There’s no marketing tool more powerful than a happy customer.
When you make customers happy, they buy more. They tell their friends to buy more and drive word-of-mouth. They help you create social proof by leaving customer reviews and raving about you both online and off.
When you do this well, time and time again –– well, that’s what creates a legacy brand. It is this word-of-mouth and incessant loyalty and love that make one brand more successful than another.
Of course, there are a variety of ways to word-of-mouth. In Jonah Berger’s book, he outlines 6 of them:
- Give people social currency: Something to talk about that makes them sound cool, interesting, wealthy, whatever it is they want to come off as to others.
- Pull on existing triggers: Even better if those are moral triggers by which people feel an innate sense of “right or wrong.”
- Talk to the emotion, to our common humanity: Don’t sell for the sake of selling. Sell to address the emotion behind the buy.
- Make it public: The more other people like it and want it, the more you do, too. It’s why the grass always seems so much greener…
- Embed practical value: You know we went to the moon before anyone ever thought to put wheels on suitcases, right?
- Tell stories: And my goodness, make sure those stories do all 5 of the things above when you tell them!
There’s one crucial thing left out of this list, though. And it is a cornerstone to gaining loyal customers and word-of-mouth.
It is customer experience (or CX).
Why does customer experience matter so much? Well, because if folks can’t purchase something on your site, or if the item can’t get to them, or if they can’t ask you questions and get a response –– well, then the barrier to loving your brand is far too high.
It just won’t happen.
A high-quality customer experience and a high customer retention rate go hand-in-hand. One really can’t exist without the other.
And, with the COVID-19 quarantine picking back up around the world, it is more important than ever to have a robust CX strategy in place.
But first, remember that 2020 has changed a lot about our world. The very definition of CX has been completely altered.
Insight from an expert: Jenn VandeZande, Editor in Chief, SAP Customer Experience
"The average consumer is now keenly aware of how many options they have when it comes to getting the supplies, food, clothes, or anything else they need.
Citizens (and brands) have also been schooled in how important the supply chain is. People are now thinking beyond their needs on a weekly basis. They're wondering if their supply chains will hold up through a long winter, and we might see hoarding creeping back into retail purchases until consumers gain enough confidence in brands to believe they'll be able to get what they want, when they need it.
Retailers and businesses that have embraced CX and digital transformation are actually coming out of 2020 stronger than when they entered in January. The rapid acceleration of CX itself has probably been the biggest change. BOPIS, contactless payment, Shipt, D2C, subscription services - there are countless ways consumers can make purchases, and many of those methods saved businesses this year.
Finally, I think a crucial aspect of CX has emerged in 2020. CX also now means what your brand stands (or kneels) for. Are you aligning with the values of your customers throughout every aspect of your business? Ethical supply chains, sustainability, social justice issues - those are all a crucial part of your CX.
I've personally ended relationships with brands that I loved this year - and while I still miss them, there's nothing that could ever persuade me to go back to them unless they realigned their corporate ethos."
Creating a smooth customer journey from browsing to checkout to shipping lets them know you have your stuff together –– and gives you a fighting chance to win their word-of-mouth recommendation and their loyalty.
It’s so important that 86% of customers would rather pay more for something if it means getting a high quality experience in return.
This is even more relevant than ever in the midst of COVID-19, as brick and mortar locations remain closed and online retailers continue to flex their e-commerce arms. The global coronavirus pandemic expedited e-commerce growth by five years, but the future is trending digital regardless.
That trend poses some fascinating openings for creating seamless, end-to-end customer experiences online:
“As e-commerce continues to grow over the next decade and beyond, there will be opportunities for brands and merchants to offer new digital experiences to enrich the customer experience. Brands can do this while providing more actionable data, frictionless ways to sell a personalized product catalog, and developing products that are perennial sellers for particular niches.” [Retail Customer Experience]
Revamping your existing customer strategy or creating one from scratch can seem daunting. Still, it’s helpful to know the points in the journey that consumers consider the most important parts of their experience.
The latest data from 2019 shows that shipping and delivery are essential parts of said experience:
Luckily, there are services like Passport that help alleviate many customer experience issues that occur around shipping and delivering products.
