When self-serve checkouts were introduced in supermarkets in 2017, research found that they left many older people feeling ‘miserable’ and even more lonely and isolated. This, in addition to a lack of seating in some stores, meant that for many, shopping became a colder experience, without even so much of a ‘hello,’ from a store colleague or a fellow shopper.
Fast forward to 2020 and the effects of self-serve checkouts now seem tiny compared to the changes to our shopping routines which are now in place to help protect us from covid-19.
With distanced queuing, contactless collections and less staff around, shopping in stores is now a colder and more clinical experience. Many service aspects that bricks and mortar stores used to differentiate from online are gone, with no product sampling, giveaways or demonstrations and few interactions with store colleagues beyond those on issues of safety.
Retailers are working hard to innovate and deliver a convenient service for customers, Asda recently trialled virtual queuing, which will enable shoppers to join a queue via their phones then wait in their cars until their turn.
Lush has introduced kiosks at front of stores in Germany, where customers can order and collect pre-selected products but it’s likely that there will be no bath bomb explosions or hand massages in sight.
This is not limited to retail. Take your regular trip to your local hair salon. Under usual circumstances, you may be welcomed with a drink, enjoy a relaxing hair wash (and maybe a head massage) before sitting in the chair and sharing your latest life updates with your trusted stylist and friend. Children also receive a warm welcome in many salons, enjoying treats such as colouring sheets and stickers and the chance to ‘play hairdressers’ in exchange for sitting still.
Not only do these things improve the customer experience in salons, they promote brand loyalty and help salons sell additional products and services based on the relationships they have with their customers.
Whilst salons are still planning for a safe reopening from July onwards, it’s likely that much of the aforementioned niceties may become a thing of the past. Distancing rules may rule out the chance for a confidential chat, masks may hinder 121 communication and another regular activity will transform into a purely functional experience.
So, what can businesses do to maintain human service without human contact and bring a little joy?
Here are 4 tips:
- Keep in touch with your customers & understand their needs
Keep in touch with your customers to maintain relationships with them. Ensure they are aware of any changes to how you’ll be serving them, so there are no surprises.
Let them know about the measures you’re taking to make their experience safe and thank them for supporting you.
Gather as much information about them as possible so you can properly understand their wants and needs. Collect sales data and use surveys and social media polls to keep up with them, so you can adapt your products and service accordingly.
- Remedy any pain points
If changes to your product and service will result in any pain points for customers such as queues, try to make these more positive experiences.
Manage expectations on wait times and look at efficiencies such as separate queues for those customers who wish to browse and those who may be collecting pre-ordered items.
Use interactive window displays and floor stickers to keep shoppers entertained.
Make sure you have a colleague to greet customers and manage the queue process.
If wait times become an issue, consider pre-orders and shopping by appointment, this may enable you to plan your operations more effectively and serve different customer groups.
If your premises are on a high street or in a shopping centre, collaborate with neighbouring businesses to share ideas and work together to deliver a better overall experience outside of your stores.
- Invest in your staff
Your people may be the only personal contact your brand has with your customers and they must be empowered to deliver great, safe service. Make their wellbeing a priority, ensuring they feel safe and reassured in carrying out their work. In addition to training on safety procedures, show them how best to guide customers through purchase. Language is key and simple things such as ‘asking not telling’ customers and thanking them for supporting you will help maintain a positive atmosphere on the shop floor. Showcase the personalities of your team members – have a welcome board in store with their photos and favourite products on or interactive name badges, all of this will help them deliver service beyond screens.
- Make your digital experience more personal
If you’re selling online, make the experience more personal to complement the store experience. Perhaps you could include a handwritten note with orders, thanking the customer for supporting your business or you could offer incentives and discount codes based on customer preferences to build loyalty and future sales. Review your packaging and delivery, does it convey your brand, could samples or small gifts create an improved and more memorable experience?
Our exceptional consumer insight and expertise helps retailers all over the world deliver the best customer experience possible and now more than ever, this is of paramount importance. If your business needs support, get in touch to see how we can help.