I think we all agree that delivering a consistent, seamless, joined-up (delete as appropriate) customer experience, especially in a retail setting, is important.

Really important in fact.

Although there are plenty of (very credible) stats that highlight this, I don’t think there is a huge amount of practical advice out there, especially for small to medium sized retailers.

So whilst the thoughts and ideas below may sound fairly obvious to some, the evidence I see from the ‘front line’ suggests many retailers simply don’t know where to start or how to prioritise budget and resource. 

If that sounds like you, maybe I can help. 

1. Firstly, don’t feel intimidated by this thing called ‘customer experience’

Customer experience isn’t new. We are simply more conscious of it because in this multi-channel world we live in, delivering an experience that meets customer expectations isn’t easy (damn those pesky customers!)

On the flip side, however, customer experience is the sum of many parts, all of which you can change.

Therefore, customer experience doesn’t have to be this big, scary, expensive elephant in the room. In many cases, it involves subtle, well-informed tweaks to the things you are already doing.

2. Get into a ‘customer-first’ mind-set

Build a ‘customer-first’ culture around yourself and others will follow. Promote a philosophy of putting the customer at the heart of your business and ensure that every decision begins and ends with the customer. 

Unless you are prepared to put the customer front and centre of EVERYTHING, reading on will probably be a waste of your time.

3. Leave all of your assumptions at the door

I’ve spoken to retailers who can describe their customer in glorious detail: “Her name is Henrietta, she lives in Chelsea, she reads Tatler, etc”. All too often though this ‘insight’ was born out of a board meeting where those in the room concocted their perfect customer persona. 

The reality however is often very different.

You cannot design an experience unless it is from the perspective of your actual customers. This means forgetting who you think they are or want them to be and genuinely getting to know them, their point of view, how they behave and their needs. 

4. Get your transactional data in order

You can’t be all things to all people. You may well need to hone aspects of your strategy to particular customer segments. Techniques such as RFM (revenue, frequency, monetary) modelling allow you to build an understanding of your most important (or potentially most important) segments according to their financial value. 

rfm matrix

This should be the bedrock of your strategy. Creating a single customer view (and therefore the ability to track customers across all channels) can only be achieved when the right data, in the right format can be accessed easily. Make this a priority from the offset.

5. Don’t confuse demographic profiling with genuine insight  

Broad demographic profiling is undoubtedly useful. But it doesn’t dig deep enough into the mind set of your customers and the way in which they want to specifically engage with your brand.

Surveys, focus groups and interviews are therefore essential to uncovering your customers' behaviours, habits, preferences, values and emotional levers, which in turn allow for much more informed decision making.

6. If it doesn’t make your customers happy, don’t spend the money 

There are literally thousands of initiatives, activities, tactics and tools that a retailer can spend their money on. This can be exciting but also daunting.

How do you know where to dedicate finite budget and resource to ensure customer expectations are met and ROI is maximised?

Simple – if something doesn’t improve how you interact with your customers, based on genuine insight and for the mutual benefit of both parties, you should seriously question if it’s right.

7. Don’t try and do everything at once

Done well, the insight that you gather from your customers will tell you exactly what they want from you, but it will be impossible to action everything.

Prioritise the basics first. There is no point in offering an array of wonderful delivery options if the checkout that leads to that point is slow and clunky.

Ensure you measure the impact of smaller scale initiatives, both in terms of revenue and customer satisfaction. Nothing is more powerful than the voice of your customer in helping to build a business case for those costlier projects. 

8. Play nicely with your colleagues 

Silos are the enemy of customer experience. Teams must work together with shared objectives and common key performance indicators.

I don’t pretend this is easy, especially for larger retailers and this is where SMEs may have an advantage. The ability to be nimble and to action things quickly will stand you in good stead against your larger counterparts but only if everyone is pulling in the same direction.

9. Create a cross-channel content plan 

A good example of where colleagues need to collaborate is content. A centralised executional plan makes it a great deal easier to communicate your key messages and themes consistently across channels and touch-points.

It ensures efficiency in content production and in particular how content can be reworked and cascaded through channels. 

Get buy-in for this by involving all key stakeholders in the creative and planning process for your content.

10. Get personal…but not creepy or annoying

Personalisation – another discipline which is enjoying its moment in the spotlight. I don't claim to be an expert in this area but I can certainly see the benefits of visiting a website that understands my past behaviour and preferences.

However, I can also see its drawbacks. What if I don’t want to be presented with content relevant to my own preferences because I’m buying for somebody else?

Likewise, with remarketing. The number of people who have said to me “Oh those annoying adverts that follow me around for weeks on end”. Yes, those. 

Delivering personalised content in any context is brilliant when done well, but it can be damaging to your customer experience and brand perception when done badly. Don’t rely on technology to make assumptions about your customers (read more on this in this article ‘The cost of incomplete data’).

11. Accept social media’s role as a customer service tool

It was recently revealed that retail is the most complained about sector in the UK, evidence that retailers simply cannot keep up with the ever-changing expectations of consumers.

Hopefully, your customers will use social media to say lovely things about you. But they are more likely to vent their anger when things go wrong and expect you to respond quickly (according to Lithium Technologies, 72% of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within the hour).

Join the conversation, respond in a public way and look like the good guy. And don’t give this job to your interns.

12. Mobilise your site

If your site isn’t optimised for mobile and tablet users (all 58m of them), you are losing money. It’s as simple as that.

It’s not even an option anymore. Find the budget and get it done.

13. If you don’t get the sale, get their data

If your site converts at 2 – 3% you are considered to be doing pretty well. But that’s still a hell of a lot of people who aren’t doing what you ultimately want them to do – buy something.

Therefore, place as much emphasis on micro-conversions, such as email sign-ups and brochure requests, as you do optimising your products pages and shopping basket. Make it easy and enticing for a prospective customer to give you their details when they’re not quite ready to buy.

14. Don’t underestimate the role that search plays in delivering a great experience

Search engines remain the number one method by which prospects begin their discovery of a new product or brand. Therefore, the first impression a prospect may have of your brand will come as a result of how you present yourself in search engine listings. 

Yet too many retailers are still failing to address even the basics, such as well written meta descriptions

For more on this, please take a look at my previous post on search experience optimisation.

15. Put in place KPIs that measure customer experience

Tracking revenue, profitability and market share are a given. But what about ‘customer effort score’, ‘net promoter score’ (NPS) or ‘customer satisfaction score’ to evaluate how happy your customers are?

Furthermore, link staff rewards and incentives to customer experience. It can work wonders in building the customer-first culture I cited earlier.

As customer experience covers every interaction you have with your customer – online, in-store, catalogue and so on – this post could conceivably go on forever. But that wouldn’t be a good experience for you or me. 

Until next time…

Ben Potter

Published 1 April, 2015 by Ben Potter

Ben Potter is the former Commercial Director at Leapfrogg and now a new business mentor to aspiring digital agencies. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

24 more posts from this author

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