Superior Retail Customer Experience: The Route to Increased Retail Customer Loyalty
During the California gold rush of the 1850s, a 24-year-old German immigrant, Levi Strauss, started producing waist overalls from rough canvas, recognizing a demand for it among the miner community in the region. The enterprise he set up, Levi Strauss & Company, went on to become the first official creator of blue jeans and continues to be a market leader in the space today.
This was at a time when it was relatively easy to patent new products, compete on price, and launch innovations. Today retail is an industry characterized by huge volumes, intense competition, innumerable players and massive product proliferation. With the lines blurring fast between brands and product categories, most retail chains stock more or less similar variations of products from breakfast cereal, diapers and groceries to apparel, electronic goods and cosmetics.
Retail marketing departments are recognizing that there are only so many ways to differentiate among the sea of similar products and services on offer. They are on the lookout for innovative ways to grab attention, retain customers and build shopper loyalty, regardless of the channel of interaction online, catalog, mobile or in stores.
Retail Customer Experience: The New Differentiator in Retail
Superior retail customer experience is in fact becoming this new marketing tool that retailers have been looking for.
In a bid to get heard over the clutter, they are transforming the shopping experience into extremely enjoyable and highly personalized engagements. They now offer superior store experience, customer engagement, consistent cross-channel offerings and personalized attention to retail customers at every touch point of the interaction.
Take the case of Starbucks for instance. It is often said about the US coffee chain that coffee is coffee, except when it’s Starbucks. Starbucks personalized mobile apps let customers locate the nearest outlet, create and order customized drinks and even share their preferred beverage choices with friends via various social media platforms. The retail coffee chain offers a superior customer experience right from the moment a customer enters the familiar Starbucks ambience, interacts with friendly store staff, sip their tall personalized lattes and catch up on e-mails and work seated at the outlet. The leading US-based retail chain figured out early that it’s really not about the coffee, but the whole experience that keeps customers coming back for more.
Amazon.com has come to be associated with the great online shopping experience it offers with a high level of personalization, quick turnarounds on processing and flawless deliveries of anything from DVDs and toys to electronics and books, delighting customers who transact with it. Visitors to Amazon.com are addressed by name as they log in and get to see intelligent book and music suggestions that fit their tastes and interests, based on past purchases and browsing patterns.
These are just a few of the leading retailers that successfully transform every customer moment of truth into personalized experiences and high engagement interactions. How do they manage this?
Retail Moments of Truth: Getting them to Work for You
A moment of truth refers to every instance when a customer makes contact or interacts with your business wherein he gets an opportunity to form an impression about your brand. Seeing an ad about your product, reading a friend’s tweet about it, visiting your website, checking your catalog or interacting with one of your store staff each of these represents a moment of truth.
Now with the growing popularity of social media and mobile retail channels, every unhappy customer has a forum. Where earlier he could speak to five of his friends and acquaintances, today he can tell as many as 5 million contacts why he dislikes your brand. On the flip side, delighted customers can be your best brand ambassadors as they share with everyone on their networks what a great vendor you are. There is a critical need to optimize customer service to manage these situations effectively.
Creating iconic stores and investing in smart and high quality store staff has been central to Apple’s customer experience strategy that helped the technology vendor create great first impressions. Customer service at Apple stores is driven not just by great store experience but staff that are trained in asking the right questions to accurately capture the customer intent early in the store visit. Besides Apple stores have introduced a culture that encourages customers to play with and understand the products on display in the store. These effective service strategies ensure that they get it right the first time.
As a result, Apple deals with few product returns caused by the usual didn’t like it, didn’t understand it, and it’s not for me reasons. The technology vendor has been successful in keeping unpaid support and service requirements to a minimum as training, support and services are handled smartly right at the first instance while customers are left with truly memorable store experience.
Improving the Shopping Experience using Advanced Analytics
Moments of truth span multiple channels and occur continually and in real-time. You have to manage, monitor and measure each of these moments of truth to optimize retail customer service and gain a competitive edge in the market. An important first step towards this is building the right kind of analytics capabilities.
Advanced merchandising analytics can help gain insights into improving products assortments and promotions and help you manage quick responses to ever-changing market trends. Analytics-backed supplier processes can help you seamlessly fulfill cross-channel orders so that a retail customer who selects a refrigerator in your store can expect to have it home delivered the same day in the color of his choice while another who ordered home furnishings online can drop by to pick it up in store.
Advanced customer analytics models help you bring together customer interaction and transaction data from across all channels and touch points to provide a unified vision of the customer from search history to the final buying decision. Key identifiers such as customer name or IDs, promotion codes, order numbers, payment identifiers like credit card and cookies are used widely to recognize customers by name, offer them suggestions, anticipate their shopping process across channels and understand how they interact and buy. These multi-channel customer insights can be applied across channels to help you truly know your customers and design engaging customer experiences.
Online retailers Amazon and Zappos leverage analytics to successfully create assortments and offer retail customer experiences that exceeds customer expectations. Both are known for superior online shopping experience created through personalized attention to customers and speedy deliveries, often under a day. Zappos has additionally thrown in free shipping to delight anyone who makes a purchase on its website.
Customer-centric Retailing for Building Great Store Experience
Despite advanced analytics capabilities, many retailers still fall far short of customer-centric strategies because of their inability to make sense of the customer data captured. Customer-centric retailing involves a lot more than investing in analytics and employing excellent customer service staff. It calls for a top down shift in strategy and approach and a pervasive acceptance of customer-centric policies at all levels of the organization besides smart use of analytics insights to drive decisions.
It is important to implement an operating model that breaks down functional boundaries and allows the free flow of information across departments within your organization. This will enable you to quickly share customer feedback through the organization and drive appropriate responses to them. Many customer-centric retailers adopt open-architecture models where they collaborate with customers and suppliers, share ideas and feedback and work together to improve products and service delivery.
Traditional tools such as feedback forms, surveys, polls and voice of the customer programs can help you know what your customers think about you. Invest in active listening systems and build capabilities in the use of text, social media and unstructured data analytics tools to decipher customer sentiment online. Engage actively with these customers and where necessary adopt real time damage control measures to ensure that unhappy experiences are remedied.
Get employee buy in at every stage of your shift to a more customer-centric model. Many retailers get their employees to walk in the customer’s shoes to better understand customer experiences as they interact with your brand and improving the experience. Focus on retracing your customer’s shopping paths to ensure that interactions at every touch point are designed for maximum satisfaction. Encourage store executives and employees in customer facing roles to provide feedback and share their war-stories of customer interaction to help fine-tune and enhance the experience that you offer.
Building Customer Loyalty by Managing Moments of Truth
Enhancing customer moments of truth requires you to take an outward-in approach towards building superior customer experiences. Managed smartly over their lifetime, customer moments of truth can ensure that you build a loyal base of customers who not only bring you repeat business but also become strong advocates of your brand.
Have you built a customer-centric business model? Are you paying enough attention to your customer’s shopping journey and the customer experiences you offer?