CX Chronicles: Finish The Last Mile Digital Experience Strong

By Loraine DeBonis, Ubiquity

In the race to accelerate digital transformation and embrace omnichannel commerce, brands need to make sure the customer journey works well from start to finish.

I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to my colleagues about some of our recent shopping experiences that didn’t quite hit the mark—and some that were surprisingly great. Here are five recommendations to make sure your customer journey isn’t rerouting customers to your rivals.

Don’t make the digital experience one-size-fits all.

Yes, we all want a digital experience, but we want it on our own terms. Take a recent experience with curbside pickup as an example. If you’re trying to retain existing or attract new customers by offering the convenience of curbside pickup, requiring them to download your app first—and without prior notice—is not exactly convenient.

I recently tried curbside pickup at a department store I don’t normally frequent. When I got there; however, my confirmation email took me to the landing page for the app store rather than walking me through the pickup process. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying, I don’t want another app, nor do I want to sit in the parking lot downloading one and setting up a new account for a single purchase.

The store was about to close, and I didn’t see anyone in the parking lot delivering other purchases to cars, so I called. No answer. Once inside, the wait was minimal, but it was hardly curbside pickup. What if I had mobility issues, had a bunch of kids in the back or any myriad other reasons to stay in the car?

Overall, it was a decent customer experience, but it could have been stellar. As a retailer, if you decide it’s worth it to require customers to download your app to get the best service, then at least give the casual shopper more of a reason to download the app. Better still, make sure they can access pertinent information in the channel of their choosing—text or email the details or QR code and make it available in the app. Don’t assume one size fits all, and be clear to customers about how and why things operate the way they do.

Debug features before you roll them out.

I was an early adopter of online grocery pickup and have noticed several updates since the pandemic pushed more and more customers to try the service. Depending on the time of day, pickup wait times could be considerable.

The grocery store app started notifying me when I checked in that I could save time by waiting 5, 10 or even 20 minutes before leaving the house. Nice, upgrade! This feature helped avoid traffic and long delays at the store. I’m assuming artificial intelligence is working at its best here.

The retailer also added a feature to help its workers find customers in the parking lot without requiring customers to call.  When you arrive, the app prompts you to select your parking space number and the color of your vehicle. It reassures you that you no longer need to call to announce your arrival; however, the feature only works about 50% of the time. Thankfully, the signs in the parking lot still list the phone number, which I’ve continued to use to make sure associates know I’ve arrived.

Minimum viable product creation is fine when you’re testing a new market or allowing customers to opt in to beta test something. However, if a new feature is going to be rolled fully rolled out, there should be customer/user journey’s and testing first. If you can’t reasonably accommodate that because you need to move too fast to respond to market changes, like COVID-19, there should be an easily identifiable alternative for when the feature isn’t working as expected.

49%

Percentage ecommerce sales were up between Oct. 11 to Dec. 24 compared with 2019, according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse.

3X

Shoppers who are unhappy with the return process are three times more likely to never shop with that retailer again.

95%

Of customers who are happy with the return process will shop with that retailer again

$70.5 billion

As much as $70.5 billion worth of holiday purchases are expected to be returned this year.

Gain visibility into your partners’ operations.

In the push for digital transformation and the increasing reliance on third-party partners, your team needs to know what your partner is doing and vice versa. Without visibility, your customers and your staff will suffer.

Several months ago, I needed a few things in a hurry and decided to give same-day delivery a try—despite the added cost. The online experience was a bit disjointed because I had to set up a separate account with the retailer’s delivery partner before I could finish my order. Then I waited. And waited. I fell asleep waiting, in fact.

When I woke up, I called the store. The very patient but also frustrated worker explained that since deliveries are handled by a third party, she had no knowledge of my order or how to help me. When I called the third party, I was told they were experiencing unusually high call volume.

A few hours later, I got an email notification that my order had been canceled. That’s it. Just canceled. No explanation. Nothing about the items being out of stock or how they planned to make it up to me.

When I complained to the retailer directly, they assured me that I would get $20 off my next order “automatically.” I was skeptical. Sure enough, there was nothing automatic nor any savings on my next and final order from that retailer.

Offering same-day delivery is great. I understand why you’d partner with someone who specializes in delivery, but if your frontline employees have no visibility into what’s happening with your customer orders, they miss an opportunity to make things right and keep customers happy and coming back.

Be prepared for logistics failures.

Delivery is the last and sometimes most fraught mile for ecommerce shoppers. A bad experience can tarnish a brand quickly even if you’re not at fault. Customers might be tired of hearing that things are delayed because of COVID; however, transparency and setting proper expectations from the outset can go a long way.

Shipping infrastructure has buckled under the weight of unprecedented package volumes. With holiday returns forecasted to reach $70.5 billion, ongoing delays are inevitable. And, while many brands have rigorous tracking, it’s that very last mile when packages go “out for delivery” that they can end up in a black hole. In addition to the sheer volume shippers are dealing with, delivery issues have been exacerbated by seasonal staff and new hires who might not know the roads and neighborhoods as well as tenured workers.

Now if you’re in an area where the volumes haven’t been stressed to the limit, you probably haven’t experienced issues and lucky you. Because in general, logistics is well oiled. BUT, when there are issues, what seems to be missing is analysis and resolution. And how do you prevent these issues from reflecting poorly on your brand?

Transparency is key. Set proper expectations up front, don’t make promises you can’t keep and be honest when problems do arise. Keep customers in the loop about possible delays. Sending out replacement items is a costly proposition and only adds to the deliveries in the queue. Plus, there’s no guarantee that next package will arrive at its destination.

If you have local in-store inventory you can tap to fulfill orders, all the better. Many retailers are pivoting to delivering items locally or using alternative pickup locations such as self-service lockers and kiosks. Whatever options you decide to deploy, remember that your preference might not match your customers. In fact, 38.3 percent of merchants think that consumers commonly use “buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS), while just 10 percent of consumers say they use BOPIS often or always, according to recent data in the Global Digital Shopping Index.

Make returns simple.

The next examples come from two very large retailers who are nailing the return experience for items purchased online. It makes sense to prioritize an easy return process. After all, 95% of customers who are happy with the return process will shop with that retailer again. Conversely, shoppers who are unhappy with the return process are three times more likely to never shop with that retailer again.

Although I order almost everything online, I’ve been much more skeptical of buying clothes online for fear of things not fitting right. This year, I decided to dip my toe in the water by ordering pajamas. I was delighted when they were actually too big, but I was even more excited that the exchange was so easy. I had purchased it from an ecommerce giant with a long return window and, thanks to my membership, no shipping fees on returns and exchanges. All I had to do was take my package to the UPS store, they scanned a barcode from my phone, printed the label and off I went. Not only that, I also was able to order replacement pajamas before returning the originals. Seamless.

I had a similarly simple return process at another retailer. This time, I’d ordered a water filter for my refrigerator, but the retailer’s third-party seller sent an air filter by mistake. I took the part to the customer service desk at the physical store and was able to get the return processed expediently and without having to figure out shipping. I just left it at the store–simple.

As you embrace the digital transformation that is upon us, make sure you’re taking a walk in your customers’ shoes, especially for scenarios when things don’t go as planned. Understand all the parts of the customer journey and their ramifications. Be transparent about what optimal experiences like curbside pickup, grocery pickup or delivery, or hassle-free returns require from the customer. And the fewer hoops they have to jump through to get your best experience, the more likely they will be to come back and maybe even tell their friends.

Loraine DeBonis is the director of marketing and corporate communications at Ubiquity.