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“Write about customer experience” says my editor. “Great! I’ll start with my favourite ‘tribal’ brand, Air New Zealand. For the sake of this feature we’ll define customer experitence (CX) as the “interaction between a company or brand and the customer over the duration of their relationship”.
A quick search reveals my beloved Air NZ has an actual GM of Customer Experience. What better place to start? Eventually getting through to the Head Office 0800 number I ask to speak with the GM of Customer Experience.
An apologetic Call Centre person tells me he cannot connect me, supply any phone numbers, DDIs, team member contacts or emails. Nada.
I say: “Don’t you think that’s ironic when I have no way of communicating with the head of Customer Experience or any of their team?” All my call centre person can do is apologise again – “It’s corporate policy”.
I am however given the generic firstname.lastname@example.org email address. I sent an email over a week ago and still no reply.
I’m told this is an example of a brand’s failure to complete the “feedback loop”. My own customer experience has been deeply compromised and I am now a driver of “customer disloyalty”.
And I’m far from alone. Research reveals not only will a single negative service interaction result in customer disloyalty, but 81% of those customers, like me, will tell others and dissuade their friends.
From avoidance to advocate
Dr Mike Lee at Auckland University’s Business Faculty did his PhD in “Brand Avoidance”. He tells me: “What I find fascinating is when people have these terrible experiences. Where the customer experience goes wrong is that disconnect between customer expectations and the actual experience.
“An undelivered brand promise leads to brand avoidance. The missing link is the retailer on the shop floor [or in my case the flight cabin]. Stores need staff who are, if not passionate then at least engaged. We call it enabling promises.
“Internal marketing enables staff to deliver the promises that they’ve made to their customers. Employees are the touchpoint for the brand. I teach ‘personal selling’ – the triangle from the company to the customer – which is the delivery of those promises, from a glossy TV ad, to the employees, to the consumer.
“The key is making sure a company delivers a positive brand experience. Retail staff are key. The way I see things going, companies are going to use physical stores as a branding exercise. Make that in-store brand experience so good [that retail staff] become brand advocates.”
Morgan Seybert, VP, Sales Effectiveness at Nielsen Group said in a presentation to retailers in July: “The reality today is that 70% of consumers’ purchase decisions are still made in-store.” Yes, even in the digital world those interactions on the shop floor still count the most.
All of a sudden, channelling all those positive in-flight AirNZ experiences and checking my Airpoints balance, I’m feeling less inclined to switch airlines.
Let’s get physical – about touchpoints
Seeking further insights from informed commentators, I turn to Dean Poole, Creative Director of Alt Group and winner of the Designers Institute’s most prestigious award. Alt Group is also responsible for revitalising Fisher & Paykel’s brand and experiential touchpoints, by the way.
As such, Poole firmly believes that the biggest opportunity for innovation and industry change is in the physical retail space.
“Retail is so dynamic now that you have to serve up all the ways that will help consumers make an informed purchase. If the consumer needs to gain more information from online to inform their purchase in a physical space, then you need to give that to them in a way that is going to assist that sale.
“This is just my own view and it’s that the physical, digital and human experience have to be seamless. They aren’t on or off, they are not binary. It’s just a thread that needs to be followed. A lot of retailers at the moment are figuring out how they can work in these environments at the same time.
“Look at Apple, which is a good example of the customer experience. All the touch points are joined together. More of their sales are made up from big box retailers and so you’re bringing that experience with you.
“Look at Apple, which is a good example of the customer experience. All the touch points are joined together"
“I’ve just been into the new Apple store in San Francisco. It was amazing! It’s a very well- articulated story which is based on training. They’ve layered the store into two quite distinct zones.
“The first zone is about browsing. If you need to be informed you change zone. You go upstairs to the ‘Genius Grove’ and hang out at the Apple University or you speak with an Apple Genius because you need to know more. The store is laid out for those customer needs”
Dean Poole moreover talks of taking the “Apple experience” with him, even when I buy a Mac at JB Hi-Fi, Noel Leeming or Harvey Norman. “Price doesn’t enter my head,” he underlines.
Having been to five Apple stores in five different countries and always feeling like a welcomed member of the Apple community, I know what it’s like to bring that CX with me.
The human face of the IRD
Thinking of the worst possible CX scenario, we turn from the sublime to the bloody ridiculous – apparently you can even put a positive spin on death and taxes...
Via my first ever Google Hangout three-way video call, I talk with Freya Elliott, Team Leader of the Customer Experience Company (CEC) in Sydney.
Explaining how CEC helped redefine the IRD, she says: “It was a very compliance-related process when we began. Our project was to make that relationship more customer-focused and lift revenue.”
Team leaders became Change Champions for example. “There were tasks assigned and that feedback was used to put together a road show that went to all 11 IRD offices. Working with the Revenue Collections team we created a true culture transformation. In essence we moved customers from, ‘When can you pay?’ to ‘How can I help you achieve your goals?’
“Over 12 months, employee engagement went up, positive customer experience grew exponentially, outstanding returns dropped to the lowest level in a decade, old debt collection rose $62 million, overdue debt collections rose 22%, actively managed cases rose 900% and 67% of cases were closed within 3 months.”
The IRD’s new CX outlook has been going for two years and there will be no end to what is an ongoing process: “Goals are still set and more importantly results are monitored and can be adjusted so the model is adaptive,” says CEC’s Freya Elliott.
What goes around comes around
Feeling less self-conscious over our video interface (but still wishing I’d worn a trendier shirt) I turn to CEC’s Adam Smith. Speaking from Melbourne, he takes client Beaurepaires with its 300 stores Australia-wide as a good retail example of the power of CX.
