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Guest Blogger

By Damian Miller, MD Retail, Maru/edr

The future looks gloomy for UK retailers. A squeeze on consumer spending caused by rising prices and a lack of confidence in the UK economy has seen retail sales decline in recently months – a trend that looks to continue well into 2018.

A recent survey, conducted by Maru/edr, found that 48% of British consumers plan to cut back on their normal spending habits in the next six months, with non-essential items – such as clothing, electrical goods and leisure pursuits – seeing the biggest potential decline.

With less money around, retail competition looks to only get fiercer both online and offline. In order to compete, UK retailers must re-visit their short and long-term service strategies and experience promises if they wish to differentiate on more than price. Yet, while almost all retailers are talking about delivering a better customer experience, many are struggling to understand what this really entails in today’s consumer environment.

Here are the top three things we believe every winning customer experience strategy needs to be built upon:

  1. Empower your boardroom, and your frontline employees:

It has been well-documented that for retailers to successfully roll out a winning customer experience strategy, a big culture change is needed. There is a big need for retailers to establish and maintain a customer-centric culture throughout the whole organisation. Although, a change of this magnitude must be empowered all the way through the organisation, with leaders encouraging their staff to take control of the customer experience. Only with the appropriate weight behind it at every level will a retailer’s customer experience strategy transfer from boardroom to operations.

To do this, senior stakeholders need to not only buy into the customer experience strategy, but get involved with it too. To ensure that their customer experience strategies are being given the voice they need within the board room, many retailers are investing in Chief Customer Experience Officers or Customer Information Officers.

But don’t forget everyone else. If you don’t bring your frontline employees with you, it’s just not going to happen. Create a two-way conversation and find out what employees are seeing with regards to customer wants and needs. Some retailers have hundreds or thousands of outlets across the country, and it is only by empowering the frontline that these retailers have been able to communicate their customer experience strategies consistently across the business.

  1. You are being measured against other experiences, not just your competitors

Companies must understand that their customers, aren’t just their customers.

Consumers now browse, research, buy and have experiences everywhere – and not in the ways that retailers necessarily anticipate. According to Google, 91% of smartphone users search for information on their devices while in the middle of a task, and 82% consult their phones whilst standing in a store making a decision on which product to buy.

With this in mind, retailers must understand that the customer experiences they deliver are no longer just being benchmarked against their specific competitors, but also against many other companies their consumers encounter. This includes, fairly or not, digital gorillas like Google, Netflix, Uber and Amazon.

Retailers must understand how their customers have changed in the way they shop and especially in what they expect, and build their customer experience strategies appropriately. This doesn’t just mean focusing on browser and mobile experience, but also contact centres and even through AI and chatbots that can provide customers with quick responses and a level of service that feels personal and meets their needs.

  1. Be realistic about timeframes and ROI

Customer data can now provide insights in real-time, helping retailers to know what a customer is thinking, feeling and doing in any given moment. Here the idea is that the retailer acts on these insights immediately, in the hope that it’ll encourage a customer to purchase a product or service.

Unfortunately, the reality is that while this way of working may be easy for the likes of Amazon or Missguided, many retailers can’t move that fast. Instead, setting a realistic timeframe for building a better customer experience will help to avoid the inevitable trough of disillusionment, and help to keep improvements consistent.

The idea that investing in improving customer experience will deliver quick ROI is often a huge leap of faith for many businesses. Without the measurement of ROI, many customer experience strategies lose traction and are considered a “fad” in the boardroom, rather than something that can transform a business.

However, to measure ROI appropriately, the right metrics and expected outcomes must be focused upon. For example, retailers may want to reduce the number of complaints they receive as this will lead to a service and satisfaction improvement and also a tangible saving on the money spent addressing these complaints.

A move away from thinking of ROI so blandly as “will it make the money back?” to a realisation that happy customers lead to referrals. An appreciation of the holistic effect of customer experience brings greater willingness to invest in and continually value a strong customer experience programme.

Conclusion

While the next few months may prove troublesome for UK retailers, focusing on experience over price may help to alleviate some of the pressure on profitability. Truly understanding customer wants and needs will help retailers to better deliver on expectations. Couple this with company-wide support and an appropriate view of ROI, and marketing professionals may find themselves with a successful customer experience strategy that’s right for both the customer and the business.

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