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From technological advances empowering consumers with knowledge, to an increased demand for an online presence, the way we make purchases has changed. Consumers no longer need businesses to provide advice on which products to buy. Instead, they want you to provide them with the exact solutions to their problems and why it’s better than what the competition offer. It’s about being there, at the right time, saying the right things. 

And how do you do that? By having a customer-centric and connected strategy (and systems). You need to take your business online and provide your customers with the same smooth, personal and high-quality experience they would receive in a store, otherwise you risk falling behind the digital curve like Arcadia Group has multiple times.

Give your customers the outstanding shopping experience they’re looking for – one that’s consistent across different channels – and they’re likely to return and even recommend you to other people. This is backed by research, with a recent study by PwC finding that 73% of consumers say experience is a key factor behind their purchasing decisions and brand loyalty.

There’s much involved in digitally transforming your business and building a strong, connected online strategy. That’s why we’ve crafted this all-in-one resource so you can learn more about the evolution of Commerce, how to improve customer satisfaction, the tools needed to execute your online strategy successfully, increase eCommerce sales and more. 

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TIP: There’s going to be lots of content to take in. We recommend you bookmark this page or save it to your desktop so you can take a break and come back to it at your leisure. We've also left handy 'back to top' links at regular intervals throughout this resource so you can jump straight back up to the first section whenever you'd like.

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3. What solutions can help you exceed customer expectations?


4. What is connected commerce and how can it help?



6. What should your next steps be?


1. What are customers looking for?

Buyers are more informed than ever before. Once, they needed your advice on which products or services to purchase. Now, they usually land at your store (online or brick-and-mortar) after conducting their own research. They know what products or services you offer, how they work, how they compare to alternatives, where to find those alternatives and more.

Nowadays, buyers don’t only want to invest in a product or service, they want to invest in a brand. So, in addition to you persuading them that your product or service is better than the rest, you need to persuade them that your brand is too.

And you achieve that with your customer service and experience.

connected customer experiencePhoto by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Buyers want their experience with your brand to be as friction-free and user-friendly as possible.

For example, if a B2C buyer is buying a desk for their home office, they want to use augmented reality to see what the item might look like in their own room. When they go to check out, they want a range of delivery options – such as home delivery, click and collect and reserve in-store.

If they happen to go into your store, they want the same friction-free, user-friendly experience as they received online. Think helpful, attentive staff and efficient in-store purchasing process. And if they chose home delivery, they want this same standard of experience – such as being able to track their order and the option of their flat-packed desk being assembled for them by your delivery team.

For a B2B buyer, that means offering support throughout their purchasing journey. When they come to you, make sure to give them answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.

For example, they might be an engineer looking for a pump. When they visit your website or make an inquiry, they don't want to be instantly presented with your range of pumps and accessories. They want you to ask them what they're looking for (think features, potential benefits, the problems they're wanting to solve etc) and your recommendations tailored to that.

And even after they've made a purchase, your customers still want the same level of attention they received before they purchased something from you. Think personalised check-ins from your support team to see how they're getting on and relevant service/product suggestions. 

importance of customer satisfaction and loyalty

The modern buying process: B2C vs B2B

In the previous discussion, we briefly touched upon two types of buyers - B2C and B2B.

The main difference between B2C and B2B buying is the reason for the purchase. For B2C, the sale tends to be more based on impulse and needs less rationale (from the buyer) so the process is shorter. For B2B, the reason to buy a product or service is commercial so the sale tends to have a longer consideration time (especially as the buyer needs to seek approval from upper management), more in-depth research and require more assistance from the seller.

However, regardless of what the reasons might be for the purchase, B2C and B2B buyers typically follow the same buying process.

  1. They identify their problem(s)
  2. They search for information to help them with that problem(s)
  3. They evaluate solutions based on several factors, such as price, product features and delivery
  4. They decide to make a purchase and if you can provide good service, low prices, great product/service features and various payment options (among other factors), you’ll have a head start
  5. They decide whether they want to do business again with you in the future. In other words, have you helped them well enough to facilitate customer loyalty?

We’ve written a blog on how to be selected during the B2B buying process where you can read about this in more detail but the general points also apply for the B2C process. Ultimately, it’s about knowing your customers inside and out – one step being knowing their buying process.

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RESOURCE: Want to delve deeper into the B2B buying process? We discuss how the process has evolved, the role of online channels, how to meet your buyers’ needs and more.

Download the free report

How to attract customers and meet their expectations

Winning the attention and eventual trust of buyers is difficult but losing it is all too easy. There are a few ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.

