The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between GetApp general manager Thibaut De Lataillade and customer experience expert and bestselling author Shep Hyken that occurred on LinkedIn Live on November 11, 2020. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
This conversation is based on research GetApp conducted in September 2020 to understand how customers have adapted to contactless services in the wake of COVID-19.
Thibaut De Lataillade: We’re excited to chat about how small-business owners can take action to create contactless experiences that keep customers coming back.
We could start with a definition—what do we mean by a contactless experience?
At GetApp, we define contactless as an experience where a consumer does not touch or interact with a person or piece of equipment at any time, from discovery to transaction. That may be a narrow definition. What’s your definition, Shep?
Shep Hyken: I don’t know how much clearer that definition can be. Most people think about contactless mostly at checkout. But today, we look at all the technology that’s out there, and we’re able to do things remotely we could never do before. I could be talking to a stylist, they could be taking pictures, and then, with augmented reality, letting me see exactly what I would look like in that beautiful suit they want to sell me.
TDL: We want to hear your thoughts and insights on how small businesses can help their customers with these contactless experiences. We see that consumers today—especially Gen Z aged 18 to 25—are willing to use more contactless services and even switch to a competitor who can provide a better contactless customer experience.
SH: Right. In an upcoming book that will be out next year, I use the example of a gym where you'd work out. And you would expect that gym to have an app that would let you know the hours of operation, give you the ability to book private workout sessions, sign up for classes, and track your own results, all in an app. These are now expectations customers have. It’s not a nice-to-have anymore, it’s a have-to-have, or else you’re not competitive.
I remember several years ago, I went to a major retail conference and the folks from Lush cosmetics were there. They got up and did a presentation, and it blew me away how they could take a picture and start giving the person in the photo lipstick, eyeshadow, and a full makeup look with technology. I was thinking: "Wow, this is really impressive."
As another example, I was a keynote speaker at a jewelry show last year and my wife went with me. She was able to take a picture and then turn her head and [virtually] put on earrings and a necklace, and see exactly what those diamonds looked like on her. That’s pretty cool technology.
And what’s happening today—to your point—is a younger generation more adaptive to this technology because they grew up with it.
So when you think of contactless, it’s really needed today to keep our customers safe and healthy so they don’t necessarily need to come in and interact with people during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is scaring people away from malls and other retailers they might go visit.
And, by the way, in the B2B world, for us to be able to talk to an office designer and have them take our space and show us exactly what it would look like using augmented reality—I just think the possibilities are endless.
TDL: Absolutely. And since the beginning of COVID-19, it’s a must right now and many businesses are having to reinvent themselves, and really have to change the way they’re operating to survive.
SH: Like I said before, these technologies we’re using to create contactless experiences were a breakthrough and then they became a trend, but now it’s an expectation. If you don’t have this technology, you’re not competitive.
TDL: So how can we still preserve human touch while staying contactless? It’s a key challenge, because we don’t want to have a cold online experience where we’re talking to a machine. Do you have any insight on that?
SH: I’ve been writing about that a lot lately. One of my favorite lines is: “you can’t automate the human relationship.” Or: you can’t digitize it. You can’t go all tech with no connection.
That said, there are certain technologies and websites that are intuitive with artificial intelligence that give you the feeling of a human connection. And there are very, very few companies that are able to create an incredible amount of emotional loyalty without the human connection, but they’re out there. The easiest way to go about this is offering the ability to fall back to a human anytime the customer needs it.
Now, let’s assume that everything’s being done remotely so you’re not in a store going through that experience. But if I decide at any given time I don’t like the way an AI bot is suggesting things to me, I’d be able to push a button that says [something like] "talk to a human" or "connect to a human." The whole ability to connect through technology is getting much better, but I still believe it’s [best] for rudimentary experiences. In a general sense, I can find out where my package is, check my bank balance; all of these things are very easy for me to talk to a machine and receive answers.
It’s getting better, but I don’t believe it will ever replace a human. When they put ATMs in and near banks, it didn’t make the tellers go away. When video came out, it didn’t kill the radio star. So I don’t think it will ever take away the human touch completely.
