BY: SARAH KAMPMAN
JULY 23, 2018
But “customer experience” can be an elusive topic that changes as rapidly as retail itself. It’s something that everyone is certainly talking about, and I was curious: What are retail leaders really focused on when it comes to customer experience (CX)? I’ve been talking to experts and leaders in retail over the last few months to understand their concerns, hopes, and dreams when it comes to their CX operations.
Is consistency still the most important focus for brands? What makes it challenging now? And how can brands stay consistent during a time when customers are moving almost too fast to acknowledge?
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Another challenge is that other brands—whether they’re your competitor or not—are also getting better at delivering a positive experience, and that raises the stakes. I spoke with Retail Consultant, Chip Bell, about Customer Experience, who summed up this added competition: “The world has changed. The thing that’s driving that change is that customers get great experience everywhere they go. Someone goes to Disney and they come home and deal with you Monday morning, and Disney is still in their head. Or they call FedEx and they answer the phone right away, and yours is the next store they call. It ups the ante for everybody. If I don’t get on board with creating a great experience, customers will go elsewhere.” You’re not just competing with your competitors when it comes to experience; you’re competing with every brand a customer interacts with.
Lastly, every shopper is unique. This fact may feel obvious, but it is one of the largest challenges for consistent interactions: all customers are different human beings, who expect different things from each brand experience. Unless you are a super high-end or hyper-local brand, it is near impossible to match each person’s individual expectations. At Future Stores Seattle in June, Craig Hodgson, Director Retail Architecture & Store Design Development IKEA, said, “The goal has always been consistency for our customers when they come to our stores” but “should we meet the customer in the same way when we move into emerging markets?” It’s a tough challenge right now: How can brands deliver an individualized experience to the millions of current, past, and potential customers that still rings consistent to each person? Hodgson continued, “We’ve come to the conclusion we need to be more flexible.”
Lauren Drexler, a Customer Science and Strategy Consultant at Elicit, LLC, spoke of Southwest Airlines as a great example of frontline empowerment. “They have a consistent vision, mission, and tone when it comes to customer centricity,” she said. “They give their flight attendants the freedom a lot of other companies don’t, and that’s what their customers love about them. They feel like they’re interacting with real people, and that real people care about them.” This structure is successful because, while the front lines are given freedom, they’re first taught what the Southwest brand means and are then deeply involved how that interacts with their role.
A District Manager at an international discount supermarket chain also noted the importance of an empowered front line: “We have to make a good impression every day because 20% of customers that walk through the door are new. My #1 priority is to have an awesome looking store every single day. Then, if I have employees that are well trained, who care about the products and their job, I’m good. The financials will follow if those things are in place.”
Customer experience isn’t just about having the same exact experience with each customer at every encounter (they’re all expecting different things anyway). It’s about evoking the same positive feeling. Consistency is absolutely still an important element in CX; it just means something a little different today.