Digital-first behavior is here to stay: Sridhar H Hariharasubramanian, Senior Director Solution Engineering, Salesforce

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to shopping online, retailers have had to re-imagine how they do business in a new digital world. As the festive period approaches in India, consumer concerns over in-store safety, anticipated product scarcity and shipping delays will contribute to a busy shopping season. Convenience and responsive customer service will be critical to business success. Sridhar H Hariharasubramanian, Senior Director Solution Engineering, Salesforce, shares his perspective in an interview with Express Computer

How are retailers reimagining business in a post pandemic world?

As the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to shopping online, retailers have had to re-imagine how they do business in a new digital world. As the festive period approaches in India, consumer concerns over in-store safety, anticipated product scarcity and shipping delays will contribute to a busy shopping season. Convenience and responsive customer service will be critical to business success.

Retailers were more concerned about product availability and delivering to consumers’ doorstep at the onset of the pandemic. However, now, the success of any business depends upon their capability to provide consistent reliable services, in order to sustain business growth amidst rapidly changing shopping behaviours. In the current scenario, retailers need to build a unified customer engagement strategy to boost brand loyalty and own the customer experience.

In this context, both the strategic deployment of AI-powered chatbots and the empowerment of store associates is becoming increasingly important. Through communication tools like live chat and digital concierge services retailers can quickly address consumer queries, for instance, relating to product availability, shipping visibility and delivery updates. Continually revamping commerce webpages to provide comprehensive product descriptions and reviews, accurate fit guides, even videos, are key to instilling confidence in customers before they buy.

Consumers now have access to their favourite brands anytime and at their convenience. How are retailers enabling customer engagement from anywhere?

Businesses today, no matter how small or big they are, want to own the customer relationship. However, the plethora of touchpoints and channels that are available has made it difficult for retailers to nurture that relationship in a consistent manner.

When building awareness and acquiring customers, retailers are increasingly turning to digital marketing tools to capture basic customer information as customers show interest and desire to make a purchase. Once that desire is established, retailers will need to think of ways to convert that into a purchase through an ecommerce solution.

Lastly, providing seamless customer service becomes crucial from a customer engagement standpoint. Providing customer service across all channels and touchpoints preferred by the customer is essential, be it via online chatbots, social media, instant messaging apps or traditional contact centers and email support. Retailers who have successfully managed to cover the entire gamut of the customer journey are seeing tangible benefits and results with respect to customer loyalty and advocacy which indicates that customer engagement is robust.

How are businesses leveraging data to drive personalised experience? Could you share some customer examples?

Whether customers are browsing on their desktop or mobile device, A seamless experience across all channels is essential to attracting and securing business. Collecting data at every touch point will help retailers get to know their customers better and provide personalised experiences they expect in-store or online. Being able to share the right information and offers at the right time through the right channel, based on previous interactions and tailored to customers’ needs and preferences ensures customer loyalty. There can also be significant benefits for employees, using AI to surface the relevant data and give them access to all the relevant information about a customer or product at their fingertips.

OLX, India’s leading classifieds marketplace implemented Salesforce solutions to enable them to have more meaningful, relevant, and personalised conversations with their customers. While Salesforce Sales Cloud automates sales processes—ranging from lead and order management, to account and payment management, as well as dealer onboarding and activation. Service Cloud streamlines the entire process of selling ad subscriptions to customers. Overall, the number of customer visits made per sales person per day increased by over 35%.

Leading through the pandemic has been difficult for businesses, however retailers have sailed through. What does the future hold from a digital engagement standpoint for businesses?

As digital engagement grows, customers expect companies to digitize their operations for multichannel, high-touch interactions. Digital-first behavior is here to stay as customers develop new habits that will last for the long term. Indian customers estimate 60% of their interactions with businesses will take place online.

Just as the evolution of e-commerce is making online shopping more convenient, retailers can also deliver a safer, smarter and more unified customer experience in-store. Leveraging new channels like live streaming is helping retailers to drive customer engagement, showcase and sell products. Connecting physical and digital retail channels and creating a single source of truth for every customer is better equipping in-store associates to deliver a complete, personalised, and trusted service.

With an omnichannel strategy and ready insights, such as past customer purchases and access to digital inventory, in real time retailers can promote, sell, and ship products from anywhere in the store network. Altogether, this is making the store associate’s and customers’ experience more informed and convenient.

Today’s younger generation customers crave genuine, meaningful relationships with brands. Whether that’s sustainability, equality, or generally making the world a better place to live, these values are especially important to them. In fact, 56% of shoppers say that sustainability and ethical business practices matter more now than they did a year ago.

As we move further into 2021, retail complexities will mount and it is up to retailers and brands to stay ahead of the curve. Using data driven insights, retailers can make the necessary improvements in the areas that matter most to their customers be it personalization of products and services, or customer service options, employee empowerment, online buying options etc These improvements will go a long way in further enhancing customer experiences but also help in building sustainable and deeper relationships with these customers.


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