Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why Should You Care About Your Brand's #CustomerExperience?

Thanks to social media, the world is definitely getting smaller. Every day, we meet new people through our social channels, whether we’re connected to them directly or via our first or second level connections. Recently, someone from 3,000 miles away viewed one of my Tweets and made a kind comment. I responded, and we realized that we’re both enthusiastic "customer experience marketing" ambassadors. A conversation followed, and highlights are featured below. 

I would like to introduce Kevin Leifer to my blog. Kevin is passionate about retail, specifically aligning a brand's expectations of its customers' experiences with consistent execution in-store. With expertise in leading clients toward a transparent omnichannel (online, in-store, call center, and mobile) experience, Kevin and his company work with clients to define the desired customer experience and use a suite of tools (including Mystery Shopping, Customer Satisfaction Surveys, and Customer Intercepts) to measure that experience. I recommend you follow him on Twitter @KevinLeifer – and you can also find him on LinkedIn and on his website.

And now, highlights of our conversation…

[1] How do you explain the difference between customer service and customer experience?
KEVIN: Customer service refers to the interaction between customer and brand/associate. Customer experience accounts for all touchpoints that a customer experiences in interacting with a brand, including leading up to a purchase, the transaction itself, product use, and any service or post-purchase interactions. Much has been written about this over the past couple of years, as many people were interchanging these terms. They are distinctly different, in that customer service is one of the MANY elements of the entire customer experience.

[2] What are the three things that every employee should learn so that he/she provides a memorable and positive customer experience in the retail space?
KEVIN: Creating a positive memorable experience is part art and part science. While there are many skills necessary to do this correctly and consistently, I would narrow them down to the following:

Listening: It is imperative that associates listen to customers to truly understand their needs. Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult to satisfy those needs. This goes beyond keeping quiet while the customer is speaking. Active listening is a skill that includes confirming what has been said, asking additional questions to obtain more details when necessary, and ensuring the customer has completed his/her thought before moving on. Active listening will not only help the associate understand the customer's shopping mission, but also gain the customer’s trust early in the interaction, as the customer will appreciate that the associate is focused on the engagement. This rapport is necessary to drive the conversation and create a memorable experience.

Product Knowledge: Nearly every brand has a website (or many) dedicated to the product details for every SKU they carry, mostly accompanied by photos/videos of these products in action as well as customer reviews. Customers come to brick-and-mortar stores because they need more than what they can find online. Associates need to be well-versed in the products in their stores, having personally used them whenever possible. Once an associate understands a customer's needs via active listening, he/she will need to match those needs to the most appropriate product in the store. Without the knowledge of the store's inventory, including how items differ from each other, it will be difficult to match customers with appropriate solutions.

Suggestive Selling: Building the sale is a skill that is vital to retail, regardless of the channel a customer uses. When done well, it’s mutually beneficial. The transaction value grows, and the customer benefits from a more complete solution. While recommending the best solution, associates have many opportunities to increase the sale based on the addition of complimentary items, i.e., various accessories for a phone/camera (electronics), a belt to go with pants (apparel), low-salt Swiss cheese to go with store-baked turkey (deli), etc. The potential pairings are endless. These obvious and appropriate pairings are far different from offering every customer the random promotional/push item of the week. The conversion rate of suggestive selling greatly increases when the customer views it as a natural part of the conversation and in line with their needs (versus the associate attempting "to sell" something).

The goal of any retailer is to create a great experience today so customers come back the next time they have a need and, in the meantime, tell friends and family about their positive experience (which will drive even more traffic to the store). Consistently delivering an experience that incorporates all of the above is key to this cycle.

[3] When consumers think about customer experience marketing, they often think of a visit to a Disney theme park or a visit to their local Starbucks café. But how can other retail venues, such as, clothing stores, car dealerships, gas stations, etc., create similar experiences?
KEVIN: Both Disney and Starbucks have mastered incorporating emotion into the customer experience. Disney's messaging focuses on the magic and the lifetime memories they help create, almost always incorporating family into their imagery. Starbucks was at the forefront of the experiential economy, creating a "third place" that was neither home nor work, but a place to go to escape, if only for a short time. Both of these brands have positioned themselves as destinations by focusing on how the customer benefits by visiting them.

Other retailers can move in the same direction if they consistently deliver a unique brand experience. Defining the expected customer experience must begin with a brand promise: What can customers expect from your brand? It is critical for retailers to link the brand experience to the brand promise. Making promises you can’t deliver (or deliver consistently) is setting your business up for failure.

