Elements Of A Great Retail Customer Experience Program
In retail we have no shortage of “Steps Of Customer Service”. Unfortunately, most of these steps are so completely shallow and pedantic that all that results is, mostly, uninspired and anonymous service from the cashier role which is, frequently, the only interaction. Customer Experience needs to be included as part of the organizational culture in order for it to be taken seriously. Everything we do should be aligned with delivering a better, more personalized, energizing, engaging, and interactive experience to our customers.
This needs to be a commitment that is embraced and followed from the top down in retail organizations. In the past week here is some of the recent retail news:
- True Religion
- Hancock Fabrics
- Victoria’s Secret
- Gap [I disagree that this is their biggest issue]
Lots of retailers have tried to either focus on exclusivity or defining their brand promise through discounting. Strangely, there aren’t many initiatives to reinvent and reshape their service standards to deliver exceptional experience.
This year 89% of companies will compete mainly by customer experience, versus 36% five years ago – Gartner
Today’s retail organizations are defined by the experiences the customer’s [and employees] have with it. But it’s rarely the first place organizations target when there’s trouble. I read an article this morning about an organization I am familiar with – this company, by the the VP of HR’s own admission, is seriously struggling with employee happiness, customer experience, and profits…but despite that, their capital investment went to integrating their lines of business inside the same cloud services because they are “trying to present as unified a customer experience as possible”. Huh? Not that tech investments are unimportant – but the culture is so challenged and leadership is so ineffective, this technology update is unlikely to fix a thing for their brick and mortar businesses.
The provenance of “Customer Experience” are engagement and interaction. Those concepts lie at the heart of a thriving customer experience program. Focusing on individual engagement works because you get the data from single entities and not groups, which allows you to fine tune your experience strategies much more effectively. 1:1 engagement is a great indicator of customer behavior, their purchase trends, and the post-experience evaluation. Which makes the customer-facing roles beyond important.
- Are we gathering feedback to what the customers are asking for?
- Are we providing them with the level of experience they find value in?
- What aren’t we doing that we should be?
Customers tell store teams A LOT but we very rarely have channels to gather feedback from them. Home Office tends to operate within their own silo and believes they have their finger on the pulse of the customer – this is seldom truly accurate.
The Experience Economy
The Experience Economy: Services/Products/Discounting only take you so far. The next step comes when consumers start looking for real experience, not products. They are willing to spend their money on real interactions that resonate with the them, bring surprise and delight, and make them feel special. All experiences in this economy share similar qualities: Anticipation, Experience, and Memory.
Happy customers are five times as likely to repurchase and three times as likely to recommend a company or business than unhappy customers –Temkin Group Insight Report.
6 Points To Establishing An Experience Culture
Strong Leadership: Establishing a customer-focused/first culture starts at the very top. If the C-level doesn’t see value in customer improvement initiatives there is a low probability of creating maximum impact for any customer experience proposition. You’ll also want to garner the support of mid-level field leadership to truly maximize the impact and chances for improving the customer experience. Leaders set the tone for their teams, so if a leader decides that the customer is important, their direct reports will believe in that, too.
Vision & Clarity: Your organizational vision for Customer Experience needs to be transparent, consistent, and honest so that everyone within the organization can easily understand the common goal and everyone outside the organization knows what to expect from your brand. Start by focusing on the language, messaging, and platform you’ll use to convey your customer experience vision. Keep it simple and actionable. Make it part of your brand, talent sourcing, and retention promise through making this a consistent part of the culture.
Engagement & Collaboration: Engaged employees are absolutely critical for the long-term success of a customer-committed company. And as employees become more engaged, cross-functional collaboration and synergistic partnerships will create robust and successful customer initiatives. To truly engage your employees, you have to understand them. As mentioned earlier – home office and field teams need to have a platform to share ideas and feedback from the customers to improve and enhance the customer experience. If these two entities work inside their own bubbles we can never effectively executive customer experience initiatives.
Listening & Learning: Collaboration and focused feedback is vital to customer experience. An effective system for collecting and communicating customer feedback is key to improving the overall experience. Because we have the ability to gather customer feedback via multiple channels it is important to build any listening program on a powerful platform that is able to pivot with customers and employees as their feedback preferences evolve. In-store experience is going to be different and have a different set of expectations than the digital experience/interaction and in order for retail organizations to react – they will have to be great listeners and open to learning from all entities of the business.
Alignment & Action: Alignment means that all members of the retail organization are focused and committed to the same vision, objectives, and goals. Each work team defines what part they play and action they need to take to help support and realize that vision. Generally speaking, action refers to the measurable steps taken to improve the customer experience. There needs to be a system in place to determine how impactful the initiatives are that are implemented. Retail organizations that will thrive will be able to react quickly to changing customer behaviors and needs.
Patience & Commitment: Building a world-class customer experience culture is not an overnight accomplishment; it takes time to reinvent a culture and achieve robust employee support. The most successful customer-committed organizations in retail are built in a constant fashion over a period of time. However, with how anonymous and generic service is now – any movement forward will show commitment to the process. Customer culture is slowly altered, workplace culture is altered for improvement, practices are refined, and action becomes energizing and aspirational. All levels of organizational leadership must demonstrate patience, consistency, flexibility, and commitment to the improvement process and long-term vision.