Yet, achieving this accolade means evolving at a speed that leaves many brands behind.
Generating almost 30,000 individual data points about more than 500 retail brands across the world, IBM’s study states that only 3% of retailers are deemed to be CX leaders in their relative markets. In contrast, 39% are seen to be ‘falling behind’ or lagging.
This statistic highlights how polarised retail has become in relation to those that lead, and those that trail in the leaders’ wake.
Digging into the detail, leaders are often the brands that are able to match or better customer expectations consistently across seven key areas - digital experience, mobile experience, personalisation, store experience, physical and digital integration, supply chain and social media.
However, for an alarming number of retailers, achieving and maintaining this position is unattainable.
Whilst more traditional areas such as the supply chain and in-store experience are less likely to provide moments of proclamation from customers, IBM’s research states that they are the areas that can cause most harm to a brand.
“A retailer is less likely to truly delight customers through better supply chain capabilities,” the study says. “That being said, disappointing performance in these areas can have an exaggerated impact on overall brand perception (and financial performance).”
In recent years, this has been epitomised by certain market sectors, particularly home and DIY, where even the largest of brands have struggled to provide consistent experiences across their entire supply chain.
In the UK, for instance, B&Q and Homebase were both regularly lambasted by prominent customer service surveys for the complexity involved in being able to buy and receive their products online, and the regular breakdown of the respective brands’ delivery options.
In 2014, this culminated in both brands being ranked as having two of the ten ‘worst experiences online’, by a Which? survey.
Whilst both brands have subsequently made sweeping improvements to their overall online offerings, according to IBM’s research, globally, DIY and home improvements stores are the retailers struggling most when it comes to customer experience ranking.
Moments of truth
So what should retailers do? IBM’s research found that most brands struggle when it comes to connecting the on- and offline shopping journey.
“The sophistication of the digitally integrated in-store experience is rated adequate or worse for the vast majority (91%) of brands.
“Only 2% are rated very good or excellent, with cutting-edge capabilities such as augmented reality and robotics. Brands fail to meet expectations in many in-store services. For example, 88% do not have the ability to acknowledge customers as they enter the physical store.
“At the shelf edge, 67% do not support product comparisons, while 49% do not enable access to additional product data. 79% of brands either do not have mobile-enabled associates or do not provide their associates with mobile access to customer information.”
It also highlights a greater need to give customers more control over their online preference. The study discovered that 96% of the retail ‘leaders’ allowed customers to access and manage their personal data and preferences via mobile app, compared with only 11% of laggards.
And increasingly, leaders are also those that are able to build better experiences around their customers’ ‘moments of truth’.
“In a world where the last best experience drives the minimum expectations for every future experience, brands must employ a “customer first” strategy that focuses on identifying and engaging with their target customers and determining what they most desire from the brand relationship.”
In real terms, this means bringing key stakeholders within a business together, in order to ensure the entire shopper journey is being given more attention. It’s an area often overlooked, as customer experience expert, Brian Solis, told MyCustomer in an interview last year.
"Don’t be put off by people telling you that you have to “look at the overall customer experience” and not just digital. There are actually some benefits in taking a digital-only stance with some of this planning, because it will help you to relieve pains that aren’t always obvious because you weren’t looking hard enough.
"Most moments of truth are out of reach of any single group in an organisation. If someone is responsible for mobile, someone for social and someone for ecommerce, well these groups are unlikely to be talking to each other enough to have the collective capacity to tackle moments of truth. It’s more holistic than most organisations give credit for.
“Trying to make improvements for one moment and not every moment is actually incredibly limiting. That’s part of the challenge as well as the opportunity. It requires people across silos to come together to work as a collective to improve the overall journey."
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.