AR, Social, and Self-Serve Lead the Trends Shaping Customer Experience

Customer expectations have risen dramatically in the past decade, and today's consumers have come to expect an exceptional experience at every step of the customer journey. As a result, just one negative experience is enough to drive them away for good. According to a recent study by Qualtrics, customer service has become more important than ever, as 87 percent of consumers who rate a company's customer experience (CX) as very good are very likely to repurchase from that company. 

The stakes are heightened as CX has the power to make or break companies. Especially during COVID-19, as organizations are handling a surge of customer inquiries, effective CX is vital. In times of uncertainty, it’s important for companies to maintain connections with their customers and continue to support them. They can do this by keeping open lines of communication, setting realistic expectations, reaching out proactively, and investing in technologies that up-level the customer experience, including these four trends. 

Augmented Reality (AR) Across the Customer Journey 

Augmented reality, a previously unchartered retail technology designated more toward the entertainment industry, has moved into real-life practical applications with genuine business ROI, according to research from IDC. Its prevalence in retail will continue to increase throughout this year. 

Retailers are implementing AR to improve the customer experience and provide customers with more knowledge to help aid their decisions. From beauty to furniture, companies are offering AR-powered functionality to enable customers to virtually try on products or see what pieces of furniture would look like in their homes. Especially now, when consumers are making nearly all of their purchases online, AR enhances the customer experience by improving the discovery process. Additionally, AR is particularly effective in minimizing the number of returns from online shoppers. With preview capabilities, consumers are more apt to fully understand what they’re buying at the initial point of purchase, thus eliminating dissatisfaction and calls to the contact center. 

Other AR use cases center around when customers have issues. Retailers can use AR to gain unique insights into the situation and solve the problem quicker. Representatives can have customers share what they are seeing or doing and then guide them through a troubleshooting process as if the agent was in the room with them. This gives a level of personalization and attention that customers crave in their service interactions. 

The Rise of Social Commerce

Since its emergence, social media has become a significant factor in how consumers make buying decisions. In fact, Hubspot recently found that 71 percent of shoppers are more likely to make purchases based on social media referrals. In recognizing the power social media has with consumers, companies have worked to integrate social commerce features directly into their applications to give consumers seamless shopping experiences. This technology has evolved so that consumesr can click on the sunglasses an Instagram influencer is wearing and quickly purchase them without leaving the app. Social media usage is up since stay-at-home orders began, with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all seeing spikes.  With consumers spending more time than ever on their favorite social media platforms, this is an opportunity for companiesto bring products right where they are. 

In addition to offering new shopping channels via social media, companies need to equip their customer service teams to handle inbound inquiries via social platforms. Social media is growing in popularity as a customer service channel as consumers look to interact in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them. In fact, 90 percent of consumers have used social media in some way to communicate with companies, according to SproutSocial, and social media has surpassed phone and email as the first place most people turn when they have a problem or issue with a product or service. This trend is only growing as consumers stray farther from traditional customer service channels and as traditional channels have had overwhelming wait times during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Digital Self-Service

While consumer preferences are shifting toward non-traditional channels, they still want the same quality of service they would receive with an agent or in-store. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. With call volume at a record high, incredibly long wait times have become the norm, and as a result, consumers want to be to able solve their issues as quickly as possible. As digitally savvy shoppers, they expect to be able to use a variety of technologies that are uniquely convenient to them. This includes asking a digital assistant to check the status of an order or interacting with a chatbot on a website to initiate a return. 

Self-service allows consumers to inquire, adjust, and recast their experiences on any device in real time. While this approach benefits the customer, it also benefits the retailer because it is far more cost-effective than traditional support channels, enabling retailers to solve issues faster and free-up agents for more complex problems. 

Sustainable Shopping 

While consumers have grown accustomed to fast and free shipping, their mindset is shifting toward sustainability and making purchases that align with their values. New York University's Center for Sustainable Business found a significant shift toward making more sustainable purchases, and this trend is predicted to keep growing. In fact, recent research from e-Marketer found that 47 percent of consumers want to shop at environmentally conscious retailers, and Accenture found that they will even pay more for sustainably produced goods. 

This push for sustainability is in direct contrast with the rise of ecommerce fast-and-free delivery. Companies must recognize this conflict and work with customers to mitigate the environmental impact. This can be done by encouraging customers to opt for more sustainable shipping practices. Companies must offer greener-delivery options, such as shipping items in bulk, using sustainable packing that can be repurposed, and offering carbon-neutral shipping. As value-based shopping becomes more commonplace, companiesmust adapt their strategies to remain competitive and attract customers. 

Gone are the days where customer service interactions only occurred over the phone. More channels have emerged and consumer behavior has shifted toward an always-on mentality. Organizations need to guarantee exceptional customer experience in every interaction, even when unexpected disruptions create unusual and high-demand periods. Retailers must pay close attention to evolving consumer trends towards AR, social media, digital self-service, and sustainability to provide the best customer experiences possible.  

Karthik Marudur is director of product management for Manhattan Associates' Manhattan Active Omni. He is focused on devising product strategies and building products centered around customer service and customer engagement, working closely with both customers and industry analysts.