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The case for digital transformation as the foundation of exceptional customer service


The retail landscape has fundamentally changed in recent years, partly driven by the necessities of COVID lockdowns, and partly by ongoing shifts in customer preferences and behaviour. As we have previously explored on this blog, the familiar high street shopping experience is increasingly converging with online and click-and-collect shopping, offering a new breed of data-driven shopping experience.

The full range of possibilities this new vision of retail offers is still in the process of revealing itself, but lessons can already be learned from previous shifts in the landscape - not just from the way retailers adapted to the challenges of lockdown. Throughout the history of retail, the true innovators across the sector have always delivered new solutions in response to shifts in customer behaviour, or previously unidentified gaps in the market.

For example, consider the near-uniquity of Costa's self-services coffee machines, present in a huge range of retail environments, from high-street chains to supermarkets and petrol stations. It is easy to forget that in the early 90's, when these machines were first launched, they were truly revolutionary - both in terms of the concept and the technology involved.

Previously, it was accepted that coffee machines would always produce a substandard beverage. Costa not only rolled out an alternative that used fresh beans and milk to produce the high-quality coffee their customers had come to expect, but ensured they were readily available across locations where customers on the move would appreciate a coffee, but wouldn't have the time to queue at a dedicated coffee shop. Within five years, more than 1,000 self-service machines had been installed across the country, eventually leading to the birth of the Costa Express brand and delivering profits of £70 million in the space of just one year.

However, it is important to note that the rise of Costa Express didn't lead to the demise of Costa's well-established high-street coffee shops. Instead, it simply offered a new way for customers to purchase their coffee. We saw this again throughout lockdown, when Costa successfully rolled out to a drive-through model in order to ensure their customers could still enjoy their morning coffee while adhering to social distancing regulations.

So, what lessons can be learned from Costa's ongoing digital journey, and how can they be applied across the wider Retail sector?

Throughout both the projects described above, the development of innovative technologies and new channels of service delivery was focused on one thing only: ensuring customers would always be able to purchase their favourite cup of coffee. By maintaining this approach, innovations in service delivery happened organically, in order to adapt to changes in customer behaviour, and so helped establish new models that could be applied to other retail environments. This is the key to successful digital transformation for retailers - a flexible, open-minded approach to new technologies that expands the customer experience and empowers staff to deliver their best.

As customer expectations continue to evolve, now is the time for all retailers to fully embrace this spirit of innovation and consider how technology can be used to not just help them weather particularly challenging periods (lockdown being an extreme example), but establish new ways of ensuring every customer enjoys consistently excellent service quality.

Exponential-e's teams continue to work with leaders across the Retail sector to identify the latest developments in customer behaviour and lay the technological foundation for next-generation shopping experiences across a growing range of channels. Get in touch today, as our team are ready to explore your customers evolving requirements and how a fresh approach to digital transformation can help you not just meet, but exceed them.

Providing the technological foundation for true immersive experiences, across every channel, throughout every step of the customer journey.

Our Retail brochure offers a comprehensive overview of how we draw on a deep understanding of the sector's singular challenges, an evolving technology ecosystem, and a highly consultative approach to offer bespoke solutions that help staff deliver their best for every customer - both online and in person.

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