For the rest of your CX strategy, though, consider ideas like chatbots and seamless checkout processes. There are several ways to drive customer satisfaction and, in turn, customer retention, through different touch points of their purchase journey.
We break down some of those moments and offer ways to improve them below.
What is e-commerce customer experience?
Customer experience is the way consumers perceive the different events during which they’re interacting with a company. This is typically a multi-channel phenomenon, though the majority of customer experience takes place online today.
A positive customer experience directly affects a company’s bottom line, but it also affects industry-standard metrics like Net Promoter Scores (more on those later).
“If we look at CX in 2020 in particular, and especially in response to a global pandemic, then successful CX means being quick to listen to frustrations and pain, open-minded, agile, and adaptive,” says Dani Marom, Head of Brand Marketing & Creative, Eterneva. “TLDR; proactive & real-time adjustments to improve the consumer's experience.”
Your overall customer experience measures the quality of those interactions between consumer and company, and that impression greatly influences whether or not someone will make another purchase.
Insight from an Expert: Jenn VandeZande, Editor in Chief, SAP Customer Experience
Historically, customer experience is the perception that consumers have of your brand, and that perception is formed by every aspect of the customer journey.
I'd still define it as such, but in 2020, brands have realized CX isn't a sector or division within their business; rather that it's a discipline that must be embedded in each part of your organization.
One of our SAP partners, Branwell Moffatt gave me the best example of CX that I'd ever heard. He described a consumer looking for a product on their phone, then moving to a laptop to do more research, they have a great interaction with the brand, but when the package arrives, the delivery person tosses it over the fence, and the item is broken. The consumer is going to blame your business. They don't see companies as a bunch of different silos, they see you as a singular brand, and they expect you to have seamless customer service and payment options to meet their needs best.
CX is one of the most important aspects when it comes to customer loyalty - one bad experience, and consumers will take a better offer from your competitor.
Why customer experience matters
Nobody would be in the business of selling anything — goods, services, or otherwise — if their overall goal was anything other than creating a positive experience.
Because your customer experience has a direct effect on your brand perception, overall sales goals, and other key metrics, it’s important that all brand-customer interactions are meaningful. This is more important than ever in 2020.
"For a commerce customer, the COVID pandemic all but extinguished brick-and-mortar experiences. While 2019 was so focused on the 'bricks-to-clicks' movement, pop-ups, interactive exhibits, etc... brands have had to reel back in and take a look at on-site, in-app, and other omni-channel experiences," says Corinne Watson, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Postscript. That isn't to say all customer experience is solely focused on technical details — now, brands are instead finding ways to create communities, focus on empathy, and delight customers. Customers are now even more conditioned to have an on-demand support line with the brands they shop with. They anticipate and expect top-tier support and logistics."
What does your CX do for your bottom line, exactly?
1. Creates valuable customer loyalty.
“Businesses no longer have to just compete with the stores across the street, they also have to compete with all the online stores around the world that can provide the same items, maybe at more competitive prices.” [Customer Think]
When you consider this, finding ways to stand out by creating a better customer experience than those in your space becomes not just a tactic, but a priority. This is true for those who hire in remote work environments, too.
"Your customers create other customers. It's that simple," says Corinne Watson, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Postscript. "Competition in commerce is rising. If you aren't putting dollars towards your customer experience and on-site improvements, you should be putting it towards improving your product. If you're not funneling money into either of those two things, you're treading water until a larger customer creates a big wave to knock you out.
2. Keeps customers around and improves LTV.
“By offering the kind of experience that keeps customers coming back to your online store, you can avoid the potential revolving door of one-time customers and get more returns from your repeat visitors. Loyal customers offer the opportunity for much higher lifetime value (LTV), sometimes referred to as Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).” [BigCommerce]
It makes sense, right? When customers have a good experience, they’re naturally inclined to want to repeat it. It’s the first facet of the business that should be considered when LTV is dropping, because you can gather customer data and audit different parts of their journey fairly easily.
“People are on edge right now. Patience is thin,” says Erin Balsa, Head of Content Marketing, The Predictive Index. “The second a consumer has one bad experience with your company, they'll leave you in a heartbeat, even if your product or service is superior to—or cheaper than—the competition. Customer experience is how you differentiate yourself and create a community of brand evangelists.”
