A recent study by Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Center and WisePlum suggests rising consumer frustration with retail as shopping shifts online. The survey-based study, “The New Reality: Understanding the Retail Consumer Experience During a Pandemic,” finds mounting customer impatience and decreased loyalty. In a Knowledge@Wharton interview, the study’s co-author, Marketing Professor Thomas Robertson, says these findings are related to underprepared online shopping and loyalty program customer experience and the tech that underpins it.
We have written before about the importance of (and some ways to) deepen customer relations during this time. But Robertson raises an excellent point. “Loyalty programs will not compensate for poor service or a poor product. They will just add cost,” he says. “You have to have the IT in place. Point of sales data, for example, has to be in place for you to be able to use loyalty programs. And if you’re transitioning to online, you have to be ready for it. You have to design integrated online-offline programs.”
As health concerns ferry more and more commerce online, customers’ expectations for a positive virtual shopping experience are on the rise. But businesses have struggled to meet these expectation.
“It’s about a 10% increase in problems from before the pandemic to the middle of May, with some decrease in loyalty. And there is a difference,” says Robertson. “Before, when consumers had problems, the focus was in-store. They would have problems not being able to find things, or they would complain about the messiness of stores or that the salespeople were not helpful. As we got to May, all of this had changed, and what people were now sensitive about was having to pay for shipping to return things, that you needed a receipt to return things, and that the website was difficult to navigate. This seemed to suggest that as the percentage of online sales was going up, many retailers weren’t quite ready for the onslaught and had some trouble coping with it.”
The takeaway, according to Robertson? “Service recovery is absolutely critical.”
There are some significant bright sides to this story. By smoothing out kinks in your online systems, you can really differentiate your business. There is also a tremendous opportunity in “transforming disappointment into delight.”
In Creating Great Online Customer Experience, a compilation of research by MIT Sloan Management Review (available for download here), Stefan Thomke writes about creating the kind of customer experience that stays with someone:
“When employees are taught to be in tune with the customer’s emotions, they can notice changes in emotional state and respond quickly. As their alacrity accelerates the shift from disappointment to delight, the intervention creates a sudden contrast that makes experiences sticky. Magicians, who constantly think about the audience experience, understand the emotional value of rapid shifts from disappointment and confusion to happy resolution. They have developed techniques to change people’s emotional states. Momentary disappointment at failure to “catch” the magician quickly transforms into delight in his excellence. Disappointment to delight: Magicians know that this emotional transition will wow audiences more than a constant flow of technically perfect tricks. The former creates memorable moments, while the latter may cause eyes to glaze over.”
In upcoming posts, we’ll share more tips on online customer experience. Stay tuned!