Apparel stores can focus on how customers feel when they wear the brand’s clothes, or convey the experiences customers should have in the brand’s clothes. Car dealerships can craft the customer experience based on their target market, i.e., sports cars, luxury cars, etc. and get customers thinking about the destinations they will reach and the memories they will make in the specific brand cars. While a stop at a gas station (typically a very transactional interaction) may never equate to a Disney visit, the intent would be to up-level the customer engagement in a manner that would promote repeat visits.

The in-store experience should then parallel and reaffirm emotions evoked through the brand promise. It all comes down to the associate, who personifies the brand. Remember, the staff (also known as Cast Members) at Disney theme parks plays a very large part in the magic felt in their parks.

[4] Bill Gates is quoted for saying that an upset customer is an opportunity to create a long-term customer. How do you interpret his quote in terms of the Microsoft brand?
KEVIN: Customer feedback is a gift. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of data points we collect through mystery shopping each year, ICC/Decision Services receives 3 million customer surveys annually from our clients' customers. Not all of this feedback is positive, nor would we want it to be. When a customer tells us about an experience that differs from his/her expectations or previous experiences, we have an opportunity to correct that experience for all the customers that follow. This feedback also allows our clients to make the situation right with the customer. It would be very easy for an unhappy customer to move on to the competition, never to return. Not only are we saving the lifetime value of the customer, but we’re also helping the client create a very positive experience from one that did not begin that way. This gives the customer a much better story to tell about the brand, encouraging more people to use the brand, shop at its stores, etc.

[5] I recently visited a well-known store in California and when I attempted to make a purchase, I was told, “Our computers are down. You’ll have to come back.” Well, my car was parked in a garage where the clock was ticking and charging by the minute. I did not want to come back to the store. I wondered why the clerk didn’t offer me a discount on a future purchase or even offer to order the item for me from the 800 number. Bottom line, I walked out disappointed with the belief that I would never buy from that store again. How would you have handled this situation?
KEVIN: There are so many options available to that associate, regardless of the systems issue at the time. My first recommendation for the associate would have been to order the item via a mobile device (while you were in the store) and have it shipped to arrive at your home the next day. While I’m certain that the associate must have felt helpless due to the systems issues, management must ensure that associates are aware of all the options available and BE EMPOWERED to make the decisions necessary to meet customer needs. Asking that customers "come back at a later time” is inviting them to shop the competition. The key is to find a way to capture the sale while the customer remains in the store not only eases the situation for the customer, but also protects the revenue for the business.

[6] What is your favorite customer service story?
KEVIN: My favorite personal customer service experience was with the kitchen staff at Disney World. My wife and I took our then 5-year-old son, Aidan, there a few years ago. It was my wife’s and son’s first visit. Like many great planners, I was on the Disney site making dinner reservations months in advance. During the reservation process, the Disney employee specifically asked for any special requests or food allergies. This alone gave me a great feeling of safety, as my son has an allergy to tree nuts. We carry an Epi-Pen at all times and are very careful with his meals.

When we arrived for dinner the first night, the chef came out to our table, greeted us, and introduced himself as the executive chef for the restaurant. He proceeded to walk us through the different food stations throughout the restaurant (it was a buffet style restaurant), pointing out the specific items we should avoid as well as those that were completely safe for Aidan to enjoy. The chef also described several of the food-prep processes the staff follows to avoid cross contamination in the kitchen. The restaurant experiences for the remainder of our trip closely followed this same depth of caring, which we completely appreciated.

We had an early dinner reservation toward the middle of our trip, followed by a dessert party at Tomorrowland Terrace, which provided an amazing view of the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle. The chef brought Aidan a plate of desserts he knew to be nut-free, showed him a binder that listed all the ingredients for each of the desserts, and asked if there was anything else he would like, offering to get it from the kitchen. Aidan asked for a brownie, which the chef hurried off to retrieve. He returned about 10 minutes later with a brownie wrapped in plastic. The chef apologized for the delay, saying he had to run across the park to get it from a different restaurant because his kitchen had run out of brownies. This was truly an above-and-beyond experience on top of very high standards set by the various on-site restaurants throughout the week. Not only did the employees go out of their way during each meal to let us know they were aware of Aidan’s allergy, but they treated Aidan like a king.

My sincere thanks to Kevin for sharing his customer experience marketing insights. What have you learned to improve your brand's customer experience?

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