At Econsultancy Live last month, Richard Robinson, MD of Xeim Engage, chaired a panel with guests Emma Stacey, Brand and Marketing Director for TSB; Katie Avon, Director of Marketing for Grosvenor Group; and Alex Valibona, Managing Director for Birchbox.
The question up for debate – what’s next for CX?
More specifically, what customer behaviour trends are driving CX as a strategy (particularly within ecommerce)? And how should brands approach CX going forward? Here’s what the panelists had to say.
Current CX trends to watch
When asked about the trends the panel are seeing within CX, as well as expect to see more of as the year goes on, there were three main talking points…
The first is ‘cocooning’, i.e. when consumers enjoy experiences at home that they typically would do outside of the home, which can be anything from beauty treatments to watching movies. Alex Valibona, Managing Director at Birchbox, says that the pandemic has (unsurprisingly) accelerated this trend, but also that it is likely to shape customer experiences in future. He says that we can expect “more hybrid experiences between the digital and physical worlds… That, to me, is going to be the main trend that we are going to be seeing from now on.”
Valibona says that Birchbox’s business model is already tailored to his hybrid world. “We’re already bringing this physical experience to the home of customers,” he explains. “To bring an experience that is more convenient than just trying out products in a store.”
For Katie Avon, Director of Marketing at Grosvenor Group, the concept of cocooning certainly provides an opportunity for the group’s home and interior brands. However, for its destination brands, Avon focuses on the new trends driven by the government’s re-opening plan and the opportunities around this, such as outdoor dining.
“For us it is about, how can we capitalise on that to benefit other parts of our estate like retail?” she asks. As a result of recent re-openings, Avon points to the recent spike in air pollution in central London.
“If consumers are to – as we hope – come back into city centres, there might be more demand from them for better ‘greening’ of the spaces that they are enjoying.” More broadly, but still related to this, Avon also cites the importance of brand purpose, “and particularly, sustainability, which of course has been a thing for us as consumers for a long time now.”
Avon cites Unilever as proof of the rising importance of sustainability from a consumer perspective, with the company’s sustainably-driven brands reportedly growing 69% faster than the rest of the Unilever portfolio.
Emma Stacey, Brand and Marketing Director for TSB, cites the shift to self-service as one of the biggest trends within CX in financial services. As a knock-on effect, she also explains how this is leading to more meaningful experiences both online and in branches.
“What it is hopefully doing is encouraging customers to use technology for transactions.” In other words, stopping people from coming into a bank to do basic actions that they can easily do via the website or app. Consequently, she says, this “actually allows them to come into branches for interactions, so when our staff can really add some value to that conversation.” This leans into TSB’s ‘money confidence’ initiative. “That’s where our people really make a difference, when you can spend some time talking to somebody, as opposed to helping them transfer money from one account to another which they can easily do online.”
Moving towards a hybrid retail model (and ‘bespoke’ CX)
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of ecommerce, and this has in turn ramped up consumer expectations when it comes to convenience. But what does this mean for the future of customer experience?
Grosvenor’s Katie Avon reminds us that convenience and ecommerce don’t always go hand in hand, citing issues such as too much packaging and convoluted returns processes as two common points of frustration. Instead of convenience, Avon cites ‘bespoke experience’ as the next step for CX, relating to things like concierge services within retail.
“You can choose clothing from a retail brand, they can be delivered to your door, and you can try them on in real time, whilst the person who’s delivered them is waiting outside,” she explains. “That, for me, is real bespoke luxury convenience that, I think a lot of people are concluding, you don’t automatically get from the big mass-market providers.”
Avon also cites Browns, which was bought by Farfetch last year, as an example of this ‘hybrid’ retail experience, and one which offers the traditional brick-and-mortar experience combined with digital expertise. So, for instance, customers are able to try on clothing ‘edits’ in store, take them away, and choose what they want to pay for and keep at a later time.
“I am optimistic where brands get that mix right, and it is elevated and different, the centre of London will benefit from that, because people will want to combine a real life bricks-and-mortar experience with the convenience of digital that isn’t just that anonymous giant, Amazon, ecommerce offer.”
Alex Valibona from Birchbox echoes this point, suggesting that the role of stores will be experiential, and “a new place where we will be able to experience brands that we are interacting with in different ways.”
“One of the things we have witnessed over this period, across all retailers, [is that] the experience has been elevated. Whether it’s delivery options, flexibility, payments, and inventing new ways to get a deeper relationship with our customers.”
Driving long-term value through trust and confidence
When it comes to the experiences that drive long-term loyalty, TSB’s Emma Stacey highlights the importance of joining up linear experiences. “We’re using systems and technology to make that a more personalised journey,” she explains. “Rather than taking big groups of customers and assuming that they are all in the same place, it is recognising that we have infinite variations of what a customer might be going through.”
It might sound obvious, Stacey says, but this means “really listening to customers” and “making sure that the voice of the customer is at the heart of what we do.”
Alex Valibona echoes this belief, explaining that brands need to recognise the varied reasons why customers – particularly loyal customers – interact with brands.
“Now, customers tend to come to us not only to purchase, but to experience or learn or consume content. What we really need to do it understand what they are here for in order to provide them with these experiences.” In line with this, Valibona cites privacy as a factor in driving this type of long-term loyalty, and the importance of delivering this “in a way that is allowing us to create longer-term trust and confidence.”