Written by Abi Bennett
There’s one hotel which stands as a beacon of customer excellence in the glimmering heart of London’s luxury hotel scene. For decades, this hotel has been internationally renowned for its dedication customer service. It shall remain nameless in this article!
It’s also where I honed my passion for all things customer experience.
Back before I moved to New Zealand, I was the Head of Events at this iconic 5-star hotel and had the privilege of orchestrating unforgettable moments for guests ranging from local royalty to international celebrities. Our stated mission was to “Leave no stone unturned” with a guest to staff ratio of 2:1, giving us the space to focus on personalisation and attention to detail.
One memorable encounter was with the inimitable Anna Wintour, a regular guest whose penchant for Starbucks coffee was well-known to our staff. Before she could even utter a word, we would ensure her favorite brew was hand-delivered as she stepped out of the hotel for her next meeting. That’s customer experience.
With the wealth of data at our fingertips now, the opportunities for crafting truly memorable and personalised customer experiences – for all types of eCommerce businesses – are virtually limitless.
What does CX mean? Customer experience (or “CX” as it’s typically referred to) covers everything you do in the pursuit of putting customers first, managing their journeys, touchpoints and serving their needs.
Even if we might struggle to write it down, most of us have an intuitive sense of what separates a good CX from a bad CX. Think about your most recent order from a cafe. Were the staff members attentive? If you’re a regular to that particular location, do they greet you by name? Taking a step back, is the store designed intuitively? If you have a problem, is it resolved or is someone sent to help you?
Everything – from the first “Hello” as you walk through the door to the way the seating is arranged – falls under the broad umbrella of the customer experience. It all matters, it all has an impact.
To give you some data to chew on, recently we ran a survey with our customers, asking them about their priorities for 2023. While we primarily got a lot of information about the post-purchase experience, one thing that stood out was a near-universal desire to focus on improving the CX this year.
Customer habits are changing. Today, people are looking for companies they can relate to. Providing an authentic experience will make your brand more relatable.
Authenticity is "Being true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you're under to act otherwise. Authenticity is being honest with yourself and with others and taking responsibility for your mistakes".
For eCommerce businesses, this basically means those that build authentic customer experiences will create loyal, repeat customers.
If you’re wondering why this matters so much now, Adore Beauty recently reported that returning customers contributed 79% of all revenue in 2022. The numbers can’t be ignored.
People don’t make a purchase from your online store because of your customer experience – they come because of referrals, marketing or maybe you were just the cheapest option. CX is the reason they come back – so if you don’t get it right, chances are you won’t see them again.
Let’s look at Gen Z. The data shows they live online, predominantly on YouTube. Nearly half of this generation research products they’re interested in YouTube, followed by Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. These touchpoints are how they’ll find you – but again, not what will keep them coming back.
So how do you get customers to come back?
I mentioned at the start how I’d relocated from the UK to New Zealand. There's a bit more to this tale – I actually moved to rural New Zealand. As you can probably imagine, this makes popping out to pick up household items a tad tricky. Luckily, we’ve got online shopping.
Anyway. I bought a small pack of tea towels online (not the most exciting purchase of my life), and they were promptly dispatched and arrived three weeks later. Not in a small package that might just squeeze into my letter box, but in a box the size of a microwave. What’s more, this online retailer only bothered to send me one delivery notification throughout the shipping process, so I was totally in the dark as to when this giant package would arrive.
Now I was a loyal customer of this company for many years, but the ridiculous box just didn’t align with my personal values around sustainability. I felt immensely guilty that the company had air freighted this box to my house, and I’d have to dispose of it to boot! Needless to say, I won’t be supporting them again!
It’s no wonder one study found 32% of customers will walk away from a brand after only one unpleasant encounter. If you can build an authentic CX aligned to the values of your customer, you’ll retain them for the long term.
Authenticity is understanding your customers and what they value – and it’s the key to customer retention.
While the picture will look a little different depending on the business and industry you’re involved in, we can get a good idea of what the different generations value, which in turn can help us to plan our focus accordingly.
Millennials currently represent the largest group of consumers, with Baby Boomers still retaining the largest share of buying power – but Gen Z is on the rise.
Bloomberg found that Gen Z now commands US$360 billion in disposable income, a figure that’s set to climb as more enter the workforce.
And what do they care about?
Well, Gen Z is values driven. They gravitate to brands that hold similar values to their own. And coming up, Gen Alpha (born between 2010 and 2025) are set to have an absolute focus on authentic corporate social responsibility. They’ll also be firmly digital first.
If you’re targeting these generations, you’ll need to be authentic in your experiences. People expect authentic personalisation and consumers know how to spot corporate nonsense.
