Care, empathy key to customer happiness
Retailers and brands need to relate with customers in a much more meaningful way
Today's customers demand a lot more from retailers, and with the challenges of a fast-evolving market, retailers and brands need to relate with customers in a much more meaningful way to leave a genuine impact.
The explosive growth of e-commerce has led to changing customer habits. People today use the Web not only for purchases, but also to research about products. As the ease and ubiquity of digital channels has seen their popularity soar, what is much less appreciated is the relevance of traditional stores. People still want to interact with people, to view, touch and compare products before making a purchase. The brick-and-mortar store of today is a theatre - a place to engage with your audience authentically. Most retailers do not place their emphasis here.
Today's clients are often more informed about a product than the store employees; the challenge then is to give them something more than what they already know. This places a high demand on managers and employees, who should move from a culture of transaction to one of interaction and relationship. The overemphasis on 'sale' (often driven by draconian and outdated sales "targets") must be supplemented by trained and designed customer experience. Being able to connect and bond with the customer in a meaningful way builds confidence, a connection and drives a higher chance of purchase.
A great employee experience
The key to happy customers is the realisation that a great customer experience starts with a great employee experience. If we want our employees to connect more, we need to inspire and manage them differently. The 2017 State of the American Workplace report by Gallup showed that a mere 33 per cent of employees are engaged at work, and even the world's best organisations reached only 70 per cent. Recognising and rewarding employees who connect with people is essential to drive customer happiness.
In addition, for employee behaviour to change, we need a new retail management mindset in driving customer happiness. We want to shift from transaction to relationship, yet most measures are purely transactional and sales-focused. Instead, these measures must also include an employee's efforts to empathise and create lasting customer relationships. Individual performance is largely measured, yet team performance is what the customer is evaluating. With current conversion rates hovering around seven to 10 per cent in high-end retail stores, we are leaving almost 90 to 93 per cent of the potential customer interaction unaddressed. Here is the true opportunity. We need to look beyond the individual transaction and into how to create engaged and positive in-store customer experiences that makes them return.
Adapting to market dynamics
To succeed in the marketplace, brands need to challenge the way they do business. Customer experience is no longer benchmarked within specific sectors; instead, good experience is compared across industries. The ease of shopping at a store is evaluated against the ease of booking a cab or buying an airline ticket.
Happy customers are those who can engage and relate in meaningful ways with the brand and its employees, where doing business is easy, effortless and pleasurable. The challenge is how to activate the management mindset to drive this necessary change.
Customer happiness goes well beyond satisfaction and requires an integrated approach across all channels. This includes digital channels, strategy, marketing, human resource management, stock control, billing and security. Technology provides great data and customer insights. So little is being used. High-end technical solutions coupled with a people driven "high-touch" deployment and even greater personalisation will set a small group of retailers apart from the competition. The challenge is to align the entire ecosystem to drive customer experiences that they love and come back for.
We also have to change the role of the store manager in the traditional sense. Companies need to liberate managers to manage the overall experience. As technological support allows them to be less administrative, managers must be more hands-on to guide and inspire teams to engage and bond more, and increase interactions with customers. Our customers should feel excited to come back to the store, even if it is only to enquire about a product or have a conversation.
The writer is a customer experience transformist, advisor and coach. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.
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