Which Food Retailers Stand Out for Their Customer Service?

Incisiv and Nuance release report highlighting shoppers’ customer service priorities and top-performing grocers
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
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Chatbots can help deliver on speed of response that consumers want from the customer service experience.

Whether human or digital, customer service touchpoints remain key to customer engagement and loyalty, new research affirms. According to the "2023 Omnichannel Customer Service Index" from data firm Incisiv and AI tech company Nuance Communications, 75% of customers consider hospitality as the benchmark for customer service and one in three shoppers would switch to a new retail brand after a single bad experience.

Providing both human interaction and convenient technology is the secret sauce of positive customer service experiences, the research shows. As shoppers have come to expect personalization and speed that is often delivered through technologies like self-service options and AI tools, they also value empathy and a proactive approach.

The customer service index revealed some gaps in shopper expectations versus experiences. The report found that 35% of customers are satisfied with the speed of retailers' response to their customer service queries and only 18% think retailers put the customer first. When it comes to personalization, 79% of customers reported that only marketing messages are personalized, not service.

"Retail is a highly competitive industry, and impeccable customer service is a ‘must have’ to stay ahead of the curve," said Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer at Incisiv. "Our benchmark report shows that there is a significant opportunity for retailers to improve customer service capabilities, and ultimately drive customer retention. Retailers who offer the right balance of efficient self-service options and empathetic human touch will win the customer retention battle. We conducted this study to help brands understand how they compare to their peers, as well as to help identify high-impact improvement opportunities for digital transformation.”

Tony Lorentzen, general manager and SVP of intelligent engagement at Nuance Communications, Inc., noted that a two-pronged approach of in-person service and technology can help fill in gaps. “We see AI as central to a retailer’s ability to deliver predictive, customized, and relevant experiences at scale – whether that’s through chatbots and digital platforms, phone conversations, or in-store,” he said. “Not only can the right technology automate certain engagements to streamline getting customers what they need, it can also be critical in determining which customer interactions should take place via an automated agent in the first place, and which are best to be handled by a human.”

In addition to gauging consumers' sentiment about what they want and expect from human and tech-enabled customer service, the "Omnichannel Customer Service Index" also evaluated retailers’ customer service capabilities across the areas of discovery, purchase and engagement. Grocery was one of the nine evaluated retail industries.

Albertsons Cos. was one of the retailers and brands considered benchmarks for customer service, and the only grocer to make the top 20 list of overall leaders. In the defined area of discovery, Walmart Inc. made the list for its leadership in the adoption of differentiated capabilities. Grocery leaders in the purchase area, touted for their frictionless fulfillment, include Albertsons, BJ's Wholesale Club, Target Corp., Walmart and Whole Foods Market. The report pointed out that grocery retailers offer the most advanced fulfillment capabilities, spanning pickup, same-day delivery, order customization and more, in comparison with other retail segments. Finally, The Kroger Co. was the sole grocer to make the list of top retail leaders for service and engagement. 

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons is No. 9 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North AmericaBentonville, Ark.-based Walmart U.S. is No. 1; Marlborough, Mass.-based BJ’s is No. 26; Minneapolis-based Target Corp. is No. 6; Seattle-based Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, is No. 2; and Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100. 

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