1. Meet your customers’ product/service expectations

In August 2020, Waitrose’s deal with Ocado will end and the online grocer will partner with Marks & Spencer. When the news was announced in 2019, Ocado stated that they’ll be stocking a bigger product range at lower prices and better quality.

However, there’s the risk that Ocado may lose customers as some shoppers who are loyal to Waitrose don’t see M&S products as an adequate replacement (which highlights the importance of customer satisfaction and loyalty). Whether or not the new range is better and larger than the previous, there are several factors M&S should be thinking about if they’re to retain their current customers – one of which includes meeting customer expectations with a digital-focused approach.

We discuss this fulfilment in more depth in a two-part blog series. Check out part one here and part two here.

2. Ensure you have a great eCommerce design

planning website designPhoto by picjumbo.com from Pexels

By this, we don’t just mean a design that looks great (visually). It’s also about the way it works – in other words, is it user friendly?

Ask yourself these questions about your website:

  • Are your product images of high quality?
  • Have you got a mix of content blocks, such as a mixture of image carousels, text blocks, videos, social media feeds and so on?
  • Have you used the right colour palette?
  • Can your customers find your products easily?

There are many benefits of eCommerce but you need to have a great, user-friendly website. Here are even more tips on how to improve your eCommerce website design.

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RESOURCE: When you can meet your customers’ demands, you’re well on your way to delighting them and encouraging loyalty. Discover four of the most common demands and how to resolve them in our guide.

Download the guide

3. Provide excellent customer service and experience to boost loyalty

The quality of your customer service can impact the overall experience your customers have with your brand. Expectations are constantly changing but it’s easy to keep up if you know what your customers want. Check out this blog where we discuss the value of excellent customer service and how to provide it.

For more insider tips and advice on how to improve your customer service and experience, take a look at our ultimate guide. You’ll discover the role that excellent customer service plays in the overall brand experience, real-life examples of great and poor service, the software to invest in and more.

Check out our all-in-one resource

RESOURCE: Technology can be used to boost your customer experience (CX). But how can you ensure you’re getting the most out of it? Our report on CX and brand loyalty may help.

Discover how you can build the ideal customer experience

The importance of meeting customer demands (even during a crisis)

Whether your business is experiencing downtime or there’s a world pandemic impacting buying behaviours, it’s vital to still meet your customers’ demands. This can help create a new, positive narrative for your business as people will remember how you handled a particular situation if it was handled well or poorly. Not in between.

Here’s some advice on how you can get ahead using the power of storytelling.

It’s possible to improve your customer service and satisfaction even during a crisis. In fact, this will help you stand out from your competition even more and bolster loyalty.

Some ways are to:

  • Increase your call centre headcount
  • Use positive language throughout your company – especially in the way your support team communicates with customers and messaging on your website and social channels
  • Use the right technology to support you – such as chatbots

Here are even more tips on improving customer service during a crisis.

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RESOURCE: How have online buying patterns evolved as a result of the COVID-19 crisis? We conducted a consumer survey to find out.

View the stats


2. How can businesses survive a digital landscape?

How the way we purchase has evolved

It’s no secret that more consumers are online than ever before. Thanks to smartphones and other WiFi and 4G-enabled devices, consumers can access whatever information they like while on-the-go.

For example, B2C consumers can enter stores, find products and start comparing prices and reading reviews. If they don’t like what they see, they can easily purchase something from your competitor while standing in your store. If they do like what they see but can’t find the item in-store, they may order it online to be picked up in another branch.

It's a similar process for B2B consumers, though they tend to deliberate for longer, conduct deeper research and approach you with a shortlist of suppliers, products and/or services already in hand (while B2C may only have a vague idea of other brands to visit). 

That’s the power today’s consumers hold. They’re more informed than they used to be. That’s why it’s important to have an online presence as well as a physical one. It’s about ensuring you can meet the demand for rapid online sales and consumption.

online sales demandPhoto by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

You need to be even more on the mark than before. The rising popularity of shopping events like Black Friday has meant that businesses need to make sure websites (and supply chains) are up-to-date and capable of handling surges in transactional volume.

Two ways to ensure that are to use the right solution (something scalable) to support these surges and to adopt a ‘Why wait?’ approach to promotions. For example, rather than offering sales and promotions only on Black Friday, you could stagger them throughout the week leading up to Friday. Or have a weekend-long sale.

Read more on how the shopping trend has evolved and how you can keep up here.

