Branding & Today’s Retail Customer Experience

Branding & Today’s Retail Customer Experience

“Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer—solve something for the customer. And there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office…” – Erik Nordstrom, Co-President, Nordstrom Inc.

Nordstrom is known for delivering exceptional service. Erik Nordstrom, despite being part of the family that owns the company, worked his way up inside the family’s organization and had experience in various departments in the business. This experience helped him understand the retail business on a granular level first, thus enabling him to perform better in a variety of leadership roles inside the Nordstrom organization as his responsibilities grew.

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As retail leaders, even the ones in the home office, it’s incredibly important that we don’t spend all day in the office or inside our work space. Spending time in the store, interacting with your customers can help us understand their needs and wants but also create moments of delight. When store leaders apply the same principle when looking to fill all open positions it helps support a culture of customer focus. Focus on hiring someone with an core understanding of your business and your customers so that there are consistent practices that drive engagement and interaction.

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

Zappos’ famous customer service exists because of its 10 core values, which it lives and breathes to inspire their culture and brand. These values are also deeply instilled in its employees; everyone in the company models them. Mission and values need to be more than a poster on the wall or a page in the handbook. It needs to be a living and breathing part of the culture and something everyone you invite onto your teams embraces.

“We know who our customer is and we’re a company standing firm with our point of view.” – Ralph Lauren, CEO, Ralph Lauren

One of my favorite brands, Ralph Lauren is an iconic brand with a very specific and consistent aesthetic across their assortment – from apparel to home furnishings to fragrances. This organization manages to maintain a high-level of consistency with its brand promise, and one of the reasons for this is that everyone at the company embraces the vision and—as Mr. Lauren put it—works from the same point of view.

Your Leadership Style & Footprint Is Your Brand

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“Branding” in an organization is, essentially, the personality of a business. A brand has a character, a look, a tone of voice and a way of behaving and delivering an experience. Your leadership style is the personality of your team, the culture inside your team, and the reputation of the quality and quantity of effort and results your team delivers. Your professional brand – to your team – means the experience they are likely to have on a consistent basis as a member of your team and, in a broader sense, the organization. Unfortunately, too many retailers choose to deliver the bland and uninspired.

By the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. [Source: Customers 2020 Report]

As a retail leader you have the ability to create and shape your brand – in your market or community – to your customers and talent in the market. In the field, creating a brand identity as it relates to your service and experience that is built and molded around the mission and values of your organization will help establish a reputation inside the small world that is retail. Practiced with consistency and a high-level of customer experience delivery you will build a value proposition around offering a unique and vivid environment of engagement and interaction that delivers happiness.

Brand consistency has one massive advantage – recognition. With recognition comes familiarity. With familiarity comes customer [and talent] trust and confidence. Also, if done well, consistency brings clarity and purpose which customers [and market talent] buy into. Human nature is not known for embracing “newness” and it has been widely reported that before a customer believes in a brand and becomes loyal, on average, they need to be exposed to it 17 times. This can only be done by consistency and a clear understanding of customer expectations and positioning your team to deliver on those expectations in conjunction with the organization’s goals and objectives.

Branding To Customer Experience Expectations

What does customer experience mean? Defining a great customer experience refers to the complete experience the customer has with your business and the happiness that you deliver based on interactions and engagement.

Customer experience is an integral part of CRM and the reason why it’s important is because a customer who has a positive experience with a business is more likely to become a repeat and loyal customer. In fact, 74% of senior executives believe that customer experience impacts the willingness of a customer to be a loyal advocate. This kind of statistic should resonate with your leadership sensibilities and inspire you to ensure your brand and your team is ready to deliver a consistent level of greatness with each customer.