3. Increases brand recognition.
“It’s great to have a fast, easy-to-navigate site, but all of that is worthless if nobody cares about what’s on it. You want anybody who lands on your website to be able to quickly and easily tell what your product can do for them.” [ReferralCandy]
E-commerce stores suffer particular scrutiny from users; everything from home page copy to product images to loading speed is being noted, and they’re all factors that make or break a user’s experience.
It’s important to seed immediate value from the moment a user lands on your page and create an experience that will help them remember you.
Though creating a proprietary website allows total freedom over content and customization, it also requires a brand to handle the entire customer journey on their own. This is why a lot of brands use e-commerce platforms like Shopify that take out the guesswork.
“Customer experience is a huge part of your brand. I could argue it is your brand,” says Camille Trent, Brand & Digital Marketing Strategist, Texas Citizens Bank. “Brand mentions, how annoyed or intrigued I am with your ads and email marketing campaigns, how easy it is to buy from you. Those are all customer experiences that influence overall perception of your brand.”
4. Helps solve issues, which leads back to loyalty.
“In their future of CX report, PwC surveyed 15,000 consumers and found that 1 in 3 customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience, while 92% would completely abandon a company after two or three negative interactions.” [Super Office]
With stakes that high, you don’t want to give your customers any excuse to leave. Solving issues in deliverability, shipping, or product discrepancies right away mitigates that bad experience. In fact, customers will remember the helpfulness rather than the initial issue.
“CX in 2020 and beyond needs to be more personal and more useful to individual needs,” says Dani Marom, Head of Brand Marketing & Creative, Eterneva. “Consumers can now know almost in real-time which brands are giving them lip service vs which brands are ACTUALLY and ACTIVELY seeing and defining their customers as multi-faceted individuals with unique needs so that they can make their lives easier/better/happier.”
9 ways to improve e-commerce customer experience
There’s room to improve every interaction a customer has with your brand, but assessing what those are can seem daunting.
Here are a few areas of improvement to consider. Some are unique to e-commerce brands, but others are standards that should be implemented no matter what category your organization falls into.
1. Make products easy to find on your website.
Customers can’t very well purchase products if they can’t find them, right? Creating a site that loads products quickly and is easy to navigate ensures that they’ll stick around.
When Think With Google reports that 53% of customers will abandon your site if it takes over three seconds to load, these are important touch points to consider.
Even more important, though, is making products easy to find in your mobile website:
“This year, 43% of US online sales will take place on a mobile device. With more shoppers moving to mobile, eCommerce merchants need to ensure their listings and product images are optimized for mobile devices or have a mobile app – whether they sell through their own website or a third party marketplace.” [XSellCo]
There are a number of features you can implement on websites today to ease the product search for customers. Breaking your menu down by product type or gender can ensure they’re getting to the section of your site they want to be on.
Separating out new products into their own category gives them added visibility, too, like this example from Nike:
Time is money, and Ford does a great job of creating an experience that saves the user time and directs them where they’d like to go quicker by showing them the options before launching them into larger products pages.
“Make it easier for customers to like you and buy from you,” says Camille Trent, Brand & Digital Marketing Strategist, Texas Citizens Bank. “Brands can be more likeable by acting more like humans and less like corporations. Like-ability plus investment in UX and customer research will make it easier for customers to buy. Amazon has mastered the ‘buy-ability’ part of CX.”
2. Create great product pages.
“According to Anthony Brebio at AB Tasty, your customers’ conversion from homepage to product page is only about 2–2.5%, but when they land directly on a product page, that conversion rate jumps to 7%.” [Medium]
When you consider these stats, optimizing your product pages becomes a far more important task.
Let’s consider the standard anatomy of a good product page:
- Product Imagery
- Add to Cart Button
These are non-negotiable. Without them, your customers aren’t likely to complete any sales.
Other functions will be must-haves, depending on what you sell, and others are nice-to-haves that would further optimize the experience:
- Size variants
- Color variants
- Size guides
- In-stock or out-of-stock notices
- Cross-promotion of products
- In-store or curbside pickup
- Social proof (UGC) and social media
- Buy now, pay later or interest-free installments like Klarna and Afterpay
There are tons of different optimizations available to brands today, particularly when they use e-commerce platforms or e-commerce sites that offer these as standard templates.
