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How Your Store Can Master the Unified Customer Experience

The new generation of consumers expects an increasingly personalized and seamless customer experience—not only in the store, but in their Instagram feed, in their email inbox, on the phone, and in the items being delivered at home.

That’s a lot of expectations for a small business to handle, but fortunately, tech tools combined with a human-centric philosophy can make it easy to meet your customers’ expectations.

What is a unified customer experience?

Justin Guinn, a market researcher at Software Advice, defines unified commerce as “a business design that leverages a harmonious integration of retail processes/systems to provide full transparency of consumers on the back end and seamless customer experiences on the front end, regardless of the journey taken to make a purchase.”

It’s essentially about one major idea: you need your company to come across as one, cohesive brand across all platforms and channels. As customers interact with your brand, it needs to feel consistent while, behind the scenes, data and processes are integrated so that each individual customer can be identified. If they call or visit your store the exact details of their purchase history are known.

A 2015 Boston Retail Partners survey noted that 78 percent of retailers surveyed expected to be using a unified commerce platform by 2020. How do you start to build a unified customer experience as a small business owner? Here are three steps:

1. Identify your buyer journey

Begin by putting the customer first. Build up buyer personas and conduct research to really know your target market, then track how effectively you are communicating with them. There are three main steps in the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration and decision—so map out how this looks for your customers. How do people find you? What pulls them in? What leads them to a purchase? Retail buyer journeys are increasingly cross-channel, you’ll have a customer standing in your store downloading coupons from your website, then flicking over to their Instagram feed as they stand in the line. Is their experience of your branding consistent across all these platforms? If they later call with a complaint, will one of your team be able to immediately pull up their customer profile and know their exact situation and purchase history so you can help them more easily?

2. Build the right tech foundation

The modern retail experience spans the physical and digital—so to do all the above, your retail store must be grounded in the right software tools. Pack away your credit card machine and starting using a modern point-of-sale solution. This is akin to swapping your Nokia phone for an iPhone. With an mPOS, you’re not only taking payments, you can manage loyalty programs, track inventory, oversee staffing and scheduling—and capture a ton of relevant data.

3. Take data seriously

Which brings us to a key piece of advice in the Software Advice article: retailers must take data seriously. Tools like mPOS systems help you build customer lists. Customer profiles are created with every swipe of a credit card, storing data you can analyze and act upon—and allowing you to spot broader trends: When are the busiest times of day? Which items are selling the most? Does one group of shoppers tend to buy a new item of clothing every two months? If so, can you implement a social and email strategy to coincide with those natural buying rhythms and encourage them back in? Combine that data with social metrics, email marketing metrics and more, you can deeply understand your buyers and see how closely they’re tracking along your buyer journey.

Retail stores must make some technological investments to keep up with the pace of change, but don’t lose sight of the most important element here: who is my buyer, and what will benefit them the most in this experience? What are their core needs—and how can we build an experience that is delightful, seamless, intelligent, and helpful to meet these needs?  

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