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Why retailers need to put customer experience over sales this holiday season
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Why retailers need to put customer experience over sales this holiday season

Customer experience (CX) is having a moment. As we have all grappled with the impact of COVID-19 at home and at work, we have been reaching out to companies for help more than ever before.

In fact, analyst firm Walker predicted that CX would overtake price and product as the number one competitive differentiator for businesses by the end of 2020 — and that was before the global pandemic struck.

The pandemic has forced and accelerated the adoption of digital channels for many. This is great news. But customer expectations of the digital experience is high, and companies who are thoughtful about the customer experience and differentiate themselves will be winners.

A new report from Zendesk and Enterprise Strategy Group also backs this up. It revealed that businesses who have invested in their customer experience teams and tools have handled the pandemic far more successfully than their peers. According to the findings, more than three quarters of businesses deemed "CX Champions" increased their market share during the height of the pandemic. They also reported being more confident about the future, and more adept at shifting to a digital-first world.

Investing in CX and being super intentional about differentiated customer experiences is critical for success. The companies who get this right will undoubtedly drive high customer satisfaction and loyalty, which ultimately will drive growth.

Digital transformation at warp speed

The pain of the pandemic has been felt across industries. From travel and ridesharing, to health and education, nearly every sector has dealt with closures, cutbacks, job losses, and overall uncertainty. And while some are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, many organizations continue to feel uneasy about the future. This is leading them to reimagine how they operate, and reshape how they engage with their customers and employees. Embracing digital channels is no longer optional, but becoming the standard.

When it comes to disruption and resilience, the retail industry is a case in point that we as consumers can likely all relate to. Retailers have navigated an unprecedented level of change this year.

Among Zendesk customers, we know that approximately one third have reported layoffs, 44 percent have shifted to remote working, and 84 percent have adopted new tools and processes to do their jobs and keep serving and supporting customers.

We are about to embark on a holiday shopping season like no other. With much of the world still in lockdown, the usual retail rush is inevitably moving online this year. What used to be a five-day peak between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday is now a sustained season of online sales.

This sudden shift to e-commerce has presented massive opportunities for businesses, but it does come with new challenges. Having a clear customer experience strategy will help businesses balance the peaks and troughs they are going to experience in customer activity and revenue in the coming weeks.

This means that getting closer to your customer is more important than ever before. The most important thing for businesses to thrive, regardless of what industry you are in, is the ability to adapt, be flexible, and provide quick time-to-value for your customer.

Once a destination to march steadily toward, digital transformation has suddenly arrived all at once. And the most agile companies are demonstrating just how quickly it is possible to embrace a new way of serving and engaging with their customers.

Getting the message

One of the most remarkable transformations we have seen over the past year is the rise of messaging, both on the channels we all use with friends and family as well as within businesses' own websites and mobile apps. Messaging is the new frontier of customer conversation, and companies and consumers alike are embracing it for its convenience and immediacy.

Popular channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter have seen a 50% surge in usage since the start of the pandemic, and companies like Freshly and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are already communicating with their customers around the clock and in real time with Apple Business Chat.

And with Instagram now allowing customers to message big brands on a channel where they are already shopping, it is clear that this trend is here to stay.

For example, I recently ordered my family's Thanksgiving meal with a local restaurant. They sent me a message via WhatApp to confirm and validate my order. What used to be a phone call has now moved to a message, which is more convenient for me and I'm sure more efficient for the restaurant.

Businesses that adapt their processes and solutions to meet customers in these emerging spaces will be better poised to meet the surge in demand while still offering customers a great shopping experience.

It is clear that customers are eager to message businesses; and businesses need to be ready to continue the conversation.

Same jingle, new tune

If this year has taught us anything, it's that while so much has changed, the fundamentals of business have not. One very important thing remains the same for leaders everywhere, in every department: we must put the customer at the center of everything we do.

While it may be tempting to simply crank up the volume on promotions and sales this time of year, remember that your best customers are the ones who keep coming back.

By putting your customer experience first, you'll ensure that the relationships you form in the coming weeks and months will endure once this topsy-turvy holiday season is a distant memory.