By Gary Topiol, Empathica
It is an obvious fact that knowing your customers well is essential for any retailer to succeed. Whilst in the past gaining deep insight and establishing close customer relationships might have proven challenging due to large numbers of stores and customer types, technological advances in the last decade have made it far easier for retailers to listen to their customers and incorporate their feedback into improving the customer experience.
The social media phenomenon has dramatically influenced the relationship brands have with their customers. People have always trusted recommendations from their friends far more than those they receive from third-party sources, and in today’s ‘constantly connected’ world these recommendations are shared with potentially thousands of people and in real time.
As a consequence, meeting, or better yet - exceeding customer expectations by ensuring consistency between the brand promise and operational delivery, is even more important given the influence a single recommendation or a negative review can have when voiced through social media channels. The experience is now the message.
To compete successfully and engender the highest possible customer loyalty, retailers have to listen to their customers every day, in every location and constantly improve in the areas that are most important to them. Having a closed loop feedback process enables brands to rescue dissatisfied customers before they become brand detractors, and studies have shown that dissatisfied customers that have had their concerns addressed satisfactorily can become more loyal than those that did not have a problem in the first place.
Retailers are increasingly using Customer Experience Management (CEM) programmes to help them ensure that the voice of the customer is heard, and acted upon. Not only do they afford businesses the opportunity to capture information about customer experiences, but also the chance to transform these insights into actionable information for use in improving operations across locations. The value proposition and brand experience is different for each retailer and each will have loyalty drivers specific to their business, so it’s important to map the key elements that constitute a ‘perfect experience’ with the brand. This allows retailers to prioritise operational fixes on those service elements that will have the highest impact on driving customer loyalty.
It is important to carefully select which feedback channels (e.g. web, smartphone, telephone, etc.) and methods of invitation (e.g. printed cards, QR codes, in-store collateral, etc.) most appeal to your customer base. Printing invitations to online surveys on till receipts has proven to be successful at retailers including Boots and Debenhams – especially when incentives are offered and staff actively encourage customers to take part. Such surveys typically probe consumers on topics such as value for money, quality of service, product range, or any other topic that the retailer wishes to investigate. ‘Intelligent’ surveys are valuable, as they can gauge when a customer is responding to questions negatively and provide them with the option of being contacted by the store manager to resolve the dispute.
It is also crucial that relevant, actionable reports are made available to operational staff at various levels within the business, so that they are made aware of the corrective action that needs to take place. Addressing these aspects of the customer experience (which are often to do with issues including staff courtesy, product knowledge, queuing times or store appearance), directly impacts the brand’s bottom line.
Boots, for example, recently claimed that it can correlate a 5% improvement in customer care measurements to 1.5% increase in like-for-like sales. The evidence from hundreds of retailers consistently shows that highly satisfied customers tend to visit the company’s locations more frequently, spend more per visit, and recommend the brand to friends.
Some brands are closing the gap between intention and action by prompting customers who have indicated a high ‘intent to recommend’ to share their experiences via social media websites, meaning that retailers can truly foster customer advocacy and help to spread the positive word-of-mouth.
The real benefit of CEM is in driving behavioural change among staff to consistently delight customers across all of a retailer’s locations, every day. Data from CEM programmes can be used by brands to evaluate how and why the top performing locations are so successful, and disseminate that to underperforming stores. CEM programmes can utilise the power of statistical analysis to provide managers with a clear strategy to help them deliver on their brand level goals.
In these tough economic times, as customers look even harder for value, this is precisely the time when retailers need an increased focus on the customer experience in order to succeed. CEM provides the necessary business insights to deliver operational improvements based on the most important voice in the organisation: the customer.
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