The demise of the high street, the disappearance of trade catalogues, the busyness of Apple stores and the addictiveness of Amazon Prime mean one thing: what we buy is shifting; price, features and benefits are less important than how we buy. Customer experience now reigns supreme.
“The ability to connect with customers on a deeper level is crucial. In a world of increasing ‘stuffocation’, customer experience has the power to be a silver bullet for growth,” explains Michelle Du-Prât, strategy director at Household.
“Today’s customer journey is also supercharged; experience combined with expertise drives almost twice as much revenue. The new model is about RoE - return on experience - it’s more important than RoI - return on investment.”
Customers already opting for experiences over goods
Our consumption of experiences already outpaces that of goods by a factor of three, according to Deloitte’s Retail Profitability Challenge report, which shows differentiated experiences delivers more than 18 per cent growth in revenue. This seismic shift means sales teams need to refocus.
“It’s a really bad time to be boring,” says Douglas Hollinger, senior vice president of consulting at LiveArea. “Take retailers - those who fail to give consumers a reason to buy into their experience are suffering precipitous declines in market share and shuttering stores.”
Research by the Association of Professional Sales (APS) shows that 53 per cent of a customer’s impulse to buy is determined by the quality of their experience at the point of sale.
And if you dive deep into the annual reports of some blue-chip companies, particularly retail, they acknowledge not only tough times, but a sea change in their approach to customer experience.
Those who fail to give consumers a reason to buy into their experience are suffering precipitous declines in market share and shuttering stores
Successful organisations putting customer experience first
John Lewis is now trialling so-called experience desks in five outlets, providing concierge-style services. They’ve also created fully furnished in-store apartments, as well as events calendars from scent workshops to celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, while Marks and Spencer talks of “inspirational clothing and home stores”.
“The shift to experience-led purchasing has diluted the influence sales managers have over their own targets. In doing so, it’s forced them to seek greater collaboration with creative teams traditionally excluded from the sales process,” says Chris Longman, head of digital intelligence at Salmon.
“This has proven to be a challenge for established brands where legacy structures present major obstacles to collaboration. As a result, smaller startups with flexible organisations are gaining ground in the battle for superior customer experience.”
You only have to look at challenger banks to see how customer experience is trumping established players. For example, Monzo is driving customer acquisition and revenue through their highly rated mobile app, which puts experience first, while established banks are playing catch-up.
“A single view of customer behaviour is vital for sales leads. Many brands are increasingly turning to machine-learning to analyse vast amounts of behavioural data and identify prospects in real time,” explains Mr Longman.
New roles and new data making customer experience easier than ever
There’s so much data available now that working out a scoring mechanism to spot prospects is within many people’s grasp. Data is key to sales performance, it also allows a common view of the customer journey.
“There is no doubt that players with a customer-first mentality are likely to win in the medium to long term,” says Elliott Jacobs, director for commerce consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at LiveArea.
Now at the core sit specific revenue teams, devised to take control of customer experiences. These are headed by chief revenue officers, who increasingly oversee sales, marketing and customer service. They operate omni-channels covering all client touchpoints, including mobile, online and in-store, pre- and post-sales.
Cross-discipline task forces are crucial to maximising sales performance, as well as making sure prospects don’t fall between any gaps, at the same time keeping a lid on budgets.
“The greatest wastage happens between marketing and sales. Campaigns are not followed up. Nurture campaigns using automated marketing often fail to capture changing buyer needs and situations,” says Martin Hill-Wilson, customer engagement strategist at Brain Food Consulting.
Providing unique experiences must be undertaken with care
The fact is top-notch customer experiences aren’t cheap and anything that isn’t cheap needs to be justified. Buy-in from senior management is, therefore, increasingly needed.
“It also involves a shift in approach from ‘sell, sell, sell’, to ‘grow, grow, grow’. Companies should own as much of the customer journey as possible, making every step better for the customer,” says Dani Bassil, chief executive of Digitas.
“The less nebulous the objectives, the less wastage there’ll be when building experiences based around customers. We now make sure we’re mapping out the whole journey, from the first time someone sees an ad, to the way they buy, to any ongoing engagement.”
Gauge it wrongly and you get the chaotic scenes that Build-A-Bear Workshop dealt with recently when it offered UK customers a chance to buy any bear, which can cost up to £50, for the price of their child’s age. A mile-long queue at its Leeds store needed police assistance, and other crazy scenes in Birmingham and Newcastle, many posted online, show how customer experience can go wrong.
Customer centricity calls for new skills from sales teams
However, take Dyson and its demo experience stores; these have been so successful that the company is looking at a global rollout. “This shift also reflects businesses identifying the need to make future customers feel relaxed enough to spend more time with them, which they might in a non-sales orientated environment,” explains Ms Du-Prât.
“When they’re relaxed, they’re more open to discovery and purchases that make them feel good. Understanding customers as individuals and learning to engage them with conversation, to co-create, problem solve and make relevant recommendations sit at the heart of future commerce.”
So why aren’t companies embracing customer centricity? It may involve a whole new set of skills that sales teams are only just grasping. Meanwhile, the APS is in the process of bringing customer-experience training to the fore.
“One measure is our APS customer experience metric, which gauges the experience a buyer gets at the point of interaction with sellers. This is now being used by most of our corporate members and leads to insight into how sellers are behaving, measured by the most important people in the process – customers,” Andrew Hough, APS chief executive, concludes.
How putting the customer first can pay off
Walk into an Apple store and it is swarming with tech experts, putting you at ease in a relaxed environment. The trendy US eyeware brand Warby Parker learnt from their rule book, raising customer expectations by offering a superior in-store experience. The customer journey is seen as a lifestyle choice, painpoints have been addressed and there’s a high-touch social experience, all fuelling the bottom line.
“The store experience itself – interactions with staff, the floor plan and signage, the way products are presented, checkout – can require as much refreshing as anything on the shelf,” says Douglas Hollinger, LiveArea’s senior vice president of consulting.
Salmon, an ecommerce company, recently worked with a major UK mattress supplier. Their online experience was jargon-heavy, confusing and worryingly intimidating to the customer. The focus was on technical product attributes with little consumer focus.
“We discovered that, when searching for mattresses, customers wanted to see the personal benefits. What did the mattress offer them? What made it stand out against other products? Why should the customer pick their brand over a competitor?” says Chris Longman, Salmon’s head of digital intelligence.
“Customers were confused and as a result were leaving the site. We gathered insight by talking to customers directly and observing their shopping patterns. By addressing issues head on, we optimised their site and offered an exceptional direct-to-consumer online platform driving sales.”