Customers have been left wanting by traditional marketing and overall buying experiences. For example, 51% of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences and 54% don’t believe companies have their best interest in mind (State of the Connected Customer). Nineteen percent completely eschewed a company that delivered a bad experience, simply choosing not to spend with them at all in the future.

Customer experience optimization is not new and yes, it is incredibly important and has also become a minefield of buzzwords, technologically-charged terminology and interconnected topics...

Precise Personalization, Customization, PurposeDriven, Omnichannel, Retailtainment, Digital Natives, Phygital, Social Shopping, Retail as a service, Artificial Intelligence, etc.

Companies are scratching their heads and wondering…

Where do we even begin?

Curiosity and constant connectivity are driving greater customer demands and expectations than ever before. What was an expectation of rapid response to expressed customer needs just a few short years ago has become a desire that companies will not only anticipate those needs, but proactively personalize experiences to meet them.

Today, 76% of customers expect that companies will understand their needs and expectations, according to State of the Connected Customer research. The same study found that 82% of business buyers want to have the same experiences they do when buying for themselves, and fully 80% of customers believe that the experience a brand provides is just as important as its products and services.

While these trends are certainly challenging for B2C and B2B companies alike, adopting a more customer-centric mindset offers great opportunity to those able to get it right. In this post, you’ll find 10 tips to help your retail organization develop a more customer-centric mindset and enjoy all of the business benefits this entails. But first, how did we get here in the first place?

What Customers Want from Retail Experiences is Changing

Customers today not only want the company to know what they want and where they want it, but may also want their entire experience of researching and buying to be customized and in alignment with their socio-economic beliefs. Oh and by the way, they want it now; 61% of consumers are craving faster deliveries, as well.

This demand for an exceptional experience isn’t just an idle want or a thing that would be nice to have. In their most recent Earned Brand Report, Edelman researchers found that 64% of customers will choose, switch to or from, or even avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Customers want to feel good about doing business with you. They want to enjoy the process of exploring their options, and expect to have positive brand interactions at every touchpoint.

There are a number of factors driving this impactful shift in consumer behavior, among them:

  • The shift in purchasing power that’s taking place as Baby Boomers near or begin retirement. Generation Z will over take millennials in buying power by 2020 and have never known a non-digital-only experience. (McKinsey)
  • More devices are connected and accessible than ever before, and Gartner’s predictions put connected devices at 20.8 billion by 2020. This constant connection is powering the expectation that brands should be “always on” and responsive in real-time.
  • Consumers expect brands to meet them where they choose to interact. In fact, 84% of consumers expect a brand response on social media in 24 hours or less.
  • A majority of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations (Salesforce).

10 Steps in Evolving from a Transactional to Customer-Centric Mindset

Most companies are accustomed to interacting with their customers in a transactional way. Multi-buy promotions and discounts are a couple of obvious examples of transaction-based marketing incentives. Beyond that, in most retail companies you’ll still find entire programs and marketing strategies are transactionally-focused. You will present your products and services. You will disperse information about them. Customers will make a purchase, or they won’t. You may ask how they feel about this entire process, but it is in essence a series of transactions.

Customer experience, on the other hand, is the sum total of all interactions between retail brands and customers. It encompasses the entire journey from discovery and research, to consideration, purchase, and the post-purchase relationship. It includes any physical, emotional and/or psychological connections with the company and may span dozens or even hundreds of touchpoints, across multiple devices and networks.

1. Know your customer types and their respective journeys.

Do you understand who your customers really are? This goes far beyond simply identifying generic customer segments or personas based on age, ethnicity, gender, geography, or status.

Consider the student body at a typical state university. How many different groups or cliques are there, each with its own preferences and priorities? To create exceptional customer experiences, a company must cater to specific customer types for their business, not just generic segments. Next, you’ll need to understand the journey for each customer type, from discovery and research to first purchase, to how your company engages post-purchase. This should cover both digital and non-digital interactions.

2. Competitive insights go beyond who competitors are and what they do.

Understanding your competitors and your company's market are table stakes and obviously important. However, this will not help you differentiate. Understanding how competitor companies create exceptional experiences—and how those in other industries do, as well—can inform new strategies for interacting with customers in ways that truly set the experience apart. Companies need to look beyond direct competitors as now you are competing with the best in class experiences offered by Netflix, Apple, and Amazon.

3. Don’t confuse an experiential mindset with customer service.

While service is certainly one aspect of a customer’s experience with your retail brand, service denotes a response to a specific interaction, or assistance/advice to provide an answer. It is an important distinction, as providing good service and tracking service KPIs is important within the greater context of both transactional and customer-centric approaches. Simply put, improvements in customer service can improve a customer’s experience, but it’s just one element.