According to MarketingLand, Retailers Are Ignoring More Than 80% Of Customers’ Social Media Requests, “The stats from the Spout Social’s Q4 2015 Index are damning. Retailers failed to respond to more than 80 percent of consumer questions and requests on social media in the last year. And the cold shoulder from merchants was coldest when you’d think they could least afford it, during the holiday shopping season. During the fourth quarter of 2014, only 16.35 percent of customer queries to retailers were answered.” Social Media is a huge part of retail branding and the customer experience. If we aren’t deliver a brand promise through Social Media that is consistent with the store level interaction we are failing our customers and our brand.

Pillars Of A Well Developed Customer Experience Strategy

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Just 26% of companies have a well developed customer experience strategy. [Source: E-Consultancy]

  • Create A Clear Customer Experience Vision:

The first step in your customer experience strategy is to have a clear customer-focused vision that you can communicate with your organization and your store team. The easiest way to define this vision is to utilize a set of statements that act as guiding principles. As mentioned earlier, a great example of this is Zappos, they use their Zappos core family values and these values are embedded into their culture and into every single hire; which includes delivering phenomenal service and embracing change and evolution. Once these principles are in place, they drive the behavior of your organization, your team, and your customer experience delivery. Every member of your team should be aligned with these principles and they should be included in all areas of training, development, and career guidance.

  • Create An Authentically Emotional Connection With Your Customers:

The best customer experiences are achieved when a member of your team creates an emotional connection with a customer. Research by the Journal of Consumer Research has found that more than 50% of an experience is based on an emotion as emotions shape the attitudes that drive decisions.

Customers become loyal because they are emotionally attached and they remember how they feel when they use a product or service. Happiness is made up of three things:

  • Anticipation
  • Experience
  • Memory

The research in “Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Count” proved that customers don’t buy strictly for rational reasons – and much more important is to engage customers on an emotional level. A business that optimizes this connection outperforms competitors by 85% in sales growth.

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  • Capture Customer Feedback In Real-Time:

How can you tell if you are delivering a phenomenal customer experience? It’s easy. Ask – and ideally you do this by capturing feedback in real time. Shopping surveys can be delivered using a variety of automated tools through email and calls, especially when your organization has an omnichannel presence. And of course, it’s even possible to make outbound calls to your best and most regular customers in order to gain more insightful feedback about their visit and levels of engagement inside your store. We are in the business of building relationships in retail. We need to use these relationships with our customer to support an elevated level of interaction.

  • Use A Quality Framework For Development Of Your Team:

Every team and every area of the business is going to require different competencies and focus. However, there are “critical success factors” that every high-performer in your business displays consistently. Ensuring you have a plan in place to hire talent that possess these qualities and support the learning and development of your team in the technical aspects of their role – as well as uncovering the latent talents of your team and nurturing the obvious.  Here are other components of a quality framework:

  • Shaping your development of your team to be aligned with the mission and values of the organization
  • Keep everyone on the same page by honest, clear, and consistent communication that engages and energizes team action
  • Invest in tools and resources for learning and development
  • Dream big for your team
  • Understand the link between mood and performance and how that translates to work performance and customers
  • Know and understand the individuals on your team
  • Act On Feedback From Your Team:

Just as we want to solicit feedback from our customers to gauge our experience delivery, we want to consistently solicit feedback from our employees to see where gaps may exist in customer experience. What tools, resources, and/or training do they need to better deliver a fabulous and memorable experience to the customers.

When they give you the answer – quickly get the them what they need to maintain momentum and focus on the customer and providing service that truly knocks their socks off.

  • Measure And Communicate The ROI Of Delivering Great Customer Experience:

How do you know if all this investment in your teams, process and technology are working and paying off? The answer is in the business results. At the granular level it can be measured daily and weekly in conversion, customer spending through business lever results, and traffic. On a broader level it can be measured by things like brand advocacy, customer churn, and/or customer growth:

Reducing your customer churn rate by 5% can increase your profitability by 25% to 125%. [Source: Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy and Mark Murphy]

A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%. [Source: Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy and Mark Murphy]


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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