Opinion: Retail guru warns in 2015, ignore customer experience at your peril

Author Maya Angelou said people will forget what you say and what you do, but not how you made them feel. That’s key to making your business successful, says Hotfoot CEO Juanita Neville-Te Rito

Retail guru Juanita Neville-Te Rito has been pushing “customer experience”, often known as CX, for more than 20 years.

Her latest blog post warns that 2015 is the year when the best companies will show the rest of us how it’s done.

She focuses on examples of international and local best practice in the retail sector, but extrapolate beyond retail, and her message is just as relevant to anyone selling almost any product or service.

It’s how you make your customer feel that’s important; not what you say or do. 

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Customer Experience, or CX given everything needs an acronym is not new news. It’s been front of my mind and in my tirades for years. But 2015 is shaping up to be the year that retailers have figured out that CX might just be their golden egg.

Since the beginning of time CX has played an important role in retail but only the very clever have recognised the advantage and made it a differentiated focus. With the bar being set quite high both by pure player retailers such as Zappos, Shoes of Prey and Amazon alongside non-retail disruptors such as Uber, customer expectations have never been higher.

The leading lights in CX highlight to other retailers that they need to focus on customer satisfaction or emotional engagement, aka delight beyond reason, at every single shopper touchpoint to build customer loyalty and strong advocates.

But it’s really, really hard. Retailers need to unwind and reshape years of thinking, infrastructure, siloed departments and operational delivery to provide the optimal customer experience. It requires a massive cultural shift from the top down to deliver seamless interconnectedness.

The quote below was recently used in a presentation by Richard Umbers, incoming CEO at Myer, at the Big Breakfast held by Retail Oasis in Sydney. It brought home how he thinks retail needs to engage shoppers’ heads and hearts. I am adopting it as my new calling card as it embodies the essence of what great retailing is all about – how you make the shopper feel.

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Quite frankly the majority of NZ retailers, even the successful ones, do a mediocre CX in NZ and the Aussie’s aren’t much better,  BUT I am seeing wonderful golden eggs of hope that are consistently delivering despite the hurdles. Let’s be in no doubt that turning a lifetime of activity (technology, logistics, operations, bricks & mortar, staff engagement) into a focus on CX on our slim financial means is going to be challenging.

It’s a topic so close to my heart that my next few blogs will focus on what good looks like using examples of retailers doing a brilliant CX job both internationally and locally.  Here’s my first tempting selection.

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MACY’S

Macy’s have been at the forefront of using technology to deliver the most delightful and engaging experiences with their shoppers. Initially, the Macy’s Shopkick app provided shoppers with product information, flash sales, limited deals and could speed up the checkout process with a contactless payment option.

Their philosophy and approach which is worth focusing on and the way they’ve applied the cultural shift comes across really well in the following video. Definitely worth a look.

“The bottom line is, we’re indifferent to whether she converts in the store or online. We just want her to shop at Macy’s.” Very precise thinking.

GAP

Gap has also been brave and in 2013 tested and then in 2014 fully rolled out Reserve in Store to give their shoppers first fashion mover advantage.

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With shoppers visiting malls less and spending more time online, retailers are under intense pressure to close sales when they finally do get those valuable moments of face-time. That means closing the gap between merchandise displayed online and what’s carried in stores. Relatively simple idea; big challenge to implement.

Reserve in Store gives customers the ability to reserve items in stores from the web. With a few clicks you can locate clothing you’d like to try in a specific store and then hold up to five items there until closing the next day, with no obligation to purchase.

Reserve in Store helps the shopper know it’ll be worth her getting in the car and driving to the mall. They can plan their visits from work or home and feel confident they’ll be able to try what they want in store.

Gap’s willingness to offer Reserve in Store adds a layer of risk. For example, let’s say I want to buy a Gap classic - a denim shirt - and the only one left in my size in the store is the one I reserved. If I don’t end up buying it once I try it on, Gap will have lost the sale.

But Gap believe that listening to their consumers, creating experiences they like and that make shopping easier, far outweighs the risk and will actually drive engagement and attachment sales.

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Impossible I hear you say

“That’s grandeur and idealism” I hear some of you hard-nosed retail operators cry.

Really? Prioritising a customer centric approach over other business strategies and making it the goal of your entire organisation? A team and culture where everyone is thinking about the customer? Sounds like the makings of a winning, future-proof formula to me.

Juanita Neville-Te Rito is CEO of retail marketing communications agency Hotfoot. This article was originally published on her blog, Retail Geek