Retailing has dramatically evolved from a product-centric activity to a customer-centric one. While it is obvious that the main product remains key to assure user satisfaction, the customer experience has become paramount to facilitate a positive and everlasting relationship between the customer and the brand.
Let’s face it. With the advent of open markets and e-commerce, products are easily accessible from a multitude of channels. Consumers are flooded with choice. Therefore apart from price, what influences the customer decision journey? Where and how you sell the product has become just as important.
Customer experience is defined ‘as the user’s interpretation of his or her total interaction with the brand’. A good experience ensures satisfaction. Satisfied customers remain loyal to the brand and pitch in a positive word of mouth. Therefore a positive customer experience does increase precious value to the brand.
In the early 1900s retail pioneer Gordon Selfridge was very clear about delivering a consistently distinctive customer experience. Selfridge is actually credited for coining the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ and described his original vision for his new department store, Selfridges, as ‘delighting them with an unrivalled shopping experience’. At the time Selfridge’s introduction of an in-store coffee shop was considered as an innovation and staff were trained the ‘Selfridges Way’ to ensure a distinctively consistent level of customer service.
The Extended Marketing Mix
When Philip Kotler introduced the 4 Ps to the marketing world, it was clear that he had product brands in mind, not services. Today the marketing mix as we know it has extended itself from 4 Ps to 7Ps to include people, physical environment, and process.
As an example on a recent visit to London I was shopping at a Disney store to purchase a gift for my daughter and two nieces. While I was paying for my selected items the cashier tried to up-sell by proposing their special offer on Spiderman beach towels. She obviously remarked that I was not shopping around for a boy but she still gave it a try. I sarcastically replied back that I would have been interested a long time ago but unfortunately not today due to my older age. Politely the cashier replied back by reminding me that you are never too old for Disney!
The actual people who serve customers can be the most important component of the brand and the customer experience. The cashier effectively fulfilled her role as an ambassador of the brand. While carrying out her responsibility to upsell and promote current promotional offers, she still remained committed to maintain, if not galvanise, the relationship between the brand and customer. Your people on the front line are the ones who can create that magic and bond for a long-term brand relationship.
Physical environment has also become increasingly important as retail outlets are now becoming considered as destinations and not simply a place of purchase. Trendy décor, in-store music, lighting and even simulated scents play a vital role to influence the four senses of the customer to deliver a distinctive customer experience.
Disney stores for example are decorated to reflect the brand’s imaginary universe. Complimented with background music consisting of the most popular Disney tunes, a visit to the shop is an experience in itself. Other examples from London are the M&M’s outlet at Leicester Square and Harrods at Knightsbridge. Not only are they retail outlets. They have literally become tourist attractions.
The operational process of the customer interaction must be smooth and consistent. Technology has played an important role to streamline the process while recording data which eventually can be utilised for analysis and evaluation. The process should be considered as a necessity and not a burden. The process should enable staff to deliver a smooth, efficient and consistent transaction with the customer. Certainly not the opposite.
The Key Issues to Focus On
Ensure that you and your team recognise the problem and consider it as an opportunity for improvement. We are an imperfect species which one day even believed that the Earth was flat and till today continues to evolve. The Japanese created Kaizen which is a regular process which seeks continuous improvement. Day after day retailers need to seek out new ways to offer the perfect shopping experience. Change should be your only constant.
It is important to identify opportunities to get customers involved so they too can contribute to improvements within the customer experience. Edward DeBono, the father of lateral thinking, has taught us time and again on how one might see things differently when observed from an alternative perspective. Customers can provide you with their perspective which might not be so easily visible to you.
Ensure that you map the customer experience from start to finish. By mapping the process you can easily identify the critical touch points which make or break the customer experience. You would be surprised how easier it will become to identify opportunities and areas of improvement. Integration between departments is also critical. Even the guy delivering the goods to the shop outlet every early morning has a role to play.
It is also important to create the appropriate metrics for measurement of the customer experience. It is useless making improvements to the customer experience if you don’t set targets. People need goals to reach for. Measuring the behaviour of your customers is essential to confirm that you are reaping the fruit of your endeavours.
Retailers who serve their customers across multiple channels must ensure that the experience remains consistent. Customers purchasing via in-store or online must be treated in the same way. The same applies for brands which operate from more than one location. The customer experience must be synonymous.
Communication with customers is another element which also needs to be consistent. Digital communication has facilitated two-way communication between brand and consumer. Therefore the tone and style of communication needs to be consistent when a customer engages with the brand.
It is also important to realise and understand the economics of customer segments and the evolving nature of customer shopping missions. Not all customers engage with a brand for the same reason. And not all customers have the same relevance to the brand. Efforts to maintain and improve the shopping experience should not deviate the core segments of customers who deliver the most customer lifetime value.
Last and not least employees need to be highly motivated to do their part in delivering superior customer service. The people who engage with customers should not only be reminded of negative incidents. Positive feedback received from customers should also be communicated internally. Taking a cue from Blanchard and Johnson’s ‘The One Minute Manager’, one minute praisings can encourage employees to continue doing a good job and go that extra mile.
Customer expectations are high. Like it or not, you have to manage them. No customer is a charity. Tesco founder Jack Cohen once coined the following internal motto to motivate his sales force – YCDBSOYA (You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your Arse). Things have changed dramatically since Tesco would ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’, but Cohen’s internal motto remains ever so relevant today.