Why Retailers That Prioritize CX Over Customer Service Will Triumph
Omnichannel is dead. It’s no longer about the channel, it’s about the holistic customer experience. Customers are looking for personalized, seamless, meaningful interactions with retailers, and to engage with retailers when, where and how they want, regardless of channel or device. Retailers that get this are winning.
The retail landscape will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 25. Smart retailers recognize the difference between customer service and customer experience, and that a holistic and meaningful customer experience is key to survival. Many retailers start with the channel, or merchandise, approaching their business through an internal lens. If, instead, they walked outside of their store, turned and looked at it through the lens of their customers, they might more effectively solve their business needs. Create a truly customer-first customer experience that builds a meaningful bond with your customers, and your business will grow.
A frictionless customer experience, while table stakes to compete, isn't what creates differentiation, loyalty and engagement with a brand. As proven in C Space’s Customer, Experienced report, “Customers’ emotional experiences greatly influence their transactional behavior (e.g., how much and how often they spend).” Our five emotional cues of customer experience shown in that report are statistically linked to revenue growth. Emotional experiences that drive community and connection are those that will keep customers coming back.
Many retailers are hyperfocused on saving customers time, which inherently limits customers’ involvement and interaction with the brand. They miss the larger opportunity to create meaningful, enjoyable experiences that build a bond with their customers. Every interaction either increases or decreases their overall emotional standing with the brand. Successful retailers see each customer touchpoint as an opportunity to build on that emotional connection, delivering on customers’ emotional as well as functional needs.
M.M.LaFleur is an apparel brand that believes “when women succeed at work, the world is a better place.” That conviction is what drives the company forward on its mission to support women’s professional success by taking the hassle, guesswork and discomfort out of dressing for work. To achieve this, M.M.LaFleur relies not only on styling thoughtfully designed products, but on providing content and building a community around helping women. Jennifer Braunschweiger, M.M.LaFleur's vice president of brand marketing, describes this community as the “third pillar” of the company's business strategy. “The women who are our customers share an attitude about supporting other women in their professional advancement, and we have a lot of events and content that is meant to bring our women together," says Braunschweiger. "We see ourselves as superconnectors bringing our customers together in their shared mission.” Braunschweiger goes on to observe the emotional effect this role as "superconnector" has. “Customers come up to me and say, ‘I really love what you're doing’ … they feel great about being part of something.”
It’s not all about digital, however. We know the physical store is valued just as much by customers as the digital experience. For every U.S. retailer that closed stores in 2018, two opened stores for a net increase of 2,000 physical stores. By 2021, 81 percent of all retail sales will still involve the physical store. But it's not just the persistence of brick-and-mortar locations that's important to recognize, it's the fact that the store experience represents a greater opportunity for a differentiated customer experience, and therefore a greater opportunity to build an emotional connection with customers.
One company rethinking the physical space is STORY, which was acquired by Macy's in 2018. Located in a 2,000 square-foot space in Manhattan, STORY is a retail pop-up shop that completely reinvents itself every four weeks to eight weeks, from store design to merchandise, with the goal of bringing to light a new theme, trend or issue. The brand explains itself as having the point of view of a magazine, changing like a gallery, and selling things like a store. This concept is reinventing the role of the physical space by playing on the millennial fear of missing out (FOMO) and the idea of scarcity, while providing something new, fresh and exciting. Furthermore, STORY's organization around specific issues enables the brand to connect with customers on topics that are particularly meaningful to them, while also providing an educational avenue to learn about different topics. This creates a unique customer experience that fulfills customers’ emotional needs.
Retail isn’t dying; retail that prioritizes customer service over a meaningful customer experience is dying. Retail is ripe for innovation and reinvention, and must place the customer experience at the forefront of strategy. Retailers that want to remain a contender need to fill the empty seat at their table with the customer. Retailers that provide a holistic customer experience that fulfills customers’ functional, social and emotional needs will triumph.
Hannah Weber is associate director at C Space, a company that builds customers into how companies work, marrying art and science to create rapid customer insight and business change.
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