When I give in-company workshops about customer experience, I always ask my participants to share stories about great and bad experiences they had as a customer. Very often stories are shared about the same retail brand. And even more often these stories are both great and terrible... at the same brand's store, though at different locations.
So the first participant would say things like: 'I really got excellent advice at X's store in location A. and would recommend everybody to buy their washing machine!'. A few minutes later another participant will share a horrible story about X, in a different location, exclaiming he would never ever go back there.
Same brand, two very different experiences. So whereas the shop assistants in location A are really helping the word of mouth of the brand, the shop assistant in store B is hurting the brand image. And no matter how much marketing / advertising spend there is, these customer relations are making the difference.
Harvard Business Review published an article a while ago about the declining value of brands and the rise of customer relationship value. And it's even more true for retail brands. People are the most important factor in stores. They make the difference.
Retail of the future needs to be about more than selling goods. As pure commerce, retail will lose to e-commerce. World Economic Forum forecasts that by 2029 over 40% of all retail sales will be taken over by e-commerce. That doesn't mean that retail is finished, it just means that your retail channel needs to change, it needs to change its value proposition.
And a great determining factor in this quest is the people that are working in your stores or other points of sales. They make or break an experience, no matter how nice the store, no matter how cool the concept.
So how can you make sure that across your point of sales or service points, all customers are receiving top notch experience? In other words, how do you scale human customer experience?
It is possible to scale customer experience. Examples of companies that are doing this successfully are CitizenM (the hotel), Torfs Shoes, Rituals, ... . A couple of things you can learn from them and others:
Your service concept defines what you are all about. If you are a MAC store, customers coming in expect advise and expertise about make-up. If you are a McDonalds restaurant, people know to come up to the counter to order food. If you are Noma, people know to dress up for diner.
It is equally important for employees to understand the kind of company you are. They need to know the kind of service you offer. Only then can they act with confidence and really be there for the customers and meet their expectations. Only by knowing the service concept, they can exceed expectations.
This is an important one. When you hire staff, you have to be absolutely sure that he or she holds the same values, believes in your mission.
If you have a solid hiring process, this should be piece of cake. Employees need to be allowed a certain level of autonomy when it comes to serving customers. In the most extreme case, the only mission you have is to make customers happy, no matter what it takes. And then leave it up to your employee to make good judgement.
Customer feedback is important as an awareness factor, as a way of bridging the gap between staff and customers. Getting feedback, especially positive feedback sends a great vibe through your stores and store personnel. It motivates them to do even better, it puts a smile on their face when the day begins.
Customer feedback also puts a face to the many customers they service.
This is a fun one, both for the customer as for the employee. When you try to supersede the transactional level of a store visit, there is value for everybody. When you work at a fashion store, and a girl comes in trying to find a great outfit, she may be nervous for a first big date, or a first day at school. She may be going to a huge family feast. The more you get to know about her, the better you can help her, the more pleasant the conversation becomes. She will feel heard and understood. And you very well may sell more items, simply because you understood her and you created trust.
Knowing your customers is key to great experience. So you need to help your staff really know your customers. And today's technology enables you to do that. I have already talked about the importance of leveraging customer feedback, but it's so much more than that.
Our partner and board member Steven Van Belleghem explains it better than I can, in the following video:
Scaling the human factor in customer experience is a process, a never ending process of continuous improvement. To have a positive process of improvement, which means you need to be on top of it, you need to know how you're doing every day, constantly. You need to measure the experience at store level, you need to understand why a store is performing well or badly, why it's evolving well or not. Measuring, monitoring and understanding what is going on in each of your stores or service points, enables you to capture best practices and leverage them less performing points. You can reward better, focus your attention and prioritize.
It pays off to invest in customer experience at scale. A number of our customers are successfully investing in improving experience in their stores, starting with new concepts and continuously improving the human touch. The numbers are phenomenal. Between stores having great experience numbers and stores with poor numbers is a difference of 5% in revenue growth (or decline).
In another example, we've seen that in stores where customers talk significantly more about great service, advice and friendliness of staff, the group of customers purchasing more than one item is significantly larger. More items, means more revenue.
So, when you start to measure the experience performance of your stores, and you find that within your store ranking there are stores lagging behind, you know that there is work to be done in terms of scaling great experience. But you also know there is money left on the table.