Why bother with customer experience? A response to the cynics

- in ARTICLES, The Drum
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“Very interesting perspective. How does this help address the consumer awareness that the reality is that the retail company, its executives and management are driven by commercial goals such as revenue growth, profit increase, market share capture? How do you reconcile these disparate objectives/narratives within your work?”

This great question was posted to me following my last article, it addresses the idea of brand or retailer morality as part of a responsible customer experience. It also follows a more directly negative statement associated with the perceived morality of large retailers, that I received from a Facebook ‘friend’, when I began working with a major uk supermarket last year… that being, “now you’ve really sold out”.

Firstly, let me address what I think I understand to be the biggest point that is being made here, that the questioner believes that the customer is aware that profit drives the need for Customer Experience and is therefore sceptical of ideas of engagement or inspiration, because they believe that the brand or retailer doesn’t really care what makes the customer happy, as long as they buy stuff and create revenue growth, increase profit and grow market share.

So, the main concern here is around trust. How can a large, profitable retailer create customer experiences that build trust and belief in its brand values, whilst convincing the sceptical customer to shop with them, engage in their brand and change their position from trust lacking sceptic to brand advocate?

Clearly there are a number of factors that come into play. One of which is Behavioural Economics (BE), which acoording to the Wikipedia “studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation”  This isn’t my area of expertise but I think this quote sums up, in very basic terms what BE is about and I wanted to touch on this to explain some of the background that brands and retailers go through in order to help customers on their retail missions. It’s an area well worth exploring in a lot more depth than I’ve time for in this short piece and with particular relevance to this article, it offers a moral responsibility of how it is used.

If you check out Justin Kirby’s BOBCM interview with the celebrated ex-head of Brand Planning at Google Zoo Lazar Dzamic, he begins to explain the responsibility that using BE has and that it shouldn’t always be used for profit, but that it can also be used for helping customers make the right choices in say health for example.

So retailers and brands employ this kind of thinking, not just to drive profits but also to actually help customers to choose what is best suited to their lives and lifestyles. Retailers are more and more interested in making long lasting relationships with happy, engaged customers, rather than just a quick buck.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be retailers who use price as their winning formula, but everyone knows not to expect such great products when all we’re worried about is cost… you get what you pay for right..? But what if this value approach was linked to quality, so the customer can see that it’s not all about price, that the items on sale are of good quality at an excellent price, then we are talking about value for money and this is a landscape where the retailer can build trust and customer loyalty through helpful service and enhanced customer experience. Look at the Lidl example I discussed last week, here is a low cost supermarket introducing its low cost produce in a way that suggests good quality and not necessarily what might be expected from such a supermarket, the link between quality and value here is a fine example of value for money retailing.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, famously noted that businesses have only two core functions – to win and to keep customers. The existence of Wholefoods and Waitrose suggest that price is not the only factor when it comes to supermarkets, and as I mentioned in my first post, shopping is no longer just about shopping and Apple stores are a good example of this.

In a 2015 interview for Like Minds, Justin asked angel investor, entrepreneur and best selling author, Peter Shankman, about the importance of the role of Customer Experience. His response is very clear:

“I think brands need to be aware that what they do in the customer space has never before had such a great impact on their ability to bring in or lose customers”.

So what kind of in-store experiences would enhance the customer journey, create conversational capital and build customer trust and loyalty? The problem is that it depends on the customer and the products that they are shopping, which is why customer experience designers look at a number of different customer profiles and study the various shopping missions that might take them into store, before creating any design principles or innovation ideas that might lead to the customer experience touchpoint journey.

Understanding the customer is key to understanding how to respond to any design brief and this begins with getting to grips with what the customer expects to be the benchmark to suit their needs across any given shopping mission. Understanding this allows the team to identify how best to speak with the customer, (if you read last week’s article, this to me means not bombarding them in-store with the same Brand Experience messages that they learned about at home); what the experience should look and feel like; how the staff or colleagues should behave and interact with the customer and what level of service the customer should expect at the different moments on their journey.

So, this knowledge is then translated into tangible ideas around communication, education, engagement, easy navigation, inspirational product adjacencies, beautiful design and clever thinking aimed at putting the customer and their needs first and demonstrating that they are indeed cared for and about… and it is this that builds brand advocates out of brand sceptics.

Through all of the thought processes I touch upon in the above, customers have a choice of how, where and when they shop, whether it’s from home, the car, a pop-up or in-store… and customers by their very nature do shop, regardless of the retailer’s ‘disparate objectives’.

Shopping, as a friend of mine told me today, is just shopping, no matter which channel you’re buying stuff in… whilst this is true to a degree, I would still argue that customers will inevitably shop differently in each channel and especially differently in-store where experience is key to success. Peter Shankman again: “(the future of retail is)… not going to be about advertising, not marketing, but the customer experience. I don’t believe that the price differential is going to be that important in the end either. What will be is the experience customers have”.

Regardless of the brand or retailer, when the customer is in a well designed, customer journey connected and communication considered store, they can experience a product in an environment intended to help them get the most out of the experience, with support from helpful colleagues and with communications, digital and / or analogue, that help them make informed, inspired choices. The result is that the customer measurably (through Customer Experience Management), enjoys the experience and will spread the word, which inevitably drives traffic into store and… increases revenue, profits and market share for the retailer or brand…

So yes, the cynics can be cynical… the brands and retailers do want our money… but as long as they’re providing a better experience than their competitors, at no extra cost to the shopper, then why should we see this as a problem?

This is the third in series of articles by Creative Director Andy Barlow that looks at how creating ‘content’ experiences can bring brands can get closer to their customers both physically and emotionally.