesture when it comes from an algorithm, and people know it. New personalisation needs to be nuanced, authentic and work for the benefit of both customer and retailer. The question is not whether retailers should use shopper data to inform their marketing, but how.
Whether it is in-store, a message on social media, a telephone call from a real person or a chatbot, customers expect to receive the same level and quality of service they have received before or elsewhere. But with interactions that are enriched by AI going forward,65 there is a risk that the human touch is overshadowed by technology and the relationship will lack emotional connection,66 a key component of trustworthiness.67
This means a delicate balancing act between providing a cost-effective digital customer service, but also judging when the human touch is indispensable to the experience. It should not matter how, where or to whom customers come into contact with your organisation, you now need to deliver a reliable customer experience across channels, however challenging that is. The key is to remain authentic – and consistent.
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