We may live in a divided social landscape, but we are all united by the simple fact that each one of us has been a customer. Most Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. Chances are, you’ve been a consumer since you were a toddler.
Many of us have warm and satisfying memories of saving up to buy our first car or our first piece of jewelry. We remember rewarding ourselves for getting promoted with an expensive pair of shoes or a fancy dinner. These memories become an important part of our nostalgia and possessions often grow more in sentimental value than in monetary worth.
This is why creating a retail environment with a memorable customer experience should be one of your top priorities. Your customers are the backbone of your business and you need to create a unique experience for each of them. Cultivating special relationships with your clientele creates loyalty, which is the key to long-term success for your entire company. Think of your customers as a relationship you’re willing to fight to maintain. As the saying goes, “we can’t choose our family”—and we certainly cannot choose our customers. This is what makes customer satisfaction challenging, but the return you get from loyal customers is worth the effort.
How you manage your customers’ experience depends on your business goals and the specific type of goods you sell and create. However, there are some basic steps you can follow to improve your customer experience strategy.
The Difference Between Customer Service & Customer Experience
Customer service is the help or advice an employee provides either in-store or online to a customer. And it’s vital to your brand. 75% of customers who typically do not return are unsatisfied with the service they received. However, while customer service may only fall to those interacting with customers on a daily basis, customer experience is a part of everyone’s job.
Customer experience is the total journey your customer takes as they interact with your brand psychologically, socially, and emotionally. It’s a long-term investment in a lifetime relationship with your customer base. Your customer experience strategy should be at the heart of everything your brand does with the aim to reach every customer. Your goal should be to create a certain experience the moment customers first learn about your brand. You need to keep elevating that experience as potential customers research, purchase, and use your products. Customer experience matters. This is why companies are spending more time implementing programs to build a customer journey that creates memorable experiences—their goal being to outperform the competition.
How Brick & Mortar Stores Can Leverage Customer Experience
Online shopping is convenient, but many people still like the personal and experiential feel of being in-store. 71% of shoppers compare the best prices online while shopping in a retail store. The incentive for brick and mortar stores to compete with ecommerce is a necessary high stakes game.
You need to bring people in-store to shop. So if you operate a retail store, think about the personal touches shoppers can’t get online. For example, a clothing retailer could set up a style profile on their website where people customize different looks from head-to-toe before a meeting with an in-store stylist. Or you could create online coupons to be redeemed in-store and host events that offer more than just shopping. A fitness brand could host a workout with an athlete influencer and offer exciting giveaways and photo ops.
No matter what, your store should be the headquarters for your community and a place where people feel happy. When someone exits your store, they should feel like they gained more than a purchase. Make sure you take advantage of user generated content (UGC), where customers post on social media about your products, experiences to promote your brand. UGC campaigns can be creative and fun to execute and are a great way to showcase the experience you provide. View UGC as a valuable opportunity to engage with your customer to maintain their experience.
Ways to Improve Your Customers’ Experience Online & In-Store
Most relationships are 50/50 in terms of what both parties need to give and receive. However, when it comes down to delivering a great customer experience, the retailer is going to have to do most of the work. Remember that repeatedly making customers happy will help you earn their loyalty.
Here are the top strategies you should pursue to improve your customers’ experience:
1. Maximize the benefits of customer feedback.
Accepting feedback is critical to building customer loyalty. Part of being a dynamic partner is opening your ears and removing your own needs from the situation. Focus on what your customers are communicating and you will be better able to get inside their heads. A new customer may ask you several questions if they’re interested in your goods or services. They’ll also have questions if they’re indecisive. Whether this communication happens through social media, your app, website, or in-person with your sales associates, make sure that your brand works to be patient in guiding them through personal, customized experiences. Once you understand your customers’ expectations and behavior, you can better serve their needs.
Knowledge is power, and having a grasp on the different perspectives of your audience will help you develop your business. You may choose to tweak the types of goods you sell or switch up the layout of your store. It can also inform how you target your marketing campaigns. Making the customer feel catered to is important. The more you interact with your customers, the better you become at collecting data on who they are and what they need.
And don’t forget to monitor your online reviews and have a dedicated social media strategy. With social media, the voice of the customer echos the loudest. A Harvard Business Review study found that replying to customers’ reviews—good or bad—generally resulted in better ratings overall. So make sure you thank your customers who took the time to write about how happy they are and respond publicly to unsatisfied customers. Ask them to contact you directly so you can work something out. People reading the reviews will see that you are making a strong effort when it comes to providing a better experience and will appreciate that. A customer-centric company gets noticed.
2. Know when to compromise.
No one wants to meet someone halfway when they’re facing opposition that feels unfair. But it’s critical when it comes to creating a better customer experience.
At some point, you’re going to have an unsatisfied customer. Sometimes customers will test your patience. Prove to them you’re strong enough to breathe and smile through the discussion. If they get heated, you need to provide the cooling effect. Most of the time, someone who is upset just needs to feel validated and heard. They want to know you’re willing to work with them. Have boundaries and stick by your store policies, but also do your best to understand their point of view. That’s where the compromise arrives. Sometimes accepting a return that was marked “final sale” or giving someone a steep discount can cement a good rapport.
Compromising kicks off long-term appreciation and trust. Delivering on a difficult situation can actually create goodwill. Plus, trust opens the door for you to ask something of your customer. Don’t be shy when asking them to share a great experience with your brand. Good reviews help generate positive word-of-mouth and bring new people to your store.
