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Article
It's Forty Six Shopping Days to Christmas

The Customer Experience.


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Exceptional Customer Experience is critical to increase sales and profits. There is more to winning the customer than the product. In fact, it is more about empathy with the customer. Empathy? Encarta defines empathy as, “The ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties,” or “Attribution of feeling to an object—the transfer of somebody's own feelings and emotions to an object such as a painting”. . . Or a product? Or an environment?

I recently had two outstanding customer experiences worth sharing:

  1. The bank. Yes, the bank! The Vice President, Greg De Lorenzo, of my local Wachovia branch, gave me one of those incredibly enjoyable experiences. Oh, yes, we were dealing with the droll, detailed and tedious work of accounts and paperwork. But the graciousness and care that I experienced in this encounter were astounding. And it was not just Greg, but the whole team in the bank that demonstrated that exceptional respect for me and my very senior parent. I was quiet curious as to why they were so nice to us.

As it turns out, the company has tried to embed improved customer experience across the company, from hiring policies to assuring that things are happening out in the branches. They told me that they also are rated by an independent rating agency on their customer experience metrics.

When you think about industries that have lost trust, product differentiation, and brand attraction, you think of: airlines, public services (waiting rooms for services like motor vehicle registry, social security and IRS offices), phone carriers, and banks. But it does not have to be that way. It appears that you can tackle the problem and make a real difference through customer empathy and creating a warm and enjoyable experience. At the bank, of all places!

  1. The second experience demonstrated a true understanding of the demographic service: Nordstrom’s teen department. Not just teen fast fashion, but dozens of items that are priced with price points that teens can afford to buy and also maintain the Nordstrom brand image. But what was the tour-de-force was the experience. No, it was not the rock music, but… the dressing room!

  Check it out!

Rather than a stark and cramped booth, it was a spacious, bright, and comfortable place to hang out with your chick flock and try on stuff. It makes you want to be there.

Even when customers signal their desires clearly, businesses are generally not good at reading them. Customers communicate what they want in emotional terms, and companies need to translate this information into practical choices.

Time to think about a framework

Practical choices lead us to think about the framework. The Customer Experience has to be deeply embedded in the whole organizational process, not just in emotional touch points.

 
Figure 1: Customer Centricity Framework

Think about creating products and services as a kind of partnership, one that requires both providers and consumers to communicate with clarity. As the consumer market becomes more global and more fragmented, companies can gain tremendous advantage from learning to balance the demands for achieving deep customer intimacy against the demands for responding to global trends and opportunities. So you need to think about the how, and the costs of doing so. As Three Dog Night said, not “everybody can get what they want,” or was that the Stones?
 
The customer interaction points clearly to creating an opportunity of engaging customers and learning about them, but these needs have to be translated and propagated across the Supply Chain. You can’t promise and then not deliver. So process, a framework that engages the organization, needs to be designed and implemented.

A while back I did a Customer Experience workshop, part of an event for Accenture customers. My co-star (actually I was more the warm-up act) at this event was Keith Ferrazzi of Never Eat Alone, a maestro of relationships.

“The more intimate a company1 is with its customers,” Ferrazzi says, “the more it understands what customers really need—which may be different from what they’re asking for.”

So survey data is not everything. In addition, companies need to train their people to have conversations with their customers, and ‘hear’ more than their words. “My commitment must be to their needs.” says Ferrazzi.  “As I gain their trust, they’ll give me more permission to take those risks with them.”

Beyond listening to the customer, the company also needs to listen to their front line workers on decisions about how the local environment might be run. The front line needs the freedom to make some decisions based on their assessment of the needs of their customers in the moment—the taking of some risk vs. policy—and a follow-up evaluation of whether this action works, and is transportable across the company. They may be one-time wins, or the next MO of the company.

The key is a framework with room for innovation. Customers sense ‘genuine’ and they want excellence in execution. So your challenge is building a reliability framework that also allows genuineness, innovation and empathy.

With quarterly earnings coming in for Starbucks’ best quarter ever, and other retailers that are really honing their customers’ experience strategies, having great quarter-ends now, you can’t argue with success! Maybe I’ll give some retail stocks as stocking stuffers, this year!

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1 Underline is ours—a company—the whole company, not just a few stellar sales people.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.




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