Unified Customer Journey: The Road to Lifetime Customer Relationships for Brands & RetailersDownload the Ebook
From growing competition from established brands and new market entrants, to rising inflation causing end consumers to tighten up their budgets, consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands face their fair share of challenges. In order to increase their odds of success, direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels must get laser-focused on optimizing the consumer purchasing journey and delivering exceptional experiences across all channels.
Yet, even today, 65 percent of retailers base store decisions on brick and-mortar performance, with just 35 percent considering the impact of such moves on omnichannel. And, on top of that, a McKinsey report found that while personalization is a top priority, only 15 percent of retailers have fully implemented personalization across all channels. Clearly, brands need to rethink their strategies.
Thankfully, digital transformation and the evolution of AI technologies offer brands the vital tools they can use to access troves of end consumer data, discover what makes shoppers tick, and create hyper-personalized, channel-specific customer experiences.
This article looks at CPG shoppers, their expectations, and how companies can use new AI-based technologies to enhance the CPG consumer journey across channels in highly personalized ways.
3 Ways CPG Retailers Fall Short of Consumer Expectations
CPG end consumers expect superior customer service from the brands they patronize. And while digitally transformative technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) have made meeting those expectations easier, many brands still miss the mark. Here are three of the biggest mistakes brands make with CPG consumers:
They Fail to Balance the Needs of Consumers with the Needs of Customers
Brands’ primary customers are the retailers that purchase their products in bulk and carry them in store. But as time has gone on and DTC channels have become more robust, brands’ customer bases have expanded to include not only retailers, but also the end consumers those retailers traditionally serve. CPG firms that prioritize the needs of their retail customers at the expense of end consumers, rather than striking an appropriate balance between the two, risk missing out on lucrative opportunities and growing their business in new and innovative ways.
They Don’t Show the Appropriate Level of Care
To be very clear, this is not intentional or due to lack of trying — instead, it’s that end consumer expectations are at an all-time high. These consumers interact with brands and shop across multiple touchpoints — through apps, online marketplaces, and in stores — and expect a flawless experience across all channels. Brands need to adapt in order to provide a seamless consumer experience no matter how or where those consumers shop.
They Lag Behind in Innovation
This challenge could point to process inefficiencies within the company, outdated or ineffective systems, or even poor customer service policies. But when brands aren’t actively engaged with consumers across all channels, it can demonstrate a lack of responsiveness. As we know, consumers expect instant communication — see the rise of chatbot popularity — and when this need isn’t met, they are quick to move onto another option.
The Evolution of the CPG Consumer Path to Purchase
The CPG consumer path to purchase has changed — it’s no longer linear but has taken more of a “figure 8” shape. Because consumers spend more time researching than ever before, they may start and restart the traditional consumer purchasing journey multiple times and use non-traditional research methods (think social media influencers) before making their final purchase.
While a prolonged consumer journey might frustrate brands, it actually presents an opportunity to improve the consumer experience and customer service on a whole. With that in mind, the modern consumer path to purchase typically looks like this:
- Initial Consideration: The consumer considers an initial set of brands, based on brand perceptions and exposure to recent touchpoints. This step is triggered by something such as a need, a suggestion from a friend, a promotion or another stimulus.
- Active Evaluation: This is the information gathering and shopping stage, where consumers add or subtract brands as they evaluate what they want. Today’s consumers conduct research online and through social media, often weighing the benefits of buying directly from the brand vs. buying from a retailer. Brands need to be aware of this digital journey and how it impacts the end consumers and retailers they serve.
- Closure: Ultimately, after researching and weighing options, the consumer selects a brand at the moment of purchase.
- Post-Purchase: After the consumer has made a purchase, they form an opinion about the product they’ve purchased, and the brand they purchased it from. This step of the consumer journey is of critical importance, as it’s a key determining factor in whether a consumer will be a one-time or repeat buyer.
If the consumer has had a positive experience with the brand, they’re more likely to buy from that brand again in the future, at which point they’ll return to the first step of this process and enter into what is known as a “loyalty loop.”
10 Best Practices to Enhance the CPG Consumer Journey
With the tools and technologies available today, CPG firms can meet and even exceed today’s consumer expectations and recapture any market share they may have lost in recent years. While not all solutions are one-size-fits-all, here are 10 general best practices to follow to enhance the consumer journey:
Leverage emerging technologies for enhanced engagement. Use augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), AI and other machine learning technologies to create immersive and interactive consumer experiences. These technologies are redefining the way consumers engage with brands— they not only elevate the customer experience but also offer valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences.
Surface relevant information about consumers using technology. From customer data platforms with advanced features such as real-time segmentation, and AI-based predictive analytics and natural language processing, brands can extract insights from online behavior, purchase history, and social media to gather data and identify patterns that help them understand the preferences and behaviors of their customers. This information can be used to enhance the consumer experience — as we’ll cover in the next item — as well as optimize product development based on consumer feedback.