4. Identify moments of truth and design exceptional experiences for each one.

Throughout a customer’s journey, there will be interactions that are key moments of truth. These are often pain points for your customers that can be turned into opportunities to connect, engage and convert.

When has simply having your expectations met ever been memorable? Never. Meeting expectations is a solid foundation on which to improve, but it’s not a desirable outcome in itself. When customers are having these moments of truth—these critical pain points in which decisions will surely be influenced—the brand that exceeds the customer’s expectations will be the one that exceeds expectations by anticipating their needs, personalizing content, and appealing to their exact place in their journey in that moment.

Meeting expectations may result in a one-time purchase, but exceptional experiences are memorable, relationship-building moments and can improve a customer’s lifetime value; 87% of customers who have a very good experience will spend more.

5. Measure success with an outside-in lense.

Each new experience you design for a moment of truth must be measurable, but you won’t find your key measures for customer experiences with an inside-out approach. It’s a traditional business practice to first determine inside the brand what it is you want or need to know, then look outside (to customers, in this case) to learn where you can find that information.

Relying exclusively on financial metrics may not give you an accurate reflection of your customers’ experience in a specific interaction. It is critical that you understand the impact from your customers’ point of view for each interaction, in order to help your company determine which levers to pull and where to invest more or less in the future.

6. Blend your experiences.

It is no longer enough to have a multi-channel approach. Customers use several different channels to interact with brands and in retail, the volume of customer interactions grew 93% between 2016 and 2017. Mobile, the web, and in-store are not the only channels to consider. Customers typically use 9-10 channels to interact with companies. While many companies have efforts and initiatives underway to improve in channels, their approach is too often siloed. This approach invariably leads to improvements that are more transactional in nature.

Companies must blend their experiences across all channels. Show customers a consistently exceptional experience whether they’re opening an email, browsing your website, on a social channel, or visiting one of your retail locations in-store.

7. Front-line employees are critical.

Your front-line employees are critical to exceptional customer experiences. Where marketing sets the expectation, in-store retail employees, call centers and online service teams are in position to deliver.

All of the experience optimization and technology you can muster is wasted if human interactions do not exceed expectations and align with anticipated brand values.

8. Leverage a multi-disciplined, enterprise wide team.

The old adage that “it takes a village” is particularly important when it comes to creating exceptional customer experiences. All areas of your company must be represented in this process—marketing, sales, operations, IT, customer service are all important and need a seat at the table from planning to sharing, in and understanding successes. Executive sponsorship is critical and it is the responsibility of marketing to communicate wins in a way the entire organization can appreciate. We see leading organizations shifting to customer journey owners vs. product or business unit owners where customer journey owners are typically touching multiple product, services that were previously managed in solos.

9. Test, test, test and learn.

When designing customer experiences, it is critical to test hypotheses with your customers early and often. Be flexible, experiment fast and pivot, if necessary. Customer feedback is critical in order to truly understand the value of a specific experience or interaction, and to give context and bring the customer’s experience into your decision-making.

10. Never stop iterating.

In truly customer-centric organizations, the focus on customer experience becomes a part of the company's culture. It is not a one-time project or program, nor will a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach suffice. Given the rapid pace of customer-facing technological innovation, you can expect preferences and behavior to continue evolving in years to come.

Adopting a more customer-centric mindset across the organization provides a better informed, more holistic foundation on which to provide future services, build future products, marketing campaigns, and more.

Bringing It All Together

An exceptional customer experience is memorable—it is something your customer wants to share, and 80% will recommend a company to friends and family after a good experience. The stakes are high; companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn, on average, an additional $700 million within 3 years of investing in customer experience (Temkin Group).

There is missed opportunity in lost growth, but also in the impact negative experiences can have on the business you’ve already worked hard to win. In fact, 67% of customers will actively dissuade friends and family from buying from a company that provided them with poor service.

An experience that creates an emotional connection with your customer keeps them coming back and can even create new advocates for your retail brand. The best customer experiences will build equity that is transferable to future products, services, and business models.

At Skookum, we meet you where you are and work to create delightful, memorable and equity building experiences for your customers. From innovation to ideation, rapid prototyping, and user testing, we help our clients determine where to invest (and sometimes more importantly, where not to invest) based on data-driven insights and real-world feedback. Our product strategists, digital designers and developers can help your brand better connect with specific customer types in those highly impactful micro-moments of interaction at every stage of their journey.

Want to learn more? Get in touch and let’s see which technologies can deliver the greatest value for your brand, employees, and customers.