Want to Improve Your Customer Experience? Sync Your Online and Offline Interactions

When companies have to fast-track years’ worth of digital transformation in a matter of weeks, as many did during the pandemic, they’re likely to overlook critical aspects of their customer experience.

We’ve seen examples abound. Let’s take the restaurant industry, where online delivery services are helping some businesses survive. According to a Morgan Stanley analysis, online food delivery is projected to hit $45 billion in sales in 2020 when it was only supposed to reach $41 billion—in 2021. In fact, that analysis found the growth of delivery platforms like Grubhub and DoorDash, which consumers embraced as social distancing options, has accelerated consumer spend on online food delivery three years ahead of schedule.

This acceleration caused even sophisticated brands to stumble in customer experience (CX). Sit-down restaurant chains ramped up their curbside takeaway service when they had to shut down or limit dine-ins. But many didn’t upgrade their interactive voice response (IVR) system to optimize curbside.

So this all-too-common scenario would occur: customers would pull up to the restaurant and call the number to let the restaurant know they’ve arrived, but they’d wait on hold for 15 minutes or longer. Customers would then leave their cars and enter the restaurant to check on their orders, creating not just unsafe conditions due to indoor crowding but also truly bad CX.

Rapid Transformation Blind Spots

We’ve seen chains eventually fix this curbside problem by implementing more efficient IVRs or notification systems, but it stands as an example of what we at CSG have been calling rapid transformation blind spots. These are overlooked CX elements that produced unintended consequences when businesses tried to pivot during COVID.

I discussed three major CX blind spots in a recent presentation at DX Summit (you can watch the recording here.) I’ll devote this space to one of the biggest CX blind spots: online-offline synchronization.

Online-offline synchronization refers to the merging of digital experiences with in-person experiences. (Granted, “offline” might be an odd term to refer to the physical world, but it’s helpful shorthand here). A basic example of this is the click-and-collect model, where customers buy a product online and then pick it up in a brick-and-mortar location.

But many companies that had to rapidly implement new online-offline experiences created stumbling blocks for their customers. Let’s look at three common hazards companies experienced from overlooking online-offline sync during the pandemic.

1. Unintended Barriers

Like many businesses in the U.S., mobile operators had to shut down their physical storefronts during the pandemic. But when shutdown orders were lifted, one top U.S. mobile operator decided to leave a large portion of its retail locations closed indefinitely.

What did that mean for the consumer who wanted to visit a store location to trade in their phone for a new one? No longer having the option of walking out with a phone and service in an hour, they now had to wait several days for the new device to arrive in the mail. And then they had to box up and mail their old phone to the operator to receive trade-in credit, which might take as long as two weeks to hit their bank account.

The lesson here is that if you’re going to take away a process many of your customers find convenient, you’ll need to replace it with something comparable. For example, are you offering in-store pickup for customers who buy online so they can avoid the wait and cost of direct shipping? And if so, are you making it quick and safe? (Retailers are installing self-serve pick-up lockers for this purpose.) If not, you could be sending customers right at a pain point—and then to your competitor.

2. Failure to Scale Offline

Grocery delivery services like Instacart have contactless, digitally driven business models to thrive in pandemic conditions. Yet their rapid growth became an obstacle, as many of those companies were unprepared for their demand to spike by several thousand percent within a week as lockdown orders were imposed and grocery delivery became an essential service. Their turnaround time for deliveries expanded from days to weeks.

Even if your technical infrastructure can scale to meet skyrocketing demand, can your physical resources and staffing deliver at that scale? I had a personal experience with this when I ordered curbside grocery pickup online. I arrived at the store at the time they said it would be ready, and I called the store’s curbside line. It took me five minutes to reach someone and be told my order actually wouldn’t be ready until the next day.

Proactive communication (one of the other blind spots I discuss in the presentation) that the order was delayed would have saved me the trip—and resulted in a more positive emotional reaction. But this kind of experience also underscores the need to walk through each touchpoint of your customer journey, online and offline, to ensure your customers aren’t hitting these barriers you might have overlooked. It’s unlikely that the technology that you had pre-pandemic is properly configured to handle this combination of offline and online models.

3. Inflexible Business Models

Finally, adaptable business models have proven pivotal to online-offline sync. We’ve seen companies across all industries display unprecedented agility. We’ve seen the blending of online ordering, notifications and contactless payments. Curbside takeaway became the new normal. Companies rapidly updated online ordering systems so they know what vehicle you’re driving, how far away you are from their location, when you’re going to arrive, etc.

Companies that have pivoted and seized on these opportunities to align the online and offline experience are going to survive, and even thrive. Other companies whose business models are incompatible with COVID conditions, like buffet restaurants, are closing permanently for the lack of fast pivots that would help them adapt. So business agility—enabled by forward-thinking CX strategy and platforms—will be key to survival.

Rapid transformation is still happening, and it’s still creating friction for customers. The CSG Experiences Practice can help you check your organization’s CX blind spots by listening and responding to customer and employee experiences. Then, we can help you identify emerging pain points, as well as opportunities to engage and grow loyalty. Learn more about our consultative services that can help you transform your customer experience.