Insight: Retail Customer Engagement 2019
As digital devices have proliferated in people’s lives the experience that retailers give to shoppers has to evolve into one that is much richer and which intelligently mixes the personal touch with technology solutions that clearly add value.
Speaking at the recent Retail Bulletin Customer Engagement Conference in London, Lee Woodard, former global chief experience officer at Crabtree & Evelyn (C&E), told delegates how C&E had opened a concept store in North London that has at its heart a new way of dealing with customers: “It is focused on interactions with customers and not on transactions.”
Different conversations with customers
He adds: “In the old stores it was very traditional metrics such as sales per square foot used. In Islington we hired none-retail people and increased the salaries and introduced five metrics that are higher [value] than money. People are incentivised in different ways. The store is flying as there is a different conversation with the customer.”
Woodard says the focus was placed on the square mile around the store and employees got to know the top customers. “Retailers should know who these people are without needing a loyalty programme. We do not use technology for this and we have not put any technology in the store,” he says, adding that the decision was made to switch off all the company’s loyalty programmes around the world as he did not believe they created any loyalty at all.
Certainly there are question marks about how retailers create loyalty today, according to Bryan Roberts, global insight director at TCC Global, who suggests companies need to think beyond the regular drivers of loyalty that have been concentrated on location, price, and the laziness/habits of shoppers.
Redefining drivers of loyalty
“The definition of loyalty has been blown out of the water. Retailers can’t do much about price, location and the habit of customers so what can they do?,” he asks, suggesting that instead they focus on looking at what customers care about and what are the things that would genuinely make them recommend a store.
“There is a renaissance in values, caring about the environment and suppliers, along with wellness. Since customers do not care about retailers the retailers need to demonstrate that they care more about the customers and the community,” says Roberts, who believes loyalty will be the outcome of taking such actions whereas to date loyalty has all too often been mistakenly seen as an objective.
Caring for customers
Meg Ellis, commercial & marketing director at Honest Burgers, says there is a great focus on the personal care of customers at its individual restaurants – and working with the community – and so rather than have a formal loyalty-type programme Honest Burgers “puts the focus on the people in the restaurants to create the loyalty.
However, she is aware of the difficulty of scaling communications across 33 restaurants and does acknowledges that beyond the teams in the outlets the company has to use email to deliver messaging to its database of customers. For the likes of Marks & Spencer the issue of communicating with customers is even more difficult to do personally – because of its enormous customer base and significantly larger product range.
Make employees’ lives easier
Jo Moran, head of customer service at Marks & Spencer, says that on the shop floor all employees are equipped with a digital device to help them to better service shoppers by having access to product information. “We want to slay the myth of them having to know [by memory] all about products. We’ve given them devices as we want to make things as simple as possible.”
This focus on preventing barriers to employees doing a good job has been uppermost in the strategy of Moran. Jo Causon, chief executive of The Institute of Customer Services (ICS), says this is vitally important because of the clear link between engaged employees and customer satisfaction, which ultimately leads to business success. ICS research shows that for every 1% increase in employee engagement there is a 0.41 increase in customer satisfaction levels.
For Carol Savage, customer & growth director at Look Fabulous Forever (LFF), the ability to engage employees and satisfy customers can be done on a rich one-to-one basis in physical stores but for online it is a much tougher challenge.
Challenge of giving real personal service online
Although LFF is an online business the strategy is to open pop-ups and physically take the products to the potential customers because this level of engagement is the proven route to acquiring new shoppers. “This gives us the ability to do tutorials and makeovers. People are happy to buy products online once they’ve tried them out and been shown how to use them,” she says, adding that the question is how you do this on a website versus doing it physically?
Savage cites the likes of DFS that are cleverly using artificial intelligence tools to enable shoppers to visualise items of furniture in their homes via their digital device. “How much of a face-to-face experience can you create online?” she asks.
Alexandra Simion, head of marketing at BrandAlley, is well aware of the problem and says it is even more of an issue when considering that 80% of the traffic to its website is from mobile phones: “One of the big challenges is to create an experience on mobile while not losing anything on a tiny screen. It is always about creating things to engage with customers on mobile.”
Social media as brand enhancer
Katie Gritt, social media, content & PR manager at The Entertainer, adds that the content delivered to consumers absolutely needs to add value to the conversation. This thinking is applied to the company’s approach to social media, which is used as a conversational tool rather than a sales device. “This would disengage people. It’s a two-way conversation and user generated content platform for greater engagement. Through this we can communicate our brand values,” she explains.
One of the value-added elements of The Entertainer’s social media activities has been the creation of ‘The Entertainer Squad’ that consists of a group of actors whose presence has been developed on social media whereby they now act as influencers for the brand. “This saves lots of money versus paying celebrity influencers,” says Gritt.
Taking back control of the experience
It also gives the company much more control over the content and the experience they ultimately give to customers. This is very much recognised by Jim Warren, director of marketing at Bloom & Wild, who says the company tries to take elements of its operations in-house in order that it can deliver the highest levels of customer service.
He cites the move to bring delivery in-house for the London region. Although Royal Mail could guarantee next-day delivery for 97% of orders the failure on 3% was problematic for flowers where there is a lot of emotion involved. “The expectation of customers is now so high – particularly with flowers. The product value is not high but it is emotive,” he says, adding that this has involved investing in a fleet of vans and cycles but the upside is the maintenance of the service levels customers demand today.
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