Recent research from Kurt Salmon shows that consumers believe they share similar personalities with their favorite stores and are more likely to get excited when they think about shopping at stores they love. Amy Klaris, a retail strategist with consulting firm Kurt Salmon, says retailers on the forefront of this approach are already experiencing superior results. Want some tips on creating powerful emotional ties with your customers? Read on for more insights from Klaris on brand differentiation, what multichannel means to the consumer experience, and tips for developing a successful strategy.
Over the past few decades, the traditional balance of power has shifted from retailer to consumer. Today, a shopper can find essentially the same product in many different retail outlets. She can quickly find out where she can buy the product and where she can get the best price. She can have that product brought to her and taken away if it doesn’t work. Then she can easily tell all her friends about the great deal she found and the great experience she had.
In this environment, retailers must find new ways to differentiate themselves beyond the products they offer. One way to accomplish this is to create an emotional connection with customers through experiences across all channels. This component addresses what brand messages a retailer will deliver to target customers and how and where retailers will interact with their customers.
How can a retailer go about developing a customer experience strategy?
A successful approach involves linking of three key elements of a retail strategy: value proposition, target customer and customer experience. The right products must be sold to the right customers in the right environment.
A customer experience strategy will define how the brand experience will be brought to life with consumers in a meaningful and authentic manner. The strategy will set clear rules and guidelines about how the brand will be presented throughout the consumer’s decision cycle and across different channels. It will also help ensure that consumers see a consistent brand message and presentation at all points of interaction.
Developing a customer experience strategy requires a deep and continual understanding of the target customer and her needs, attitudes, and behaviors. This connection is part of the imperative outlined in The New Rules of Retail. Coauthors Robin Lewis, publisher of The Robin Report, and Kurt Salmon’s Michael Dart assert that, going forward, retailers must create emotional ties to consumers, in addition to establishing preemptive distribution and controlling the supply chain.
How can a customer experience strategy effectively reach consumers during all types of interactions they have with a retailer?
Consumers’ involvement with a brand happens across a cycle of interactions, and different parts of a retailer’s organization will engage consumers at different times in this cycle. It is important that messaging be consistent with the retailer’s brand personality across these interactions.
The consumer engagement cycle starts in a pre-shopping consideration phase: What do I need and want? Where will I go to look for it? In this phase retailers are primarily interacting with consumers through marketing messages.
A customer then enters the store, website, or mobile application and begins browsing. The selling environment is the number one driver in the browsing phase whether it’s in store, online or mobile. To close the deal, a retailer needs to have the exact item (size, color, quantity) the consumer wants and they must efficiently check the customer out.
For the consumer, much of their experience with a retailer happens after the purchase. It’s important that what the company sells holds up to the brand promise it has communicated to consumers. Post-purchase engagement is another opportunity to further draw the customer into a connection with the retailer through relevant follow-ups.
How does multichannel relate to the customer experience?
It’s clear that consumers are interacting with retailers in many different ways across many different channels, and they expect integration across those channels.
In the context of customer experience, I believe retailers need to think about three types of channels: places for transactions, such as brick-and-mortar stores, online and mobile commerce; channels for marketing messages, including traditional and social media, email and the Internet; and indirect channels, such as word of mouth and public relations.
Consumers use each of these channels differently, and each presents different opportunities for retailers. For example, only in the store can a consumer touch and feel apparel; only through mobile media can retailers send a consumer customized information exactly when they are entering the store; and only through the website can a retailer effectively present the widest variety of products.
Retailers must determine which channels they will use to reach which consumers in which ways. Although each channel plays a different role for consumers and offers unique capabilities, it is very important that retailers present their brands and messages in a consistent manner across all of the points of interaction.
What are the benefits of a successful customer experience strategy?
Recent Kurt Salmon research shows that consumers believe they share similar personalities with their favorite stores; and consumers are more likely to get excited when they think about shopping at stores they love. Given net advocacy for loved retailers (64%) is nearly twice that of liked retailers (34%), the benefits of creating this connection are clear.
What are some of the challenges in executing an effective customer experience strategy?
Executing the customer experience strategy across all points of interaction and channels requires significant coordination across traditionally siloed organizations within an organization and with third-party partners. This coordination will require new ways of interacting and a customer champion to provide ownership across all organizations.
Delivering an effective customer experience places new requirements across the entire value chain, from concept to consumer. Product development, sourcing, logistics, merchandise planning and allocation, store operations, e-commerce, customer service, visual merchandising, marketing, IT and HR all have a part in executing a successful customer experience strategy.
The challenges inherent these actions are not insignificant, but they are surmountable. The retail landscape is changing constantly, so the most important thing is that these changes start now.