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Retail and the New Age of Customer Experience

Several months ago I needed support from a retailer with a recent purchase. The retailer had a 1-800 number, but when called I was told that number was not available from my calling area. When I called the toll long distance number, after going through a cumbersome IVR covering a wealth of services the retailer knew I had no interest in, I found the right pigeon hole, and was promptly told that support for this particular product was now only available through email. I went online to get to the retailers web site, and used the retailer’s form, having foughtt my way past more irrelevant advertising, to post a question. Success! I shortly received a thank you email indicating that my request had been received, and I would receive a response in 24 hours. Even greater success! I received a response in 4 hours. The response? “We are no longer accepting email requests for support; please use the 1-800 number.” While this is an amusing story, it is unfortunately too common.

Retailers, seek opportunities in an increasing myriad of ways – phone, online ordering, catalog sales, retail stores, Facebook, Twitter – to engage you in their services and products, but the end result often falls short. Having been involved with a large number of retailer customer engagement initiatives, the patterns of failure have repeated themselves. The following 5 steps are crucial to getting it right:

  1. Understand how your customer wants to be engaged. It’s not enough to know what you want to sell to your customer; you have to know how they want to interact. Don’t assume that one style fits all, but there will be definitely be defined groups.
  2. View each engagement regardless of media as a mechanism to build brand and customer experience. I was recently with a major retailer who has experienced a multi-year decline in customers and revenue. They had decided to remake their brand with “an exciting new and energized view of the stores.” I was asked to help them define how they should change their self-service capabilities as part of this initiative. In the early scoping of the work I asked them to tell me about the new view they had targeted. They didn’t know, but they wanted the self-service advice anyway.
  3. Recognize that you are one company. Whether a customer chooses to shop in a store, online or by phone, you are one and the same to them. Consistency of approach is essential across venue and media. All of them need a common communications architecture for managing their interaction with you. That architecture, must allow the customer to move from any area of your customer area to any other – no redialing other 1-800 numbers, no “they don’t have chat in that department,” no “I’m sorry, that service is now delivered through…”
  4. Start with the notion that social media, the Internet or the call center is a cost reduction technique, and you’ve chosen the wrong driver for developing “new customer interface” strategy. IVRs do cut costs of delivery, as do sales portals, but both can be very magnetic means of recognizing and engaging the customer. That magnetism is quickly lost when the focus is placed solely on minimizing investment and the lowest cost option for delivering service.
  5. Have a single area responsible for you customer engagement strategy across all media. Make this organization responsible for understanding the shifts and targets in point 1 above. And, be very clear that this is different that Marketing. This organization defines the archetypes that are used for engagement, regardless of venue.

What happens as a consequence? In an economic environment that has seen dramatic erosion in the retail space, if you walk around the shopping centers, there are a few retailers that always seem to have high traffic regardless of location. I go in these stores myself, not always to purchase, but because it’s a fun place to go, as are their websites and their contact centers. A former president of Avaya once said in the midst of the telecom meltdown a decade ago “cutting costs can only get a company so far. Sustainable profitability comes from developing new solutions and superior customer engagement.” Thinking about a consistent framework for social media, multimedia, and multi-venue customer engagement is an essential part of retails new age innovation. Thinking about how you engage the customer to buy your services is an essential, but all to often ignored, means to growth.

Craig Wilson is the former Managing Director of Strategic Communications Consulting within Avaya Professional Services. He is a published writer and a graduate of McMaster University in Ontario. more

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