Being authentic requires knowing your customers and what they value. Thankfully, the data to gain this understanding is already at our fingertips.
It’s not a buzzword term – the customer journey is real. It's also quite simple to map out your own customer journey using your data, at which point you can identify the right points to add personalisation, surprise and delight your customers, or simply improve your customer experience.
You can also identify any detractors and put policies and systems in place to make improvements.
I think you can broadly break up the customer journey into three different areas – at least for retail and eCommerce.
I find that a lot of online retailers drop the ball during the final stage – post-purchase. When they really should be finishing the journey on a high, many end up fumbling and leaving customers in the dark with communications or just bad delivery experiences in general.
So, what does success look like?
Mecca has crafted experiences that delight their customers and give them reasons to keep coming back. Using technology, they've connected their online store and in-store records for a 360-degree view of the customer, which means they’ll recognise the customer at any point in their journey and cater to their individual needs and preferences.
Mecca has been so focused on customer experience they’ve also changed their team structure to be less channel-focused and more journey-focused.
One example of their customer experience is their change of mind returns policy. You can return a product within 90 days of purchase. They've assessed the lifetime value against the value of the product being returned. This is particularly important as Shopify recently reported that 95% of shoppers will make a repeat purchase if the returns process is smooth.
Allbirds is a brand built around an image of sustainability. They’ve also carefully cultivated a customer-first image which translates right through to their post-purchase experience.
At Allbirds, warehouse teams have very specific instructions on how to package orders containing multiple items. For example, one pair of sneakers and two t-shirts would need to be packed in a specific way to ensure the items arrive safely. This care also flows through to the customer’s unboxing experience.
For Allbirds, quality control in the warehouse during the picking and packing process drives great CX.
Lastly, there’s EB Games. Gamers hanging out for the latest release of a game can have products shipped directly from a store to their house using Uber same-day delivery, cutting down the usual delivery time. It’s a great fit for customers who have been eagerly awaiting a game release as they can get it sent within a matter of hours – or even less!
Looked at another way: Doing something as simple as offering same-day shipping or even just a hassle-free refunds process could be enough to elevate your business above the competition.
Your most loyal customers are also your most profitable, and with every repeat order customers become less costly to serve. Over time, as the loyalty life cycle plays out, loyal customers become business builders: buying more, paying premium prices, and bringing in new customers through referrals.
We can boil everything here down into one simple statement: By delivering a great customer experience you will be protecting your profitability.
If you’ve read this far and either don’t know who I am or haven’t looked me up on LinkedIn, I’m the COO of Starshipit. It’s not a pitch – I’ve just got a unique perspective. I’m both a customer and someone who focuses on the post-purchase experience. It still amazes me that companies continue to get it wrong and customers still need to ask “Where’s my parcel?”.
Logistics and supply chain challenges aren't going away any time soon. The disruption from COVID pandemic will reverberate for quite some time, not to mention the other routine disruptions that equally impossible to predict (think freak weather events, strikes and the like).
If we just take these two events as an example, two actions you could take as a business to both deliver a better customer experience and create a more resilient shipping operation would be:
Both of these actions can be easily accomplished using shipping automation, and many businesses already do (including some of the ones I mentioned earlier in this article).
At Starshipit, we recently helped activewear retailer Lorna Jane roll out a ship from store model at over 100 stores in Australia and New Zealand. Ship from store means Lorna Jane can save on shipping costs. Instead of having to ship products from distribution centres, they can ship orders from the store closest to the customer! The model works well to elevate the customer experience, as customers can typically get their orders faster too.
The lessons I've gleaned from my time in London’s luxury hotel scene continue to guide my perspective on what constitutes a truly exceptional CX. Even though I’m no longer fetching Starbucks for Anna Wintour, the principles remain the same.
As we've explored throughout this article, understanding your customers, embracing authenticity, and leveraging data are all crucial components of a thriving CX strategy. What’s more, the shift in customer habits and expectations (across generations) demands that businesses adapt and innovate to foster long-lasting loyalty.
By examining the customer journey and focusing on the post-purchase experience, businesses like Mecca, Allbirds, and EB Games have demonstrated the potential of delivering customer satisfaction and, in turn, protecting profitability. Through shipping automation and multi-courier strategies, businesses can further refine their CX, ensuring that customers remain informed – and engaged.
Remember that your most loyal customers are your most profitable ones. By consistently delivering an authentic and personalised customer experience, you not only invite them to return but also inspire them to become brand ambassadors, driving growth and success for your business.
If you’re looking for some more interesting reading, check out our free report “Evolving Expectations”.