2016 is the year of Customer Experience. Every time an end user comes into contact with your brand, it must deliver an exceptional experience. Like any woman, I do love a bit of retail therapy. I enjoy the experience of browsing the latest trends on my iPhone, imaging myself wearing the product and musing over where I would wear it. This fuels enough motivation to hit the street for a bit of in-store discovery. Recently I was on a mission to buy a pair of running shoes from a well-known global brand. I knew exactly what I wanted after scrolling through Instagram posts and pouring over the website a little too much. I even visualized walking into the store and seeing the colored wall of runners perfectly positioned in their place along the shelf, anticipating the sales assistant being friendly and greeting me with an upbeat ‘Hello!’ I wanted to get up close and personal with the shoes. Feeling the weight in my hand, the texture of the sole and that new smell of the fabric.
The experience we’ve all experienced
I entered the store and quickly scanned the walls looking for my prize, but they weren’t to be found. I did not imagine they’d be located on the far back wall. There it was, sitting alone on a shelf with other shoes that looked like they’d been designed for the criminally insane. How could this be the case? They were the current model. My experience further deteriorated when the sign above me blurted ‘Men’s Active wear’. I was confused, and I quickly began to quiver at the prospect that I’d been secretly pining men’s shoes! The pretty young things behind the counter ignored me as I approached them looking for any type of assistance. One of them glanced at me as if I was troubling them. I asked them about the shoe and she grunted back that it was out of stock, however the very last pair was on the back wall somewhere, amongst some men’s shoes. BAMMMM! POOFFFF! That was the sound of my customer experience going up in smoke.
So I had one bad experience with this well-known global brand. According to the research, I’m now going to need 12 positive experiences with this band to make up for the unresolved negative experience.
Why did it go so wrong?
To deliver on your brand promise you have to get your employee experience right first. You need to support your teams with transparent and up to date information so they can do their best work.
I pondered my poor retail journey and reduced it down to these three fundamental reasons that my in-store experience went off the rails:
- Poor training in Customer Service
- Poor Operations Communication and Collaboration
- Poor management of Visual Merchandising Communication
Essentially the culture wasn't aligned for the customer. This communication and collaboration breakdown directly affects business growth. It hurts customers, brands and profits. People walk when the experience is bad and take their wallet spend elsewhere.
Retailers need to improve their communication management
We are all connecting with brands through many touch points including social, online, in-store and word of mouth. Yet it seems that silos within retail are forgetting to share and communicate on what is a great retail experience with their staff. To deliver a consistent customer experience requires a united understanding across store operations, marketing, merchandising and purchasing teams. While outbound marketing and sales might be hitting a home run on brand positioning and visibility, a poor in-store experience will undo this investment. According to consumers, customer service agents failed to answer their questions 50% of the time.
So where to start? An Intranet for retail perhaps?
How do you galvanize a central understanding across all people within the organization? You can't expect people to change how they do things, if there are no tools or guidance on how to change. If you currently do not have a Customer Experience team, then consider creating one. Leverage this team to create strategies for change, and let them oversee the execution. Start small, trialing in one or two stores to adopt collaboration technology to help drive staff product and service knowledge. This could be intranet software or a social intranet for retail with integrated mobile support. Give your staff the ability to connect, capture, share and manage their merchandising, promotional, operational documents across the organization using any device. Present these teams with centralized training and product launch materials. Give them a deep understanding of common questions asked by customers and how to handle them or even add their own experiences to your internal knowledge pool.
To ensure there’s successful in-store product placement, ensure teams have clear planogram instructions. Store teams should be able to access, capture, manage and collaborate between stores and merchandizing across all data relating to planograms and inventory in real-time. Store Managers should be able to create store audits, capture and add photos of shelf displays, fixtures and key product placements. They should be able to include comments, checklists and notes. Collaborating securely in real-time with the support center using any device.
The business intranet that should be accessible across any device should provide training materials to empower staff to understand the needs of the customer and what steps to take in order to service them better. In Brian Solis’s book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, he discusses Apple’s retail success. He refers to the Genius Bar where the customer can go if you have a problem or general question about your device. In his book he discusses how Apple curated their customer experience through their retail team. The number one aspect was having intensive control over how Apple’s employees interact with their customers. They provided scripted training and they control every store detail from the way music is preloaded, to which apps have been loaded on the demonstration devices. Sales staff are trained not to persuade people into buying, but to help solve the customers problem, or help them meet their needs. Collaboration strategies include providing training to your retail teams through video, role playing scripts or using your existing training content.
I could have left that store feeling like I was treated as Customer of the Year. Instead I left feeling like they didn't want me in there. Retailers need to make good on the year of the customers, starting with providing retail sales teams with modern collaboration tools that help them better represent the brand.