Customer Experience In Retail

Customer Experience In Retail

In September 2016, RIS News and Edgell Knowledge Network, sponsored by CodeBroker, surveyed senior-level retail executives in North America with significant responsibility over IT, marketing, and customer engagement. Here’s the shocking statistic from that survey, “only 10% of respondents felt that store associates drive consumer engagement.” Additionally, when these same executives were surveyed about the business functions that do drive customer engagement, nearly two-thirds of respondents said brand image or marketing did. Product assortment was another top answer; more than half of senior-level retail execs cited it.

It is staggering to me that only 10% of respondents felt that the store associates drive consumer engagement. Authentic, lasting, vivid, and durable relationships aren’t all transactional but they are much more complicated and contextual than that. These relationships may begin with and maintain relevance with brand image, marketing, assortment, and other omnichannel engagement – but without investing in hiring the right people who are reflective of your brand and who will advocate on behalf of your brand, both through their leadership and their customer interactions, you will end up with plenty of visibility but limited engagement and lackluster sales.

45% of customers can’t remember having a recent successful customer experience. Most failures were related to disappointing customer service: 30% said the employee they interacted with was poorly trained; 31% said the employee wasn’t empowered to help; 29% of customers received inaccurate or conflicting information from company representatives. [Source: SDL 2015 The Global CX Wakeup Call Report]

According to an example outlined by Adrian Swinscoe, as to how effective and meaningful customer experience focus can be is, Carhartt – the Dearborn, Michigan based clothing company founded in 1889 that focuses, primarily, on technical work wear. Carhartt implemented technology in 2015 that connects customers with directly with real/live brand advocates, providing them access to “trusted advice” when researching their purchase. This approach has lead to a “6-10 fold increase” in their conversion rates over other self-service customers and a “10-25% increase” in the average dollar per order.

The Customer Experience Disconnect

80% of companies believe they deliver a “superior experience” to their customers. Customers of those same organizations said that only 8% of companies were really delivering. [Source: Bain & Company]

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

It is almost impossible to realistically comprehend that customer experience can be so hugely impacted by negative service interactions but so minimally impacted by positive and proactive interactions with sales associates. Retail – especially today – is a fast and fluid industry. Truly great and strong retailers are busy not only creating engaging career path/development resources to support the learning and continuous education of their teams but they are ALSO pathologically committed to sourcing, recruiting, hiring, investing in, and retaining the right team members [at all levels] inside their organizations – outfitting them with the tools and autonomy to drive customer engagement.

There are far too many companies that naively rely on luck with or ignorance around their customer experience and then assign blame for soft sales to the economy, the customer-facing employees, and/or the customer for their lack of profitability. When, in reality, they hire warm bodies with a pulse who will be managers of compliance with a laundry list of tasks that make it impossible to focus on customer experience. There are even retailers that still believe customer experience is difficult to quantify [seriously?!], which is why they lack any optics on or design around this critical and forward-thinking metric.

After having exposure to many different retail organizations over the past 24 months, one thing has also become very evident and concerning. Far too many retail organizations still fall into the pattern of “but, we’ve always done it this way”. These organizations may frequently try to implement new ideas but in doing so fail to eliminate crusty, antiquated processes that make it challenging for team members to embrace the “new”. It’s just another “thing” they have to do in the field and the new initiative quickly gets lost in the noise of all the other “stuff” they are accountable for. In these environments change initiatives are, generally, met with caution and apprehension.

Customer experience doesn’t just happen, it needs to be designed, communicated, measured, updated, understood, and embraced by all. It needs to be a living and breathing daily commitment to own the customer journey and to build trust and authentic relationships with each individual client at all steps in the consumer’s process.

Hope Is Not A Strategy – Create A Climate For Service

According to a study conducted by Ployhart, Iddekinge & Mackenzie, a “climate for service” is a living and breathing organizational climate in which the delivery of exceptional performance is valued, encouraged, and rewarded. Employees are able to thrive in this climate and therefore proactively enthusiastic about delivering a better experience to everyone they come in contact with. It is what every almost every retailer should be focused on, daily, in our evolving industry.

To say that the  the word “experience” is used often may be an understatement [case in point, I have used it approximately 16 times in this post alone (so far)!]. In the learning and development field, it seems to be our daily focus to create a compelling and competitive advantage in the retail-sphere for the organization [for both our internal & external customer]. Companies need to possess a legitimate understanding of their customer in order to focus on their multi-channel consumer visibility and engagement and deliberately create memorable experiences. That is the first step in the journey that many companies have taken to become truly experience-focused. Successful organizations are realizing that “experience” is the aggregate approach to the customer journey and it is at the very core of the business’ strategy and it is certainly inclusive of the in-store employee/customer interactions.

There is significant amount of rhetoric around “experience” delivery…we hear – ad nauseum – customer experience, candidate experience, employee experience, user experience, etc. and it can seem overwhelming at times to sort through and process in a systematic fashion. However, the truth is that all of the components to a successful business strategy are – essentially – the same. They just require a slightly unique approach to the same objective for each channel of the customer relationship with your brand.

Designing a Climate For Service requires thought, deliberate planning, and a bias toward action at all organizational levels. While you will need to assess where you are in your organization’s experience design and execution there are some other pieces to consider that are critical to achieving an engaging and effective climate of service:

  • Everyone must have a clear understanding of their role inside the strategy of experience;
  • The team must have a shared purpose and mission/vision to guide alignment in purpose;
  • Inspiring and facilitating an environment of connectivity and collaboration;
  • A shared, quantifiable, and consistently communicated experience objective, regardless of operative design, to galvanize the team;
  • Experience must be enabled and supported from the top of the organization for it to be able to innovate, influence, and impact.

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


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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2 thoughts on “Customer Experience In Retail

  1. Spot on! I always say-“hope is not a strategy “. Retail leaders must do what is necessary to protect the customer experience which includes evaluating their team honestly and with objectivity. Many associates deliver exceptional customer experiences and should be the much needed role model to others. They must also be recognized for their commitment to the customer.

    1. Thanks, Justine, for the comment. Each time, before I post my articles, I re-read them and this on – in particular – makes my face hot because it’s so wrong but clear that this is the belief in the retail industry. Time to make a change for sure!

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