How to be truly customer centric

With online retail growing by over 30% in the US over Christmas 2016 and key players such as Amazon continuing to innovate to capture greater market share, it’s important that we look abroad to see how the most trusted brands are continuing to delight their customers.

Operating in a highly connected digital world, it is all about the empowered consumer who has access to infinite amounts of information. The challenge for retailers is creating memorable experiences that customers love and will advocate for. It’s about anticipating what customers want, even before they even know it.

So where do you start?

Talk to your teams

It starts with your frontline teams – those who know your customers – they need to believe that you’re serious about putting the customer first. In my experience if an issue is a pain point for your staff, it is inevitably a pain point for your customers.

Ask your frontline teams two simple questions – what changes could we implement to make life simpler for our customers? What changes could we implement to make it simpler for you to deliver a great customer experience?

Make a long list of the ideas and prioritise them for action. Make sure you also communicate back to your people about what you’re doing and where possible empower teams to solve problems at a local level.

To truly build a customer centric culture your people need to see that you’re serious about putting the customer first.

After all, the most valuable commodity in the 21st Century is not technology, it’s ideas and your people are one of the greatest sources of ideas.

Get to know your customers

The challenge for retailers is to go from an unknown to a known relationship with customers so that you can offer greater personalisation of experiences to meet their needs. I firmly believe that if a customer sees value in what you are offering they inevitably will be willing to provide you with further information.

Data and insights is key – no longer can we take a one size fits all approach to retailing. For bricks and mortar retailing in particular you need to understand the demographics and needs of the customer base and tailor the format specifically.

A great example showcased at Retail’s Big Show was Lowes, a large home improvement and hardware retailer with over 1800 stores across the US and how it adapted its store format for a Manhattan demographic. With no large car parks for people to drive up and collect goods and most residents living in apartments they completely changed their approach to store design and functionality.

They looked at all elements of their offering – from the types of products people could purchase in-store to how they could make available their full product range of large items such as fridges via digital screens or as they call it “the other aisle over” where customers can order on the spot and have it delivered. It is a great example of being really clear on what people need to be able to access physically in the store and in this case what they can reasonably carry home without a car, and when they actually need it.

Be agile – involve your customers early to help test new ideas

Gone are the days where you can take a year to test and trial a new concept, then refine it until its perfect and scale it across a large retail network.

Agile, most known for its use in IT development now needs to be part of the way we think about retailing. It’s about the experiences we create and how we can make them more nimble, more adaptable and more responsive.

The need for agile is being driven by the shift in customer behaviour or as it has been referred to as living life in mobile time – akin to dog years – things are moving quickly. Customers may be physically in your store but using their phone to look up information on other websites.

We need to be willing to innovate in a very public way and involve our customers. Target in the US with their Open House – a dedicated retail space designed to test new initiatives and iterate based on responses from visitors – is a great example of this. Pop Ups are another great way to test an idea quickly with customers and seek on the spot feedback. As retailers we need to launch an idea, test and trial it quickly with the customer, make improvements or shelve it. Some ideas will work but a lot of them won’t. To remain relevant innovation must be at the heart of the way we operate.

It’s all about channel of choice for customers

This seems like an obvious assumption but it’s essential to remember that it’s not about physical versus digital it’s about channel of choice for customers – both physical AND digital. As retailers we need to have clear strategies for how the digital and physical customer experiences seamlessly come together.

As it was eloquently summed up on the panel at the Trans Tasman Business Circle Retail’s Big Show in New York– “customers need humans when they need advice, technology when they don’t!”

To understand what people really want from digital services and what we can learn from global best practice, read our insights paper, Choice and convenience drive ‘digital first’ success.

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