Designing a new experience, and putting fun back into retail

Feb. 21, 2010 | by Mike Wittenstein

Intuitively, you know that making your customer's experience better makes your business better. As every business person knows, word-of-mouth is the best advertising. As a retail leader you probably have first-hand experience of a customer who so loves the shopping experience you provided that s/he creates a ripple effect via referrals that comes back to you in the form of an edge over your less zealous competitors. If you have ever worked on the front line, you can probably remember—even if it was a long time ago—how much fun it is to delight a customer with an experience s/he did not know how to ask for.

What you may not know is how to focus on just the right things and make just the right changes to get customers consistently oohing and aahing about their experience of your brand. That's because the customer experience is actually a multi-faceted design challenge that demands a creative collaboration.

Here are the important facets of our design challenge. By us, I mean retail leaders, employees, customers, suppliers, and experience design consultants.

From the customer's perspective, customer experience is what actually happens to them. It's everything. What they hear, see, get, how they interact, what goes on, and most of all how they feel. Customers don't see the behind-the-scenes activity: training, planning, negotiating, buying, stocking shelves, and cleaning up to get ready for the next day. Customers know only their emotional reactions. They love it, like it, don't notice it, don't care, or hate it.

From the design-of-experiences perspective, customer experience is the ideal to strive for. It's the point-of-view from which people from all disciplines—front line employees, managers, technologists, store designers, suppliers, and consultants come together to imagine how to deliver what their customers want to feel. We need to remember that we do things for customers, not to them.

From the retail leader's perspective, customer experience is a business outcome. Your customers' experience of your brand should be the reference point from which flow the most important decisions you make about your business. Choosing the right technology, sourcing the right employee training, creating the right employee incentives, streamlining operations, and planning advertising campaigns all occur in the context of delivering the very specific over-the-top experience that you want your customer to enjoy. When you decide to make customer experience your strategy, not only will you delight your customers, you will elevate employee morale, inspire confidence in your shareholders, add value to your bottom line, and experience your own career skyrocket.

Customer experience is story. It's the story your customers tell their friends about the most wonderful and amazing experience they had with your associates at your store. You cannot control the story. The experience and the stories told about the experience belong to the customer. What you can do is deliver the experience that makes your customer rave about you.

Your customer's experience is your brand.

You—whether you're a shift supervisor, a store operator, district manager, general manager, or CEO—hold the power to improve your customer's experience. Start a conversation about the customer experience with employees, colleagues, your boss, suppliers, and anyone else who is a stakeholder in your business. The conversation will bring clarity to your operations and win results on the front line.

Expect these conversations to get deeper and better over time. Designing the customer experience is a process which challenges everyone to come forward with their most creative thinking. It isn't always easy, but it is what puts the fun back into retail.

Retail is ripe for a change of mindset and a change of heart. This is a great time to design and launch a new customer experience at your store or chain—especially if your brand is feeling the pinch of commoditization. The next decade will be characterized by discontinuous change. People are going to buy what they want how they want it—and those wants will change more rapidly than ever before. There is no better way to stand out than by offering a better customer experience. Retailers that offer the better experience will win. It's that simple.?

Mike Wittenstein / Mike Wittenstein, founder of Storyminers, is a practicing customer experience consultant and speaker with over two decades of experience. His work has taken him to more than 25 countries and he has helped over 400 companies with his expertise in using customer experience design as a strategy for increasing sales and profit.

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