Now let’s look at some examples of strong product landing pages:
This example from Lush showcases the brand’s dedication to their value proposition and their mission statement. They want their customers to know how fresh and sustainable their ingredients are, so they made the ingredients list front and center, explaining the benefits behind using natural additives and what they do for the skin.
Luxury lingerie and loungewear designer Natori leverages the function of additional product recommendations based on the shopping habits of others who had purchased those products in the past. This offers customers greater visibility into other types of products or categories and promotes upselling in an authentic way.
3. Consider offers such as free shipping.
With shipping being as simple as it is today, there’s not really any reason why brands shouldn’t offer free shipping (domestically, at least), whether it’s free all day, every day, or once the customer spends a certain amount of money.
But does the offer of free shipping entice someone to convert? Is there a psychology behind it that drives more consideration?
In short, yes. But only if they were going to consider buying in the first place:
“Free shipping will only be appealing if the user is in the right phase of the buy cycle. Psychologically, the word “free” implies no risk or downside. But that doesn’t mean that it will hook every user. The shopper has to be in buy mode in order to be lured in by the offer of free shipping. You can’t make someone purchase just by saying “free shipping!” if they’re not even sure that your product is the right one.” [Crazy Egg]
Once you have the customer on the website and filling their cart, hitting them with a free shipping option definitely won’t hurt your bottom line. It’s not worth missing out on a sale, and folks will remember that the free shipping option was made available to them.
4. Have a seamless checkout experience.
Checkout experiences are a huge point of contention for consumers. If you include too many steps, you’ll likely see drop-off at points in the sales funnel that you don’t want to lose people at.
Keep the checkout flow as short and tight as possible. Your customers will thank you, as will your bottom line.
There are a number of features that consumers appreciate in the checkout process, including the option to opt-out of account creation. Just because folks are buying something from you doesn’t mean they want to register and house sensitive information in your database. A survey by Econsultancy showed that over a quarter of users would drop off from the shopping cart when forced to create a brand new account and register with the site.
Shopping cart abandonment, as well known in the e-commerce space, is a huge issue to solve for. Once you have your customer’s in the checkout flow, ensure there are no distractions that would entice them to leave that page – this includes other pages on your own site, even. Nordstrom has recently solved for this by creating an accordion-style checkout page in which every section that requires being filled out is accessible on one page.
5. Ship fast and have a great order tracking experience.
Now that you’ve gotten your customers to buy something, getting that product to them in a timely manner is the next order of business.
While you’re often at the mercy of postal services and package delivery companies, you can create internal teams and define goals that can help you choose the right solution for your company. When considering how to approach shipping, consider some of these e-commerce shipping strategy goals:
- Increase conversions.
- Increase average order value.
- Expand market or target audience.
- Decrease costs.
- Improve operational efficiency.
Once you attach metrics to these goals and determine what success looks like to you, you can move forward in choosing a solution or a shipping option.
There’s a lot of guesswork when it comes to figuring shipping out, though, especially if your brand ships internationally. That’s why leaving the logistics to folks like Passport Shipping ensures that your packages are getting where they need to go and that your customers are updated with important tracking numbers, location data, and expected arrival times along the way.
Passport also helps you navigate things like new USMCA regulations, which holds a ton of customer experience implications on all things commerce between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
“The biggest misconception surrounding customer experience is the belief that it's just a division of your brand - CX is your brand, and it needs to be considered in everything you do,” says Jenn VandeZande, Editor in Chief, SAP Customer Experience.
6. Personalized experience: from social media to delivery
With so much noise to cut through, customers want to feel heard and seen. They want products that fill their precise needs or wants. They also want the experience of purchasing those products to be frictionless and simple.
By building on the things each customer likes and values, you can create a unique shopping experience for each customer. Utilizing functions like other product recommendations, free samples of products you think they’d like with each order, or access to early drops of products they’ve been anticipating, your customers will think you understand their needs before they even know what those needs are.
But, know when you are overdoing it. Simple is key when it comes to CX and UX.
“More isn’t always more with CX. Focus and simplicity are key,” says Dani Marom, Head of Brand Marketing & Creative, Eterneva. “If it's frustrating, convoluted, complicated, and time-consuming for the brand -- it's probably the same for the customer. Ask yourselves: What part of the CX is unique to your brand, and how can your brand fill that experience or need in a way that NO other brand can? Figure that out and go deep on solving it.”
