Customer Experience Strategy: What To Include, And What To Avoid


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If you’re serious about competing to win in retail, then you’re undoubtedly:

  • Focused on your customers (vs. quarterly numbers).
  • Invested in creating a unique brand experience.
  • Committed to ensuring your customer experience strategy serves as an effective guide for all your teams and executes like a dream.

Reread that last bullet. Ask yourself: Does our CX strategy meet these standards?

Many retailers assume their customer experience strategy is airtight. In reality, there may be costly gaps or missteps undermining their entire effort—and killing their chances of achieving significant revenue growth.

To avoid a similar fate, you need to know what to look for (and what to avoid) during the strategic planning process. These five areas, in particular, require careful consideration.

1. Your Brand and Target Demo

This is where the strategic planning process begins. Who are you? To whom are you trying to sell, in the way you’re promising to sell to them?

If you try to be all things to all people, you can’t target specific lifestyles, motives, or needs. Or meaningfully connect with anyone.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t focus on just one type of buyer. Take sporting goods, for example. You’re looking to sell to people who are active. But you’re also looking to sell to their parents and gift-giving friends. You have to cast a wider net.

To strike the right balance, you need to understand how you want people to experience your brand—and not just during in-store visits.

REI had a home run last November with its #OptOutside campaign, which encouraged employees and customers to spend Black Friday experiencing the great outdoors. Because the company remained true to its brand values, it strengthened its relationship with its core customers while projecting brand confidence and market leadership to a larger audience of prospective shoppers.

2. The Merchandise You’ll Carry

What customer needs are you going to meet, and how? This is an important question with big implications.

Until the past few years, a major client of ours carried up to 15 third-party brands. Since then, they’ve narrowed that list of brands down to fewer than five—the majority being their own private-label products. The company wanted to move away from selling other people’s merchandise (which was top-notch), and instead manufacture their own merchandise (of even higher quality).

Why the shift? Our client saw an unmet need in the marketplace. They knew they could make a product that was technologically superior and more beneficial to buyers. So they decided to make it themselves.

This is how smart retailers evolve: They question the status quo. They talk to their customers. They find out what customers aren’t getting from them, or from anyone. And they figure out the best way to deliver.

3. The Channels You’ll Occupy

What’s your online, brick and mortar, and destination store mix? What should it be?

Maybe you’ve noticed a competitor, or a retailer in a completely different category, doing well on increasingly popular channels such as Facebook sales. Before you jump on the bandwagon, ask yourself: 1) Do we have what it takes to perform well? 2) Will the move truly benefit our customers?

Don’t assume what works for one brand will work for the rest. Target began testing curbside pickup in its San Francisco stores in 2014, but discontinued it this past June. Meijer ran a successful pilot program earlier this year and is now expanding its curbside service to multiple stores.

We’ve quoted Jim Collins before, but his words bear repeating: “Shoot bullets before cannonballs.” Instead of trying to be everywhere at all times, find something you think will work. Try a pilot program. If it’s working, expand it. If not, use what you’ve learned to sharpen your aim.

4. The Customer Engagement Itself

Recently, I spent a day and a half on the phone with my cable company. Every person I spoke with offered canned, tone-deaf responses, as if reading straight from a script.

Now, every time I think of the brand, the first thing that comes to mind is . . . a person reading straight from a script.

This is not the brand image you want.

Whether your customers are engaging your brand by phone, online, through email, or in your stores, they expect to be greeted by a listening, caring, authentic person. Someone who’s willing and able to solve problems.

If you’re scripting every encounter—perhaps in an attempt to improve operational efficiency—you’re not thinking of your customers. Rather than delighting them, you’re focused on hurrying them through the queue.

Guidelines, not scripts, are what your associates need to do their jobs well. Don’t tell them what to say, but what to convey. Give them the knowledge, flexibility, and tools they need to contribute meaningfully and make a customer’s day better. This will make your associates and customers much happier—and ultimately improve your bottom line.

5. Aesthetics and Design

What does your brand look like? What do your customers see, hear, and feel in your stores, on your website(s), and across all channels?

In the early days of e-commerce, digital and in-store teams were completely misaligned. They had distinct policies and styles. There was no overarching, consistent brand aesthetic.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way. Design has become an intentional and integral part of the customer experience strategy. Leading brands take great care to define the brand personality and develop the sensory elements (art, graphics, music, store layout, site layout, etc.) that reflect that personality.

Equally important is creating a consistent sensory experience—projecting the same story, personality, and values across all channels. Some brands have mastered this, while others have room to improve.

If you’re in the latter camp, you have a golden opportunity to reenergize your brand image. Look for ways to excite your customers, streamline sales, and leap past your competitors.

Coming Next: Executing the Strategy

Developing a customer experience strategy requires careful thought and detailed planning. Executing it presents an entirely new set of challenges. We’ll tackle those in next week’s post.

What strategic considerations would you add to our list? What advice do you have for other retailers in need of a customer experience reboot? Let us know in the comments below.

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This article was originally posted to our blog where you can find more posts like this at ICC/Decision Services Blog.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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