This past quarter, retailers discovered what happens when a robust omnichannel strategy is forced down to one storefront: digital. Players in every industry have accelerated their timelines and poured resources into their online experience, and are learning as they go. We see firsthand the strain our own customers are feeling as they stare down a long road ahead with no clear markers.

Even with all this uncertainty, now could be the ideal time to reset the course, to finally go all in on online and update your strategy. I’ve shared a few keys to keep in mind to help you drive a stake in the ground and build your digital technology strategy to support business now and help you thrive in the future.

Customer Behavior is More Than Conversions

Online is the biggest store you have right now. Retailers have spent decades optimizing the in-store experience with employee training, strategic floor plans, targeted assortments, and business analytics driving successful brick-and-mortars; the same should apply to online. 451 Research recently estimated that the opportunity for improving digital experiences is worth at least $500 billion in additional revenue in the U.S. alone. These enhancements range “from personalization improvements to mitigating abandoned shopping carts and other customer friction points” (“Digital experiences are front and center in coping with coronavirus”). Check out this webinar below for the 5 must-have items you will need for your 2020 ecommerce strategy.

Customers are sending you signals all the time with valuable insights on how to improve their customer experience. Despite how prescriptive and prepared teams are, monitoring and adjusting to these behaviors has a major impact on the bottom line. Every search query, click and add-to-cart can tell you important information about the products and recommendations you should be providing to personalize every customer’s experience. When traffic is unpredictable, every single shopper matters. Be sure you’re listening to their behavior to support them in finding exactly what they need, as if they were in-store engaging with a real-life employee.

Unburden Your Support Staff

As contact volumes spike, good virtual assistants can provide a more human experience answering frequently asked questions (FAQs). Consumers who get null results to a question are likely to assume that a retailer doesn’t have a product or an answer that they’re looking for. William Tseng, regional director of sales engineering at Lucidworks, explains that the most up-to-date self-support portals go a step further, aiming to provide a single answer vs. a list of answers for the user to choose from. Tseng says, “The goal of machine learning is to give them back the right answer — in the first slot.”

By empowering users to resolve their own issues with a chatbot or digital assistant, you can deflect more support calls and helpdesk tickets, and better care for customers when they need you most. Developments in natural language processing and machine learning can help power smarter chatbots so customers feel like they’re talking to a person, not a computer screen. Remember that serving customers without having to get on the phone is a win-win: solid customer experience and decreased help center costs.

Lead With Empathy to Build Loyalty

The technology powering your website matters, but so does the way you connect with customers beyond their search and browse experience. If you have an email address, you were probably inundated with “What We’re Doing During COVID” messages from companies you don’t have any relationship with, talking about “these uncertain times” and how “we’re all in this together.” Those get sent straight to the spam folder, and may even leave a bad brand impression that hinders future purchases.

For retailers that put a major emphasis on their brand mission, now is the time to lead with empathy and remember the things you can share that aren’t products. People may forget what you tried to sell during this time, but you could build a lifelong customer relationship if you can find a way to connect with them emotionally.

This is the defining moment of the century for retail, and the market at large. As we all move forward, I hope that these reminders will provide some structure for your decision making post-COVID: listen to your customers, streamline support, and build long-term loyalty.


The original version of this article can be found at TotalRetail.