Customer service trends in 2022: More companies will make service a priority to drive growth, customer loyalty, and C-suite strategies.
I was in Sunderland the other day for work, rather than for pleasure. But after things wrapped up, I took a walk down the High Street. It was a Thursday evening, warm, reasonable weather – yet the whole place felt like a ghost town. It was deserted. There was no-one in sight.
The experience reminded me of the countless articles I’ve read over the last decade or so about the death of the High Street. Town centre retailers, the thinking goes, will begin to disappear as people shift their shopping habits online and to retail parks on the outskirts of cities.
But as the years go by, these predictions seem increasingly off-target.
In-store customer service: Keeping physical retail alive
Amazon has been around now for more than 20 years. Finding a brand that doesn’t have an online store is next to impossible. Yet in most places (Sunderland aside, perhaps), the High Street is still firmly alive. Surely if it was going to die, it would be dead by now?
To explain what’s going on, it’s essential to consider the customer service experience in both cases.
An online store is fast, efficient, open all hours, and often cheaper than its physical equivalent. In GAP’s online store recently, I found a pair of trousers for £20 that were on sale for £40 in physical GAP stores. If you know pretty much what you want, then buying online is the obvious choice.
Physical stores offer a different kind of customer-service experience.
Don’t count physical retail out quite yet
But say you’re meeting a friend for coffee and are half an hour early. You wander into some shops nearby. There’s a nice pair of trousers. They cost £40. You reach out and touch the fabric, it feels good. You try them on, and they fit well. You buy them, totally oblivious to the fact they’re half that price online.
The optimal, logical course of action when you’re in a physical shop is to pull out your phone and start checking prices on the web – but people don’t do that because they like to be caught up in the experience.
A physical store delivers aspects of that experience that it’ll never be possible to get online.
So, in fear of stating the obvious, the reason why physical shops survive is because some people value different aspects of the shopping experience to others. But what’s less obvious is many of those people are the same people who like to shop online. They might prefer to buy certain things in person, or from certain shops, or maybe just when they’re in a certain mood.
So when you’re next thinking about how to connect with your audience, don’t see them as one amorphous blob.
Consider how their preferences might change depending on time of day, physical location, or just what you’re offering. People are complicated, messy and frequently irrational. That’s why the High Street isn’t going to die any time soon.