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Brands Must Improve Customer Experience in E-Commerce
Customers expect excellent experiences, even during transactions
For the rest of the September 2015 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Companies are failing to deliver high-quality customer experiences across some of their channels, according to a recent report from Constellation Research.

Of the 150 marketers and customer service, e-commerce, and online professionals surveyed, 67 percent claimed that their e-commerce systems were not satisfactory drivers of loyalty. Furthermore, only 29 percent reported doing a good job of making it easier for customers to begin their journey in one channel, such as chat or email, and complete it in another.

One reason companies haven’t yet nailed customer experience in their e-commerce channels is that most of their earlier efforts were focused on addressing the roadblocks to getting transactional information right, says Natalie Petouhoff, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

But, analysts maintain, it's a mistake for companies to think that e-commerce platforms aren't important or worth paying attention to, as the standard for customer experience on all channels and devices is rising. It's true that "the [primary] 'job' of e-commerce is to sell stuff," Petouhoff says. "But as we know, in the world of social and digital everything, a representative of a company creates part of the brand experience."

Constellation Research also notes that companies neglecting customer experience on their e-commerce channels were, in turn, failing to stimulate loyalty among existing customers. That, many analysts contend, is a real problem, given how much easier—and cheaper—it is for brands to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones.

"Many old-time executives used to say things like 'We can always get more customers.' This attitude is [a form of] corporate arrogance and irresponsibility," Petouhoff argues. "Today, customers can easily switch companies, and they do. Some businesses will just go out of business because they are being led by senior leadership that is holding on to old paradigms."

Building loyalty is also crucial because satisfied customers will advocate for the company and end up spending more money with it. Roxana Strohmenger, director of data insights and innovation at Forrester Research, told attendees of the Forrester CX Forum in New York in June that the better a customer's experiences with a bank on its transactional pages, the more likely that customer will recommend the bank to a peer.

Because customers have come to expect seamless experiences across every touch point, it is important that companies don't lose them at any stage. This was another theme at this year's Forrester CX Forum, where customer experience analyst Megan Burns suggested a strong focus on minimizing pain points. "Removing the pain is better than adding pleasure," she advised. "Think about experiences that could go wrong and think of ways that you could make them better."

Companies that don't address these concerns will end up losing existing customers, because, as conventional wisdom suggests, people share negative experiences far more often than positive ones. One of the great pet peeves of hotel guests, for instance, is the disparity between the enthusiasm with which they are greeted while checking in and the indifference they're dealt when checking out, Strohmenger says.

And now that technologies have evolved to unite channels, companies have fewer excuses to keep them disconnected. They must commit to that first step and invest in the technologies that will make those experiences more connected for customers. "There have been many point solutions that did only part of the customer experience," Petouhoff says. "Now those point solutions are turning into platforms where the whole customer journey is connected. You need to have senior leadership buy in to this and provide the resources—people, processes, budgets, and technology—and time to get it right."

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