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Customer Experience Isn’t An Initiative: This and more from Future Stores Seattle

JUNE 28, 2018

We love attending WBR’s Future Stores conference. It’s a forum for innovation, connections, and trends from the brightest minds of big retail.

We went to the conference in Miami a few months ago, and the trend was clear: Customer Experience. This round in Seattle was no different; in fact, leaders, startups, and experts dove even deeper into what makes Customer Experience (CX) successful.

Here’s what we heard.

“Customer Experience isn’t an initiative.”

This quote from Ruth Crowley, the VP of Customer Experience Design at Lowes, perfectly sums up the current mindset around CX at Future Stores. “Customer Experience” isn’t one single initiative that has a start and end point. In the never-ending quest for the elusive top-of-mind spot in shoppers’ minds, successful CX is the real connection with customers at all times.

So that must mean we have to focus on omnichannel initiatives, right? We have to make sure the integration of all shopping channels is seamless?

Wrong. For awhile now, omnichannel—the seamless intersection between digital and in-store tactics—has been all the rage. This new shift to customer experience as a mindset, rather than an initiative, positions omnichannel as one of many elements that make up a customer’s experience. Marc-Alexandre Risch, CRO of L’Oreal said it best, “My hope is that we start to hear the word omnichannel less—the channel is not as important as the customer.”

The true intersection between digital and in-store experiences is different for each customer. People don’t leave a store or website thinking, “Wow, I just had the BEST omnichannel experience!” Instead, they judge a brand based on their delight before, after, and during their interactions. This conversation marks a vital shift in retail: away from separate initiatives (like omnichannel efforts) and instead a macrofocus view to CX as a whole. Sure, some omnichannel program will come in and out of focus to aid in creating the best experience, but it’s no longer the thing in retail.

The true intersection between digital and in-store experiences is different for each customer. People don’t leave a store or website thinking, “Wow, I just had the BEST omnichannel experience!”

“People want to be around people.”

Craig Hodgson, Director of Retail Architecture and Store Design Development at IKEA, said this at his panel, and, in a wave a new technologies and shiny objects, this is a breath of fresh air. At this point, we know retail is not dying, and we know that new technologies won’t result in the complete loss of human jobs. Why? Because people still need other people. Retailers are (or at least really want to be) communicating with their customers, and the human element of communication can’t be overlooked. The humans in your stores make or break your customers’ experience.

Alexandre-Rische echoed this associate-centric sentiment, and discussed that CX is about making life easier for customers and associates. It extends even further than just being around good people: people also learn best from other people. We can minimize time and maximize person-to-person connections in retail (both between store managers and their associates, and between associates and customers) by focusing on the associates. Engaged employees make happy customers. So much so, they are more likely to improve customer relationships, resulting in a 20% increase in sales. The research around this is aplenty, and Future Stores conversations solidified the need to empower your customer-facing associates.

Customer experience is no longer an “initiative”; it’s an expectation.

An agile approach.

Retail is moving quickly, and the need for an agile mindset in retail was a big theme for Day 2. There was a strong willingness to try and fail from the retailers at Future Stores. Many speakers emphasized retailers need to plan for disruption—as in, any initiative you roll out that requires behavior change through a brand. Since the many associates in an organization often determine the success of CX efforts, testing and learning through agile increments can minimize cost and disruption to the organization.

Our own CEO discussed staying agile in retail further at the conference, stating that the disruptions retailers are creating in their stores continue to layer complexity on already-complex stores. He continued, “When we look at that gap, those folks are being given more to do with less resources and tools.”

Customer experience is no longer an “initiative”; it’s an expectation. The way to delight your customers at all times? Empower your associates and adopt an agile mindset that enables (perhaps even celebrates) failure.

We revealed a first look at our latest 2018 research, which is all about—you guessed it—Customer Experience. Are retail initiatives aligned with customer expectations? Check out the first cut here, and stay tuned for the full report in a few months.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A member of our strategic accounts team, Logan is our resident retail expert. He has a keen understanding of the many facets of the retail industry and is passionate about brick-and-mortar retail and omni-channel initiatives. He brings to Square Root more than 16 years in retail management, where he was consistently recognized for his outstanding leadership. His motto, “No one wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘I want to do a bad job today,'” and brings that attitude to our team everyday. Outside of Square Root, Logan is an avid traveler. He once scaled the second largest glacier in the world in Patagonia. He also loves running the trails of Austin and is always seeking inspiration. He holds a degree in political science from Texas Tech University.