7. Provide timely, effective customer support.
Above all else — even optimized web pages and free shipping promises — customers look for a human touch, particularly when they’re trying to solve an issue or have their questions answered. This process works best when it goes quickly.
That’s why so many customer support functions have been moved toward automation. Chatbots are a great example of a digital customer service channel that offers both the quick response time and the problem-solving capabilities folks are looking for.
If you leave an issue in the waiting, you risk not only losing out on a sale, but angering what was a potential customer. As we all well know, angry customers are quite vocal both on- and offline.
The goal here isn’t just providing a great experience, either. It is providing an experience worth bragging about.
“I'll say again for the people in the back: brand evangelists! I don't know about you, but when I love a software or a restaurant or a clothing line, I tell EVERYONE. I'm a walking billboard,” says Erin Balsa, Head of Content Marketing, The Predictive Index. “My friends are the same way. It's not enough to convert prospects to new customers—you should be converting prospects to brand evangelists. When you do this, not only do you get free advertising out of the effort, but you also improve your customer retention rate and chances of upselling successfully.”
8. Great packaging excites customers.
Stunning packaging and interesting components make the unboxing process its own customer experience — and a good one, at that.
Nowadays, tossing your product into a box with packing peanuts will suffice, but it doesn’t create that end-to-end customer experience that people look for today. There’s a lot that goes into packaging production, and a lot of those decisions reflect back to brand values and audience insights:
“In total, a branded packaging experience is a thoughtful selection of shipping and packaging materials in addition to the way you choose to present your shipped products. Its purpose is to provide additional value for your customer and your e-commerce business by way of creating a positive first impression of your brand—ideally, one that’s both memorable and shareable.” [Shopify]
Take Glossier, for example: The cult cosmetics company took the millennial pink moment and made an entire brand around it, with packaging at the forefront. They ship your products in a ready-to-use plastic cosmetic case, customizable with the free stickers included. For the eco-conscious, you can opt out of the packaging, giving users the freedom of their own experience.
"It is a marketer's intuition to think about conversion as the end-all-be-all metric for success, but retention is what brings in predictable revenue. Look at how you're communicating with a customer after a purchase," says Corinne Watson, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Postscript.
9. Optimize buy online pick up in store experiences.
The global pandemic has changed the way most people shop. People are looking to spend less time in physical stores but still have the immediacy of shopping and receiving items same-day, and companies are needing to pivot to cater to those needs.
The ability to buy online and pick up in stores (BOPIS) or pick up an order curbside offers your customers more flexibility and, in turn, a better customer experience.
Pandemic aside, the BOPIS model is especially helpful during other high-volume shopping periods, namely the holiday season. Over 40% of holiday shoppers use the service to avoid long lines and even longer shipping schedules.
Convenience is king. Retailers need to adapt or risk out on losing key sales opportunities.
"The customer experience doesn't end with the sale! In fact, the part after that is especially important," says Kasey Bayne, Director of Growth Marketing, VRIFY. "Think about the shipping notifications (like Domino's 'watching' your pizza get made on the app), delivery experience, unboxing, set-up and support. Make sure your customers are successful with their purchase, and continue that relationship to bring in repeat purchases and customer brand ambassadors!"
3 ways to measure customer experience
Once you have all of the moving parts to your customer experience together, it’s time to determine how effective they are. By gathering feedback directly from your customers and looking at customer data, retention and attrition metrics, you can draw some conclusions on the performance of your overall customer experience.
1. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) feedback.
There are a number of ways you can get feedback directly from your customers.
Multi-question surveys are typically the most effective, as it gives retailers the option to target specific aspects of the customer interaction like customer support experience, shipping and delivery, or product quality.
It’s important to make this a natural part of your post-sales funnel, because you want to do damage control before customers leave a negative, public review. You also want to know what you’re doing right and promote those positive attributes.
2. Net promoter score.
A Net Promoter Score is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others.
It is used as a proxy for gauging the customer’s overall satisfaction with a company’s product or service and the customer’s loyalty to the brand.