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RESOURCE: Ensure your business keeps up with the changing whims of customers or risk following the footsteps of Toys ‘R’ Us. Find out more in our survival guide.

Download the report

Introducing digital transformation: What, why and how

What is digital transformation?

The road to a truly digitally transformed future is long and often complex. But, it starts with one simple concept: know your customers better than they know themselves.

We’ve covered the six steps to digitalisation in our two-part series (part one and part two) but here’s a quick summary:

  1. Create a customer profile (or multiple)
  2. Build a roadmap that maps what your customers want/expect to the products and services you offer currently
  3. Evaluate your technology
  4. Build the ideal team for digital transformation and implementation
  5. Conduct an inventory of your business from end-to-end
  6. Lead a cultural change

two-women-standing-beside-brown-board-on-wall-3184296Photo by fauxels on Pexels

Why is digital transformation important?

Arguably the biggest benefit to digital transformation is that it can increase your customer revenue. When your business is digitalised and you have access to the right software (which we’ll discuss in more detail later), you gain insights into your customers and your overall business processes.

For example, you can see what your customers typically search for. This can help you tailor the service you offer to them so they’ll always be receiving an outstanding customer experience. With your business processes, you can boost efficiency. For instance, your customer support team can spend less time searching for the information they need to solve cases (because it's consolidated in one central location) and more time offering personalised service.

Read more about how you can increase customer revenue here.

When your business digitally transforms, you’re positioning your commerce strategy for the consumers of the future. In other words, digital transformation can help you meet those ever-evolving customer expectations and stand out from competitors.

How do you digitally transform?

Your choice of technology is one of the factors involved in digital transformation success. Here are a few approaches to consider:

 

1. Connect your ERP to your other industry-specific apps

For most industries, successful digital transformation projects often involve combining existing key business solutions with various other applications. For example, if you’re a food business, you can connect your food industry-specific apps to your ERP and benefit from seamless data transfers, increased visibility and more. That’s one way to adapt to the digital age.

2. Elevate your business to the cloud

Whichever industry you’re in, you could benefit from moving to the cloud, such as being better prepared for downtime. There are more benefits to cloud commerce which you can discover here.

3. Use the power of IoT

And then, of course, there’s the Internet of Things (IoT). Digital transformation allows you to leverage the power of IoT to offer more personalised shopping experiences, boost loyalty, satisfaction, sales, team efficiency and more.

Read about how IoT can benefit the retail industry in this blog.

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RESOURCE: Set your business up for success by following our industry report and roadmap to digital transformation.

Download the free report


3. What solutions can help you exceed customer expectations?

We’ve been mentioning the important role technology plays in a digital transformation journey throughout this resource. But we haven’t actually talked about the solutions you need.

  1. PIM
  2. CMS
  3. Customer engagement suite
  4. ERP
  5. Reporting and analytics
  6. Connected commerce

 

1. PIM

A Product Information Management (PIM) system collects all the information you need for the marketing and selling of your products in one single place. This could be product images, descriptions, videos, animations and more. 

Some of the main benefits of having a PIM system include:

  • Better product data management – all your product information will be kept in one place so it’s easier to manage, keep track of and share across different channels
  • Enhances customer experience – your customers will have constant access to detailed, accurate and relevant product information. This reduces product returns, complaints and even shopping cart abandonment
  • Boosts customer sales – customers have access to better and more accurate product information, such as stock levels, detailed descriptions and new product ranges. This ties in with customer experience – the better the experience they have, the more likely they are to buy
  • Improves efficiency across the business – a PIM system handles tasks such as manual data entries and organising information. Your team can spend less time searching for data or answering customer queries (that could have been resolved by more detailed product information) and more time on other profitable tasks
  • Shortens the time to market when launching new products – because a PIM system brings all of your product information into one place and is easier to integrate than business enterprise systems (such as an ERP), the time to market is much shorter

How a PIM system works

Discover more benefits of a PIM system and tips on how to get the most from them in our guide.

Read the guide to 9 key recommendations for succeeding with PIM.

2. CMS

A Content Management System (CMS) helps you create, modify and manage content on a website.

A few benefits of using a CMS include:

  • You don’t need specialist developing skills – a CMS typically comes with various templates and ‘drag n drop’ features so you can build the web interface you’d like and easily enter text, images or other media into the modules
  • Designing your site is much easier – tying into the above point, thanks to a CMS’ simple editing interface, you can build a site that best caters to your audience. That means you can boost customer experience
  • Multiple users can collaborate – it’s easy to add multiple users with different levels of publishing permissions
  • Content scheduling is streamlined – a CMS allows you to view drafts of your content before they go live and you can schedule them for whenever you’d like. That means you can plan your scheduled web content around your marketing campaigns

Read more about how a CMS can help your business here.