I’ll give you an example. I was on a website trying to buy a docking station for my computer and wanted to know whether I needed a plug each for the computer and the docking station or if I could use a single cord to charge both through the station. I typed in my question, and the bot responded with: “Which computer do you want to buy?” I didn't want to buy a computer, I wanted to buy the docking station. So I asked the question again and the same answer came back: “Which computer do you want to buy?” It was very frustrating, as I kept trying to ask it in a different way, before I finally gave up and moved on. And that’s not the experience that company wanted me to have.
TDL: There are two use cases for contactless that are quite different. One is a pure online experience—what we were talking about before—and one is the in-store experience. Because shopping malls won’t die [out], but customers will probably act differently when they’re in the store and expect more of these contactless experiences even when they’re in the store.
SH: Contactless in a store—let’s talk about what that really means. It means I’m keeping you safe and healthy so you [don't] worry about being infected from touching anything in the store, whether it be an item of clothing or anything at all. It can be at the checkout counter; [customers] shouldn’t have to take [their] finger and sign a screen that 50 other people have signed their name on in the last two hours.
So the goal is: creating a [safe] environment and promoting what I’m doing to make you feel it’s safe to come into my store.
Airlines have done a great job of showing you how they clean the seats and tray tables between every flight. Similarly, we need to show customers coming into our stores [what we're doing], regardless of the type of business we have. If it’s a consumer business, whatever you’re selling: What are we doing to keep you as a customer safe? If you’re trying on clothes, are we putting these clothes right back on the rack or are we taking them in the back, spraying them, letting them sit for a period of time before we bring them back out? Are we limiting the number of people in a store?
I just want to emphasize that if you get somebody in a store, it may be the first time they’re buying [or] it might be the 50th time they’re buying.
But if it’s the first time, what you’re trying to do is create an experience that’s going to make them want to come back. If they’re here for the 50th time, they’re a pretty good repeat customer, they may even be considered a loyal customer. You do not want to create an experience that breaks the confidence they have in you.
I have this thing called the loyalty question: What are we doing to make this customer want to come back the next time?
It used to be: What am I doing as a person to communicate with you? But [now], I’m going to go a step further—What are we doing in the experience to make that customer come back and feel good about us? So, when you have a customer coming into your store and they now have to wait 40 minutes in line, spread out six feet, winding around the store, that’s probably not a great experience.
TDL: You know I had that experience in a shop, trying to buy different glasses. There are so many different [frames] and you could spend hours trying them on. So, I think software that takes a snapshot of your face and lets you try different ones is great, and also great for the seller, because they can manage that experience better, too.
Coming back to the online experience, we’ve found very interesting examples. Gap, Inc.’s Athleta is offering customers 1:1 virtual styling sessions with store associates, and these sessions are averaging 3x more revenue than typical in-store or online sessions.
SH: I love that this is happening. And look at what’s happening. First of all, it’s not new technology, it’s something that was there before [all] this. I wrote a book two years ago called the “Convenience Revolution” in which I give six convenience principles. One of them is delivery. In the book, I talked about a car dealership that made it so the customer did not have to come into the dealership. Anytime any work was being done, they would send a loaner car, pick your car up, bring it back, then drop your car off. You never had to come into the dealership. That was my new car dealership. I had no intention of buying a car that day—they convinced me through delivery.
So what happens after COVID-19? All of a sudden you’re seeing virtually every car manufacturer doing this— saying you don’t have to come to our dealership, we’ll bring the car to you. And I’m not talking about luxury brands, I’m talking about standard, typical brands. Because they know people are afraid to come to the store. So what’s happened is this [rarity] has now become a trend. And when this is all over, it’s not going away. It’s an expectation.
TDL: I wish this would come very quickly to Europe. It’s not here yet.
SH: It will be. And the virtual fashion consultation you mentioned is another example of a company investing in the technology. The technology was already there. But now they’re using it, and people are liking it. I do believe shopping is also a social experience at times and people are going to want to be a part of that again, so just like we talked about that automation won’t kill the human-to-human relationship, virtual won’t kill the in-person shopping experience. But even if these virtual consultations are done remotely, you’re still talking to a human.