What does this mean for companies? They can use NPS score to gauge customer perception and determine those who could be leveraged as brand ambassadors and influencers. On the other hand, they can help you find those who had a bad experience and focus on alleviating whatever caused it.
3. Customer retention and brand loyalty.
If you aren’t retaining customers or your attrition rate is high, you’ll know pretty darn quickly that something is wrong. It could potentially be for other reasons (like over-saturation of marketing messaging or the competition winning out), but customers likely fall off your radar because they didn’t have the best experience the first time around.
There are a number of metrics to consider when determining customer retention, and you’re likely already tracking them at other points of your lifecycle marketing program:
- Customer Churn
- Revenue Churn
- Existing Customer Growth Rate
- Repeat Purchase Ratio
- Time Between Purchases
- Product Return Rate
- Days Sales Outstanding
- Loyal Customer Rate
- Customer Lifetime Value
By measuring this data and tracking customers who are no longer purchasing or interacting with your brand in any way, you can hit them with a CSAT survey to get the full story.
3 examples of spectacular customer experience
Some brands are total standouts in the CX arena. Learn from their experience and the mistakes they’ve made to create changes for your own experience.
And remember, CX is an entire company effort – not just the responsibility of an individual team. It is a crucial component of your marketing strategy, sales processes, shipping & fulfillment KPIs, and more.
“People think customer experience is solely the job of account managers and customer service reps. But you'll want to get marketing involved,” says Erin Balsa, Head of Content Marketing, The Predictive Index. “Marketers are pros at building surveys, interviewing customers, and finding unique ways to make people feel special. They understand how to inject those branded "magic moments" into the everyday. If you can manage to make every interaction special, or magical, in some small way, you're already ahead of most companies.”
Few brands have cornered their space the way Native has in the natural deodorant industry, so the demand for international shipping was high. They wanted to ensure that, in expanding their reach, they’d maintain brand standards of quality and eco-consciousness.
They partnered with shipping platform Passport to solve for a number of shipping, tracking, and deliverability issues to ensure that, beyond U.S. borders, their customers were still getting the best possible experience.
The platform helped Native eliminate dead tracking numbers, offer proactive shipping notifications, and even function as the brand’s customer support system once the package is in transit.
For a master class on customer experience, everyone should look to Apple.
They stage highly memorable online and offline customer experiences. Whether it’s their annual Apple Event that garners major buzz in the tech world through anticipated new product announcements and launches or their beautiful retail store designs (think the Apple Cube in NYC) that offer helpful online and in-store customer support delivered via “geniuses,” they know what they’re doing on the CX front.
From a product perspective, the simple, intuitive user experiences of its software and technology products continues to go unmatched.
Hand-picked fashion catered to your taste and delivered right to your door?
That’s the magic of Trunk Club.
The idea of curated clothing subscription services itself isn’t terribly novel, but Trunk Club’s attention to personalization sets it a cut above the rest, particularly in the world of men’s fashion where access to fit information, current trends, and style inspiration isn’t as accessible. Rather, it is, but men just don’t feel empowered to access it.
Trunk Club takes the guesswork out. Men (or anyone who subscribes to the service) don’t have to do the research. They send their measurements and let a team of dedicated style professionals send them what they need.
In other words, Trunk Club understands what a customer needs before they even know what they need to buy. That’s knowing your customer experience from top to bottom.
Conclusion: Good CX Wins (and Keeps) Customers
When you take the steps to creating a winning customer experience for your brand, you’ll not only keep customers in the long run, but you’ll retain new ones on a more consistent basis.
Remember, consumers want to be understood. They don’t know that they want brands to proactively figure out what they want but when it’s delivered to them on a silver platter, they rejoice. They share with the world. And they continue to come back to you, time after time.
Give the gift of experience, and your customers will gift you back with loyalty.
"The world has changed, and so has the world of CX. I've seen such a unique range of customer experiences crafted by companies in 2020," says Kasey Bayne, Director of Growth Marketing, VRIFY. "There seems to be a general level of care about each other that is really heartwarming (cheesy, but true!). Companies are run by people. Your customers are people. Recognizing that we're all going through something hard that none of us has done before, and working to provide the support and encouragement your customers need - whether that's in troubleshooting their printer, sending them a new size shirt, or sending a virtual high five across the internet."