3. Customer engagement suite

A modern customer engagement suite can help you when it comes to connecting with your customers. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement suite, for example, features various CRM applications, including:

  • Dynamics 365 for Marketing
  • Dynamics 365 for Sales
  • Dynamics 365 for Customer Service

With the full suite, you can benefit from features like in-depth sales insights (thanks to Business and Artificial Intelligence tools) and social channel and email integrations. All of these features are designed to empower you with deeper insight into what makes your customers tick.

Customer analytics

You can then use that knowledge to better engage with your customers, form stronger relationships, achieve customer service success and encourage loyalty.

Read more about the Customer Engagement suite and how it can support your sales here.

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RESOURCE: Your choice of technology can help you boost your customer experience. Want to learn more about what Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service can do for your business?

Find out more about Dynamics 365 Customer Service

4. ERP

As your business grows, so does the amount of data you generate. To efficiently manage all that data, you need an ERP system. The right ERP is scalable, flexible and capable of centralising all of your vital data. No more rifling through multiple spreadsheets. With an ERP system, you can find the information you need (whenever you need), scale up or down as necessary, add or remove users, customise dashboards and more.

These are just some of the benefits Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers. Interflora, the UK and Ireland’s leading flower distributor, upgraded to the Microsoft platform and found their business processes greatly enhanced as a result. For example, warehousing, stock control, purchase orders and their supply chain.

Interflora also added new functionality to the front-end of their website, thanks to the Columbus eCommerce solution. Read more about Interflora’s success story here.

For more real-life stories on how the Microsoft Dynamics platform helped companies deliver better customer service and experience, become more cost and time efficient, and plan for their future, check out the resources below…

5. Reporting and analytics

It’s one thing to invest in all the right software. But if you don’t collect and harness the power of data, you’ll struggle to get the most out of your investment. Microsoft’s Power BI tools can help you visualise your data, then analyse and turn them into opportunities.

We’ve written a few helpful blogs on the benefits of investing in Power BI – one where we’ve listed the top 10 benefits and another where we’ve illustrated our points with business cases.

If you integrate your Power BI tool with Microsoft Dynamics 365, you’re truly on your way to discovering meaningful insights and turning them into an action plan. Take a look at this blog where we discuss how you can connect Power BI to Dynamics 365, step-by-step.

6. Connected commerce

A combination of all the systems mentioned above helps you provide a Connected Commerce experience which is key to satisfying customers and boosting sales. The next step up from the omnichannel experience, Connected Commerce brings all your systems together and allows your data to be shared in real-time so you can access a single source of truth.

This is what enables you to boost your customer experience, satisfaction and sales. Let’s head over to the next section to find out more…

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RESOURCE: How can you ensure your business is staying competitive in the digital marketplace? Our guide covers how you can leverage technology, such as PIM, CMS, ERP and more, to boost brand loyalty and stay ahead of the curve.

Download our eBook here and we can help you on your way


4. What is connected commerce and how can it help?

Connected Commerce gives your customers a streamlined shopping experience. For a B2C customer, for example, it means they can buy a jumper in-store and be emailed the receipt, plus an exclusive discount coupon.  Or, they can go into your store and after not finding the exact item they’re looking for, they can locate and reserve it in another branch – thanks to the help of a very attentive sales assistant with an iPad.

For a B2B customer, it means they can speak to a chatbot or someone from your customer service team on live chat about a particular product/service they're looking for. And if they need specialist advice, they can receive a phone call from a product consultant who can pick up the conversation right from where the chatbot or live chat assistant left it.

You get the picture. It’s about connecting the various channels to ensure your customers get the most frictionless shopping experience possible. Read more about why it’s the customer who drives the direction of a business, including its digital strategy in this blog.

When you provide a Connected Commerce experience, you can:

  • Boost the conversion rate of your website visitors – small tweaks like reducing the number of clicks to purchase and faster load times can boost user experience and conversions
  • Increase the average basket value and overall customer sales – know what your customers want and cater to that via product bundling, personalised recommendations and exclusive offers
  • Reduce your returns rate – thanks to better product information, customers can get a more accurate picture of the product they want to buy. That means it’s less likely they’ll return it
  • Enhance customer satisfaction – linking with the above, when customers find the products they want coupled with the seamless experience they crave, they’re more likely to be satisfied (or delighted)

Find out more about Connected Commerce here.