“We found they were a grudge purchase,” he says. “Consumers say, ‘I don’t want to pay too much but I don’t want to scrimp on it. I’m relying on that trust on the floor to put the right tyres on’.”
Apart from price, there really wasn’t any differentiation between Beaurepaires and the others. So CEC’s task was to create that differentiation using customer experience. “Our first engagement was to understand what it was that drove customers from research to purchase and the follow up.
“The essential difference was consistency – having the tool kit to recognise the cultural and ethnic differences. An enthusiast will want to know all the technical details, whereas a young Muslim mother in a hijab just wants to know her family are safe. You’re going to have completely different conversations with different drivers.”
“All of our case studies have been around bringing people on a journey"
From Sydney Freya Elliott joins in: “In the IRD’s case it was understanding the behavioural drivers behind customers. In a retail environment it’s all around the behavioural persona and how to have a needs-based conversation. It’s about understanding what the customer needs and being able to have a conversation around those needs.
“All of our case studies have been around bringing people on a journey. Understanding customer needs and having educated staff who can take them on that journey. That leads to massive revenue uplifts. Taking clients to a more customer-centric model is keeping us very busy.”
Personalisation on a granular level
It’s all well and good giving customers the right experience in-person and in-store – but can you be customer-centric online?
“Yes!” says Nathalie Morris, MD of marketing automation company Ubiquity. “Essentially,” she tells me, “our part is how to engage with customers in that retail context. We can bring together data from different silos and speak with a single person in a very personal and relevant way. We use all that rich information to target specific groups. Depending on the model, we can personalise that instore interaction or enable a purchase online and we can target down to a granular level.
“Our clients have dash boards to read analytics at a glance. They can quickly test different offers and adjust them instantly in real time. Continuous improvement is an important part of our Engage model.”
With a growing client list that includes the BNZ, the AA, PlaceMakers and Vodafone, expect retailers to push offers you may find hard to resist.
Same shit different box
Juanita Neville-Te Rito, founder of The Retail Collective (and with direct experience of Noel Leeming as an employee!), is an irresistible force. What’s more, her company’s raison drêtre is to help Kiwi retailers turn shoppers into buyers.
However, she animatedly explains: “In most retail categories they’re all selling the same shit. So what’s going to make you buy? It’s what engages hearts and minds. It’s about aligning with a tribe you can trust. That gets down to a very personal level. It’s not instead of, it’s as well as. What are the action points on that customer journey to the point of executing the sale?
“Retailers need to understand ‘ownliness’. What’s the reason people come to you over everybody else? Service is key to why people come to you. What are you doing to deliver the best service?
“I’m a great fan of Pirch (www.pirch.com). The founders were so fed up with their own plumbing and appliance shopping experiences, they set out to deliver a concept they would love to shop themselves.
“Their physical stores have taken on a new and elevated role and they acknowledge that the journey is as important as the destination. It’s built around the mobile and digitally-connected consumer who may research online and then wander in the store to touch and feel the merchandise.”
Pirch’s concept of experiential showrooms goes to a whole new level, with toilets that flush, appliances that work and consumers able to sample all products just as you might use them in your own home.
Juanita Neville-Te Rito says consumers may want to just purchase online or they may want to touch and feel, have an in-store experience. They may want both. Either way, she says, “I want the choice! Retailers need to think omni-channel and seamless in their execution.”
Why? Because “reverse showrooming” or “webrooming” is growing, she says, and delights in telling us that showrooming has declined since 2013, dropping nearly 20% on smartphones and nearly 10% on tablets.
Instead, she adds, the reverse is happening: “Webrooming is where online research drives in-store purchase for nearly one in four smartphone and tablet shoppers.”
We’ll leave the last words to Alt Group’s Dean Poole: “Retail will never die!” he states. “That’s why we have a village green and market places where people come together.”
Physical retail spaces may change and there will be other ways of buying, but, he believes: “Most people will always be happy to purchase in a social way, in a physical space.”
Who’s delivering on their CX promises?
We asked our customer experience experts to name their favourite brands and why:
Juanita Neville-Te Rito of The Retail Collective recommends:
Lululemon (www.lululemon.co.nz) – “Lululemon delivers the promise. It’s quality active-wear and a community in a store. The notice board tells you where to find local yoga studios, natural health practitioners and running clubs. There’s a free yoga class instore and helpful workshops. It really is tribal”.
Sterlingwomen (https://stirlingwomen.co.nz) – “Sterlingwomen have curated the range in a way that they have the best of the best. It’s leading edge fashion. They have two physical stores, still the same Adidas I can get anywhere and I pay full price every time. They’ve found the sweet spot.”
Stylerunner (www.stylerunner.com) – “Australian company Stylerunner does it on a bigger scale. Again it’s all around the consistency, owning the space and doing it better. They’re not discounting.
Sephora (www.sephora.com) – “Sephora is a big box retailer I love. I’ve been to their new cosmetics and fragrance flagship ‘phyigital’ store in San Francisco. Not only can you continue to touch, feel and smell but you’re empowered to create your best look. It’s genuine personalisation, the art of transactional storytelling.”
Dean Poole of Alt Group recommends:
Aesop (www.aesop.com) – “Aesop is a good example of customer experience. An Australian brand that sells hand soaps, they use architecture to set up a staging environment for the brand. They employ local architects so each store is different, but their principals are constant. No matter if you’re in Tokyo or Paris or a Westfield in Melbourne.
“I think the staff are trained incredibly well. When you walk into that space you’re given a blended cup of tea and you’re made to feel welcome and appreciated. It’s a homely environment where you can make a series of informed decisions and you end up purchasing this really expensive soap. You’ll find that Australian company is selling a really articulated brand narrative to their global customers.”