Retailers have been hit especially hard in recent months, affected heavily by COVID-19-related shut-downs and the crumbling economy. It’s clear that the uncertainty of the months ahead will not lighten the load that retailers carry to ensure their brand’s survival through 2020. As part of retailers needing to re-prioritize and re-strategize, some have had to deal with store and business closures, and many have had to make drastic changes to their business models, the majority of which heightened the need to go digital.
Nearly every day, I have conversations with retailers about the challenges they face and how to get creative. Marketing ideas are robust while budgets are lean, but what seems to be a necessary part of every brand’s survival plan is to invest more energy into listening.
Listening to customers is the most effective way brands are learning about themselves and highlighting areas to improve. In many cases, listening is a primary function of customer service, but rarely do those conversational insights find their way back to the marketing team. We’re beginning to see that this missed opportunity is deciding a brand’s fate on multiple levels.
Here are a few ways brands are rebuilding, and re-enforcing, a strong listening strategy:
Understanding the critical data that comes out of both marketing outreach and customer service is a huge first step to understanding how to make that data work. Depending on the marketing solutions deployed, most brands have the ability to see the entire customer journey illustrated by engagement data. These data points paint a clear picture of which customers are engaged, what they care about, and how they’re responding to the information coming from the brand. Customer service insights in particular are important, in that customer feedback isn’t represented by clicks on a web site or purchase data. Instead, it’s direct verbal feedback that can add color and context to the evolving relationship with the brand. Survey data shows 71% of people expect brands to have all the information when contacting customer service, which would help serve the 90% of people that expect resolution to their issue within 24 hours. By merging data sets and incorporating direct customer feedback, marketers will understand their needs first-hand, what brings frustration, and how best to serve them.
Trends come and go, but the business opportunities that come from them can have staying power. To stay in touch with how your brand resonates with the market, it’s important to pay close attention to emerging trends. Effective listening strategies involve understanding how your audiences are engaging and learning how to market to them. To extend that effectiveness, capture trends of other demographics that you wouldn’t consider your core market, to discover new opportunities to serve a different base. The expansion can be based on demographic, location and other factors, but implementing creative ways to identify new audience segments is key to helping retailers survive. For example, an athletic apparel retailer can look to see the kind of engagement they’re getting from an older demographic, and figure out how to configure product messaging to fit that segment. They could potentially sell the same pair of workout leggings that previously focused on sports performance for comfort and style. Same product, different messaging. Audience discovery and trend monitoring can breathe new life into brand products and services, giving them the ability to pivot and stay relevant.
If relying solely on customer service for feedback, brands can get a skewed view of their customer base, often towards the negative. Customers connect with customer service primarily for two reasons: to ask questions or to complain. Successful brands will proactively seek feedback throughout the customer journey — from acquisition, to pre-purchase, to post-purchase and everything in between — to get a well-rounded view of how they’re perceived by their audiences. A great ongoing tool is feedback polls, which can be used to judge and test parts of the customer journey, including web site usability, content rating, email or social media surveys.
As retailers continue to navigate the challenges ahead, it’s important to know the value of listening in order to strategize your brand’s next move. These tips may be a good starting point for retailers to discover new opportunities to keep their business moving forward.
Adapted from an article originally published on Retail Touchpoints, June 19, 2020.
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