Can You Improve The Customer Experience Without Spending A Fortune On Information Technology?


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Does Customer Experience require information technology?  Allow me to rephrase this question, is it necessary to purchase-configure-operate an arsenal of information technologies to improve the Customer Experience?  Which is my way of asking, if it is necessary to turn Customer Experience as a business philosophy and/or value proposition into CRM: an information technology?

It occurs to me that it is mistake to collapse information technology and Customer Experience together – to make the kind of mistake that was made with CRM.  I say that your organisation can impact-improve the Customer Experience in many ways that do not require information technology.   Where is my proof? Let’s start with my recent experience.

Why Didn’t I Buy From Two Well Known Retail Brands?

I needed more trousers; my preference, some would call it addiction, is for Chinos. So my nephew drove me to a shopping centre outside of town. On his advice, I went to the first shop, found what I was looking for. And in the process I came across summer shorts. So with a handful of trousers and shorts I headed to the fitting rooms. Long queue. No movement for three minutes. No staff around to help out.  I put the goods back on the racks and left.

Onwards to the second retail brand, which just happened to be next to the first store. Within five minutes or less, I found myself exiting this story empty handed. Why?  One, they just didn’t stock trousers that fit me. Just about every trouser that caught my attention was regular length and regular is too short for me as I am tall and have long legs. Second, no staff members around to ask for help in finding longer length trousers. Third, the prices showed up as being too high; I remembered what I had paid for the Chinos I was wearing.

Why Did I Buy From The Gap Store?

Having had enough, I headed directly for the Gap store. Why? Because this is where I had purchased, some years ago, the Chinos I was wearing and happy with.  The store showed up as friendlier-easier as it was much smaller in size, I could clearly see two sales assistants, and they looked happy.  I spent over £150 pounds and walked out of the store with several Chino trousers and shorts.  Why did I end up buying from Gap?

  • They stocked the products that I was looking for – Chino trousers and a range of summer shorts;
  • I found the particular style I was looking for – Classic;
  • Each range of trousers came in a range of sizes including the size (34, 34) I was looking for;
  • I found it easy-quick to try on the trousers (and shorts) as there was no queue for the fitting rooms; and
  • The ‘checkout’ experience of paying for these items was quick-easy and delivered by a friendly sales assistant.

And there was a moment of delight. What delight? Upon checkout I found that I had been charged 30% less than I had expected to pay. Why so? Because Gap had a sales promotion that day and I had not noticed it as it had not been well signposted.

I draw your attention to this: no information technology was needed other than the POS till.  Gap ended up the winner simply because it did the basics of clothes retailing right: store design (size-layout-signposting), the right product, ability to trial the product, good customer service, and pricing that is in tune with product quality and customer expectations.

I also notice, that I have a stronger bond to Gap and Gap did not have to engage in any customer loyalty or outbound marketing programme to generate that bond. How has this strengthening of the bond come about? By stocking the kind of products that I am looking for, by asking the kind of price I am willing to pay, and by making it easy-pleasant to buy from them: not just once, but every time I have bought from them.

If Gap does want to do something other than get the basics right then here is my advice. Gap should consider storing my preferences in terms of the products that I have bought from them. And allow me to order those products from them. Why do I say that? Whilst I like their latest Chino trousers (the ones I brought from them recently) I prefer the ones that I bought several years ago.  The fact that those trousers are no longer available makes them that much more attractive to me. I wonder how many others are like me. If there are enough of us then there might be a market for listening to and catering to our needs. Back in the days when I was a consultant with Peppers & Rogers, we would put this idea into the mass customisation bucket.  This is where information technology would be useful, even essential, for improving the Customer Experience.

I wish you a great week, thanks for listening – your listening calls forth my speaking.  And if you have thoughts that which you wish to share then please engage in a conversation with me by commenting.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Unfortunately I’ve had the opposite experience with the Gap.

    Walk down Fifth Ave in Manhattan, go into the Gap on 54th Street. While the outside is okay (with “sale” sign design ripping off others), going inside is like going into a 1980s time warp. Low ceilings. Yellowed lights.

    Now go to Uniqlo down the street (666 Fifth Ave). Bright. Amazing three story escalator. Descriptions about their technologies. Great selection. A gazillion check out registers. Ample staff.

    For consumer experience comparison, finish at Hollister. Look at the live broadcast of Huntington Beach on 179 signs while standing across Fifth Ave. Inside the store, the staff is amazing. They’re all in sync, saying “what’s up?” Run your fingers over the clothing. You know what? It’s high quality.

    In summary, the Gap is terrible. If you’re using them as a bellwether for consumer experience, you’re way off base.

  2. TInformation Technologies doesn’t bring emotions. Customer buy with emotions.
    We all are experiencing this every single time we visit a point of sale.

  3. I agree with the main premise of the post – customer experience is a by-product of cultural change, not a result of technology implementation.

    However, I suppose a technology could be used very constructively to learn the best practices from the Gap store experienced by Maz, and proliferate/enforce them to the Gap store experienced by Josh.

  4. Nice post, Maz, thank you for putting it out there. Your point fits well with the retail example you’ve provided but lets look at it in the context of a contact centre with thousands of customers calling in daily. Many of these will have interacted with you already across multiple touchpoints – your website, your facebook page, your twitter account and perhaps your bricks and mortar presence to name a few – and expect that you remember them. Without an investment in software that gives you ‘one view of the customer’ you’re going to struggle to personalise the service you’re providing them.

  5. Hello Ben,
    It occurs to me that I have been working with technology for the whole of my business life: from introducing computers into business, through to accounting systems, management information systems, ERP systems, CRM systems, Ecommerce systems…..

    What I am clear about is that none of these systems actually delivered on the huge promises made. Why? Because software and systems are merely tools. It is the context within which these tools are implemented, used and managed that makes all the difference. And my experience is that the context usually has little respect for the human.

    Regarding the ‘one view of the customer’ and ‘personalising the service’ I can only say that I have yet to come across an organisation that does have one view of the customer when ‘one view of the customer’ exists in some database: marketing has one view, sales another, customer service another, logistics another, finance another. As for personalising the service I have found that technology gets in the way rather than contributes to it. In most cases, the technology drives the script and leaves no space for the personal (the human) to show up in the conversation-interaction with the customer.


  6. Maz, totally agree.

    I was reading your answer above and smiling to myself remembering the many times I was naive to think a system would solve a customer relationship issue. And this may happen to almost every brand alive.

    One can always find extremely positive and extremely negative examples against any brand – I bet!

    The point is – how to uniformize the customer experience of those brands, and of course uniformize based on the best examples?

    I suppose the key is to detect the negative cases sooner, and also detect what made the positive ones happen so we can multiply that.

    Maybe big data? Maybe instrumentalization of the products so the brand can detect abnormal uses and correlate them to social media sentiments? Long range ideas but I feel they are the path. I know the point here is IT is not the answer, but it may help, I suppose.


  7. I totally agree.

    First of all a clear vision on customer experience (and the affected customer processes) needs to be developed. Once tha’s clear, you need to start the process and the organisational re-design and the typically change phase.
    These changes can and will make a huge difference, as it’s indeed about vision, emotion, culture, organisation.

    The last step – if required – could be a system change…


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