All of this technology is built by humans to be used by humans. And it still has a human connection even if it seems automated. Done right, people are still going to feel there’s some connection. You can’t have loyalty unless there’s some connection. You can have repeat business, but it’s not the same as loyal repeat business.
TDL: Do you see people—I talked about Gen Z adopting these tools and processes and ways of buying—do you see any other trends with other population groups who are not adopting technology at the same pace or are concerned about data privacy if you’re sharing your face or body information? Do you see these concerns from shoppers?
SH: There’s a lot of demographic information out there about Gen Z and other generations. I’m not even going to guess how old you are, but I’m a baby boomer. I’m not the typical baby boomer, though—I’m OK if you put a chip in my neck or track me. If you’re going to make my life better, I’m happy. I’m not necessarily the quickest learner, but I’m so excited about being able to use new technology. But there’s a difference if you look at under 40 and over 40.
We did a survey of over 1,000 customers and found [that], for communication channels, people over 40 prefer the phone as their top communication channel while people under 40 preferred some sort of messaging app or social media channel.
But, if you look at what ranked second on each side, believe it or not the phone wasn’t too far off from the messaging apps for the younger generation. It was lower but not a lot lower.
Technology will continue to get more and more intuitive.
A quick example of that—do you remember the Dash button that Amazon put out? It looked like a doorbell. You take it home and set it up with your Wi-Fi. The button is tied to a consumable item, so in my office it was tied to copy paper. Whenever I needed more copy paper, I just pushed the button and it was ordered. Amazon said pushing a button is a lot easier than opening your computer and logging in, and then they said let's make it even easier than that. How could it be easier? Now, I have my Amazon Echo where I no longer [even] have to push the button. Now I can just say I need another case of copy paper and it’s done.
We’re getting to this point where we’re adapting to these great technologies. And the easier it becomes for us the more likely we are to keep coming back. Humanization is important, but at the end of the day the easiest company for the customer to do business with will keep them coming back.
TDL: You mentioned technology as an enabler to ensure a smooth transition to contactless. I think it’s important to come back to how a small shop owner can leverage technology to change their business. It’s not so easy using a CRM or POS software. Retail or inventory management software can be on the back of your to-do list. But when it comes to software that is facing the consumer—such as scanning software [to take your measurements] or augmented reality software, how do we think a small business, like the shop around the corner, can adopt that?
SH: The shop around the corner may feel they have a disadvantage, that they can’t adopt this expensive technology. First, this technology is coming down in price really fast. Second, with a small retailer vs. a national chain, the tremendous advantage they have is [that] they can be far more connected to the community better than a major brand can. And you have to take advantage of that connection. Granted, you may not have all that technology but you have a big advantage you can play with.
I’ll give you an example. I worked for Trek Bikes, I was one of their keynote speakers and their CEO asked me, with Amazon out there and all these online retailers, how does the local independent owner of a bike store compete? And I said: I think the advantage is tremendous because we get to own our mile. We get to be in the community, to be integrated, our customers see us at restaurants, at church, our kids go to school together, and that makes a huge difference. [Think about] Ace Hardware. How do they compete against big box stores and national online retailers? They do it by getting involved in the community.
So once again, I go past technology and say: Where is your human connection? You don’t necessarily need to have it during the sale, but how do you create this experience that makes you feel part of where they live?
TDL: One last question before we wrap up—how do you think we can measure the success of these contactless experiences?
SH: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. I would hope every retailer out there measures their customer experiences; I think you should get really specific and ask. I believe in really short surveys.
First, I want to know: Did you like the experience you had? You can use NPS—net promoter score or CSAT—either is fine. Ask an open-ended question to follow up. Depending on how many customers you have, you may be able to segment customers into groups and get feedback on specifics, [such as]: Did you get a chance to use our touchless checkout system? If so, how would you rate it? Keep these surveys really short.
My favorite is focus groups. Bring customers in and talk to them. But I caution you—in person, sometimes they say things to make you happy. So, I would bring in customers who love you and customers who no longer love you. Say: I’m buying you dinner, snacks, whatever, in exchange for your complete, honest feedback—no holding back. I want the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Thibaut de Lataillade
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