In this day of cookie cutter uniformity, when it comes to garnering consumer loyalty, customer experience seems to be the buzzword. Yet, putting the customer at the centre of business and creating delightful experiences across the buying journey is not as simple as it sounds.
The Dawn of Customer Experience
In a time when retail is struggling to keep its head above the surface, every organisation and every CEO across board is turning their attention to Customer Experience. They are beginning to realise that it’s no longer about goods and services, or even pricing.
Customer expectations are also changing. They are becoming well-travelled and more informed and are dictating new standards of excellence. Best in class is not enough anymore. They want an experience that is unique, engaging and satisfying or else there is nothing to stop them from walking out or abandoning the cart.
Customer loyalty is directly proportionate to customer experience; always has been and always will be.
The Evolution of Retail
Then came the wave of liberalization, privatization and every other ‘ization’ one could think of. This ushered in sprawling new retail formats, modern techniques and more importantly, the power of choice. It created a new ‘I style’ of shopping. Needs were nudged out by desires. Novelty and excitement became the motivation even if shopping didn’t.
Bigger aisles and bigger product choice let customers browse at their own pace with attentive help at hand. The opportunity for impulse shopping, the heady combination of eat, shop, experience, and repeat provided utility and entertainment. The fun of shopping at malls was as exciting as high street shopping with each delivering their own recompenses. The new retail excitement was infectious and attracted swarms.
Then came online shopping – the romance of which was rekindled once cities becoming overcrowded, and reaching anywhere was a challenge. Not only did armchair shopping provide better deals, it gave greater choices.
Pick and Choose
To begin with, let us try to understand the true meaning of customer experience. What does it encompass – is it the sum of the parts or is it just parts? Is it a tangible service or a consumer emotion or an instinctive reaction? I understand that it would differ across different formats but at the end, what does it mean to a consumer? As a business, retailers understand that the definition is not a one-size-fits all across formats. An understanding of what comprises the components of great experience in this hyper-connected world would give them the edge they are looking for.
Change with Change
Rapidly changing technologies and evolving customer expectations are gradually diluting established concepts and definitions. Omnichannel is a buzzword in India and has been gaining momentum since early 2016. Before a retailer rushes to invest in this, it would be worthy to read what Alan Bunce, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Demandware has to say. In an article published online, he predicts, ‘Omnichannel’ will become an antiquated term.
He further states that “Omnichannel will be replaced by a more apt term like Unified Commerce, which refers to a single commerce platform that gives retailers a unified view of customers, inventory, etc., across all channels”.
A possibility that is not inconceivable even in the Indian scenario. With the Modi Government pushing aggressively for digitization, in-store payment methods will have to evolve dramatically. We cannot continue working with 20 year old tech and yet expect to make the experience inviting and exciting for a tech-savvy generation who was not even born when those systems were developed. One of the key challenges in delivering a consistent, high quality and profitable customer experience model is the ever-evolving technology and its role in shaping customer experiences and expectations – the pace of change can dilute or dampen efficacy of existing processes and tools.
Customer Experience means consistently meeting or exceeding customer expectations and staying consumed with creation of delightful experiences throughout the customer lifecycle. This is possible only when we put ‘customer’ at the centre of our businesses and create an enabling organisational eco-system of products, services and experiential interfaces with the sole objective of delighting our customers through a profitable business model. Its purview is not limited to just addressing the visible needs and expectations, but also meeting any latent or passive needs, and proactively anticipating any new behaviour shaping possibilities.
How are retailers today looking at the entire customer experience management?
Traditionally, at Images Retail, we have been speaking with retailers to uncover what their challenges have been, how they find solutions, the consumer trends that they have been tracking and the initiatives they have actioned in order to stay dynamic and relevant to the faster than ever changing consumer.
A lot of companies, despite their best efforts, seem to fail in delivering a compelling customer experience. When we spoke to some retailers, their belief was that companies often ignore the bigger picture parts individually in light of contributing to the big picture, and focus on small individual independent initiatives which fail to deliver on overall value. So, are the parts unimportant?
The parts come together to make the bigger picture. We believe that only when you analyse and understand the will your experience become more robust, more compelling and lend itself to a different kind of ‘experience storytelling’.