How to provide a Connected Commerce experience

For a Connected Commerce experience, you must:

  • Integrate your data
  • Unify your marketing
  • Build a complete customer profile

connected commerce

And a PIM system and CMS can help you with this journey - by bringing all your data into one place. Read more about these three ways to create a Connected Commerce experience here.

Attracting and retaining customers

Even after you’re providing a connected experience, it’s not the end. You still need to keep those customers and attract new ones. You can do that by:

  • Knowing your customers
  • Being where they are
  • Tailoring the customer experience to meet their expectations

Our blog on how you can attract and keep your connected customers explains more.

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RESOURCE: Achieving a Connected Commerce experience isn’t easy. Our guide can help.

Discover the recipes to Connected Commerce success


5. Do you need to work with a digital business consultancy?

No, but it can help. Undergoing a business improvement project isn’t an easy or particularly quick task. Unless you already have an in-house team of experts, you’ll need to put together your own group of people. That means taking people away from their everyday tasks and allocating valuable resources (time, effort and money) for training.

And even after all that training, they’re unlikely to have as much experience or be as knowledgeable as a digital consultancy. It’s not worth only doing a halfway job and saying ‘That’ll do’ when it comes to business improvement. This is where a digital consultancy can help.

 

The benefits of partnering with a consultancy

 

They have the expertise

A digital consultancy will have years of expertise across a variety of sectors. That means you don’t need to worry about training you or your team up on how to implement new software and best practices for your sector. The consultancy will have that covered and you can focus on the business tasks you need to.

They have the manpower

A digital consultancy will not only be experienced in digitally transforming businesses, but they’ll also have a team of experts at their disposal. No need for you to put together your own team and take them away from their usual tasks.

Outsourcing implementation planPhoto by fauxels from Pexels

They have the time

Their experts will have the time to focus entirely on your company’s digital transformation, offering whatever support and guidance you need (even 24/7 monitoring). This means time back for your team - they can now work on the tasks that propel your business forward while the consultancy is focusing on futureproofing.

They know which solutions are the best in the industry

It comes with being knowledgeable in digital transformation. Thanks to their industry experience, a digital consultancy will have a broad knowledge of the tech landscape and which solutions are ranked as the best for digital transformation.

They’ll use this ‘insider information’ to recommend and implement the ideal solutions for your business.

How to find the right consultancy to partner with

Here are some questions you should be asking on your search in finding the right one to partner with…

  • How much experience do they have? Whether it’s solutions knowledge or industry-specific implementation expertise, the more experience they have, the better. At Columbus, our consultants have over 30 years of experience in a wide variety of sectors and serve over 5,000 customers worldwide.
  • How successful and reputable are they? The right consultancy will have both the success stories and reputation to back them up. Before settling on a decision, read a few of their case studies and see what awards and accolades they’ve won. At Columbus, we’re a Microsoft partner – a member of their Inner Circle and two-time winner of the Microsoft Dynamics Partner of the Year award.
  • Are they able to offer 24/7 support? Issues can occur at any time which is why at Columbus, we offer 24/7 support and systems monitoring. We work proactively, not reactively.
  • Is their service holistic? The right consultancy should offer you a range of solutions and recommend what they think is best for your business rather than the solution they think is best. And this is what we aim to do.
  • Will their business culture and mindset click with mine? Implementation projects are long and you’ll need to work closely with the consultancy if you’re to get the best results. That’s why the way the consultancy works and thinks needs to match with your company’s culture. At Columbus, we’re proud of our family-like culture.

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6. What should your next steps be?

What we can offer

At Columbus, we know how much the landscape has changed. Thanks to technology, consumers hold more power than they ever have and they have expectations that are always evolving. Digitally transforming your business and creating a strong eCommerce strategy can help you keep pace.

We also know how complex digital transformation can be – especially for commerce businesses – and this is where we can lend a hand. We’ve been helping thousands of companies of all sizes embark on digital transformation journeys for over 30 years. And these companies sit within a range of industries, from retail and distribution and manufacturing to food and beverage, and equipment rental and leasing

So, we’ve witnessed what works for your industry and what doesn’t. 

In addition to helping businesses like yours improve digital commerce offerings and implement modern ERP solutions, we also:

Ready to find out about what we do and how we can help? Get in touch with us today. Our expert team are on hand to talk through your unique needs and give you an idea of what to expect if you choose to work with us for your commerce transformation.

Mark Bennigsen

Services Development Director

Want to give your commerce strategy a boost?

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