3. Build trust between your brand and your customers.
Building trust between you and your customers is key to achieving your customer experience goals. You should think of yourself as your own Chief Customer Officer by setting a strict tone and standards for how each member of your team communicates with the public. Train them to be consistent and transparent, offer great service, and know your products inside out. Your employees are your brand representatives and each one of them contributes to building customer trust. If everyone in your store is pumped about what they’re selling, your customers will feel great about purchasing your items.
For example, if you went to a restaurant and had a food allergy, you’d want to have full confidence in the server taking your order. You’d want to know that they knew all the ingredients in a specific dish and whether or not they had tasted the menu. We understand picking out the right set of spoons is not a life or death situation; however, the items people purchase and bring into their homes are hugely symbolic of their tastes, comforts, and lifestyle preferences. It’s important for your brand to communicate how and where something was made. It walks the customer through a special journey of how the materials were sourced. No one wants to buy from a person they know doesn’t use the very things they’re trying to sell to you. If you’re employees are passionate and honest experts, your brand will shine.
How Top Brands Create a Superior Customer Experience
Now that you have a solid foundation for how you should approach your brand’s relationship with your customers, let’s take a look at some of the role models that taught us how to provide better service.
Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, made headlines for being committed to delivering superior customer service. The formula that Zappos uses is often referred to as the ‘Delivering Happiness’ method. Some of what Hsieh defines as ‘delivering happiness’ includes: making company culture a number one priority and applying research on the science of happiness to running a business.
Zappos also invested in customer experience instead of marketing campaigns. They listened to their buyers’ actions and needs. By tracking consumer behavior, they quickly discovered their keys to customer retention were: one, stocking a vast selection that appeals to a wide range of people; and two, an easy-to-navigate website and a hassle-free return policy. Not every small business has the luxury of offering an expansive selection, but you can apply Zappos’ values to your own business. Know your clients’ needs and deliver answers to those needs efficiently.
It’s also important to note that despite being an online retailer, Zappos never lost sight of the human touch. Make an effort to monitor all your social media channels and engage with each person who reaches out or talks about your brand. When people are unhappy, offer to call them to make good on your promise to deliver a stellar experience. Extend hours and keep your business line open to receive questions and problem-solve. The more you grow, the more you should strive to implement creative ways to maintain that personal, small business feel.
Apple needs no introduction. It’s the world’s most famous leading technology brand, bar none. The public’s demand for Apple products often exceeds supply. People around the globe clamor for their newest upgrade or invention. And their customer service model is one to note. They even have a secret handbook for their global customer support team titled, “The Genius Training Student Workbook.” The manual uses the word “empathy” several times, outlining the three F’s of empathy: Feel, Felt, Found. Steve Jobs, himself, was said to have personally answered customer emails and there are numerous stories praising him for putting the customer experience first.
The key to Apple’s customer experience success? The company understands that building relationships is the key to selling more products. Apple created a business model where the core of each store is not the products, but the people that they hire. It’s how they train those people to engage with customers.
Every Apple employee is trained to take the customer through five steps that spell out the acronym for the company’s name:
- A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
- P: Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs.
- P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
- L: Listen for and resolve issues or concerns.
- E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.
Apple doesn’t think of its customers as consumers. Instead, they seek to relate to each customer as a human who will purchase something from someone who makes them feel special and tries to give them a unique, personalized experience.
“The most important component to the Apple experience is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff,” said one Apple Store senior leader. “It’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better.” The focus on building relationships has made Apple the most profitable retailer per square foot on the planet.
Glossier is still establishing its place in the beauty industry as a newer brand. SVP of Marketing at Glossier, Ali Weiss, told Forbes, “Our business model relies on selling products, but revenue growth and acquiring new customers are secondary to our mission of giving voice to beauty. We focus on experience first and business results second. We definitely take risks, but we analyze how it will impact the consumer experience before we do anything.”
She views placing value on customer engagement over bottom-line results. Weiss, who did not come from a traditional marketing background, looked towards experience to create success. In 2017, the company grew 300% and had over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Everything from their products to their marketing plans was essentially co-created by their customers. There were no major ad spends or extensive promotional discounts. The brand was built on understanding what the customer wants and implementing that. They take risks and listen to feedback, changing the way beauty brands have traditionally operated. For example, when you enter Glossier’s retail flagship store in New York City, there’s no register. A showroom editor checks you out via an iPad and the product is delivered from the sky via a conveyor belt, creating a seamless and almost magical customer experience.
Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, set the gold standard for revolutionizing real-time customer experience strategy. Amazon started small and thought about how to improve customer experience on a basic level. Simply put, they discovered what their market was missing: no online retailer could guarantee customers free two-day shipping for an entire year. As a solution, they created the Prime Membership Program. They were able to afford to give their customers the experience of free and fast shipping by charging them an annual fee. By identifying what their customer experience was missing, they were able to step in and fill the gap. Plus, their recent expansion into brick and mortar stores along with their acquisition of Whole Foods has allowed them to blend their offline and online customer experience offerings. For example, Prime members can now receive rewards while shopping at Whole Foods.
If you can’t deliver packages for no charge, what can you do? Try writing a handwritten thank-you note. Or throw in a free lipstick or small branded candle. You could even send a short follow-up email asking how your customer enjoyed their package and offer them a promo code for 20% off or free shipping on their next purchase. Instead of just offering 20% off to first time buyers, start a customer loyalty program where people who return to your store are rewarded. Start small and think big to improve your customer experience strategy.