Personalize the consumer experience. Using the insights generated through consumer data collection and AI-based analysis, brands can build entire consumer purchasing journeys around how their end consumers prefer to shop. This personalization also extends to customer service: When armed with relevant details about end consumers, service reps can tailor their interactions to the individual; make personalized recommendations; and effectively communicate with end consumers in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and valued.
The growing amount of personal information available for segmentation and personalization efforts requires that organizations ensure they are using high-quality data that preserves consumer privacy, allowing brands to speak to customers without collecting intrusive data about them. AI can be the perfect bridge between the consumer who wants to be protected and still wants brands to speak to them in personalized ways.
Create unified consumer journeys. As noted earlier, end consumers expect to have a consistent experience regardless of whether they’re shopping online or in-person — and regardless of whether they’re shopping in an online marketplace, through a mobile app, or via subscription service. This extends to service levels and pricing. By leveraging data-driven insights, brands can reduce friction when shoppers move from one channel to the next, streamlining the consumer path to purchase and allowing for a fast and efficient consumer experience.
Automate workflows to allow services reps more one-on-one time. Using machine learning, AI, and business process automation, brands can automate administrative tasks, low-level requests, and other tedious or time-consuming workflows. This frees up live agents to personally handle more complex incoming inquiries and requests and provide the level of care and responsiveness end consumers have come to expect.
Offering something unique for different channels. Providing a consistent omnichannel consumer experience is a must, but that doesn’t preclude brands from creating special offers for certain platforms — for example, offering a special discount on their social channels or creating a unique experience for users on their app. Crafting unique experiences is a great way for CPG firms to entice end consumers to interact with their brand and improve consumer engagement.
Build an online community. Social media has become a powerful channel for CPG sales, helping brands build loyal followings. Given the potency of word-of-mouth marketing, it comes as little surprise that savvy brands have found ways to leverage influencers’ social media followings to boost sales. Some have even built their own online communities to increase engagement. In doing so, brands can create an entire audience of advocates willing to encourage other prospective shoppers. These efforts to build community don’t come without work—communications need to be authentic and driven by grassroots involvement that create the kind of value that will foster loyalty and genuine connections.
Be where your consumers are and eliminate barriers. A defining trait of the modern consumer buying journey is that it spans many channels, both digital and physical. In order to keep up with changing consumer expectations and demands, brands must use digital solutions to create omnichannel experiences and provide consumers with multiple paths to purchase.
No matter which path an end consumer chooses to follow, it should be thoughtfully designed and optimized for easy conversion. Chatbots and virtual assistants can provide personalized assistance and support to customers, answering their questions, providing product recommendations, and guiding them through the purchase process. These tools can also learn from customer interactions and adapt their responses to provide even more targeted experiences in the future.
Making sure not to waste consumers’ time. Time is a precious resource, which is why few consumers are willing to waste their valuable time on a poorly designed and disjointed consumer buying journey. In order to create a truly frictionless experience — which translates to accurate and up-to-date online inventory, fast and easy checkout, rapid delivery times, and highly responsive service — brands must invest in solutions such as operations management platforms and digital customer service tools.
The easier it is to shop with a brand, the more likely consumers will return.
Businesses that recognize the importance of this trend are responding to customers’ need for instant gratification. Tools such as Power Virtual Assistants can immediately respond to common customer service requests or take orders are popular, and many companies are replacing the “add to cart” button with a “buy it now” option. Ease of transacting and consumption are key. This also extends to fulfillment, with same-day delivery and in-store, virtually-assisted shopping experiences.
Understand that consumer experience is about people. End consumers want to feel valued and appreciated by the brands they patronize; that should be the defining principle of any optimized consumer journey. By leveraging consumer data and advanced analytics, brands can better understand the nuances that make up their audience and tailor offerings and the purchasing experience to show they care.
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AI-driven customer experiences have the potential to make brands more ‘human’ by enabling organizations to focus increased time and energy on communications, creativity, culture, and community. In the end it’s all about people— employees and customers. Both become better when they perceive that they are understood and valued.
How Hitachi Solutions Is Reshaping the Consumer Journey
Harnessing consumer data and using it to improve the consumer journey starts with comprehensive, intelligent digital retail solutions. Without smarter technology, creating an exceptional customer experience is impossible. Consumers demand always-on, frictionless experiences with brands. It’s impossible to keep up, regardless of your headcount, without technology that can deliver at scale.
And yet, few enterprises have the data gathering and infrastructure needed to truly provide the customer experiences we’ve discussed here. Hitachi Solutions’ Empower platform is one that can. It’s a revolutionary approach that harnesses the power and speed of AI and machine learning to dramatically accelerate, automate, and simplify the complex and costly task of creating and maintaining data ingestion. Our customers get usable data 55 percent faster with the Empower Data Platform. Check out our trial offer.
At Hitachi Solutions, we’re customer experience experts. Starting with our expert advisory services, we can help you create innovative solutions that will drive seamless consumer journeys and experiences that span all channels.
Are you ready to change the way consumers interact with your brand? Contact us today to get started.