As we wrap up the first month of 2015 and retailers from around the globe look back on and analyze the effectiveness of their holiday marketing efforts, many lessons will be learned. Shifts in channel interactions, preferences, and sales will be reviewed in detail. Marketing programs and messaging performance will be dissected and measured against competitors’. Operations teams will review inventory, shipping, and merchandising successes and failures, and their impact on the customer experience and sales. Finally, leadership teams will join together with executives to make some adjustments in strategies, budgets, and investments to help assure performance gains in the rest of 2015.
So as this ritual of analysis hits full stride, there is one key resolution every executive should make sure is front and center in the process – the customer experience. Let’s face it – at the end of the day it is about the customer experience. When reviewing your company’s performance, it is critical to remember the impact that each touch point has on the customer experience. Everything from your digital marketing communication to in-store visits, merchandising efforts, store cleanliness, ease/difficulty of purchasing, payment options, shipping, return policies, app interactions and associate interactions all matters and ultimately impacts the customer experience. While there remains a huge disconnect from digital and physical experiences, taking steps to narrow that gap can be made in the coming year. So what can brands do to improve and measure multi-channel experiences for their customers? Here are a few to consider:
- Set Goals: To properly assess your company’s performance and your competitors’, get serious about the customer experience. Set benchmarks and goals using 2014’s results as your baseline.
- Shop, Survey, Learn: Hire a third-party independent firm to shop stores and survey customers.
- Communicate the Goals Internally: Share results and learnings with the leadership team and employees and articulate specific ways in which each department can contribute to success. Look to track progress at set intervals over time (quarterly) and remind employees of these goals frequently. Finally, in preparation of better year-end results, implement programs (i.e. training, etc.) that can help individuals get the skills needed to improve performance.
- Get Personally Involved: Be the customer. Field visits are a must. Take a lesson from the wildly popular Undercover Boss. It’s one thing to hire a firm to shop your stores, and survey customers to assess customer perceptions, but encountering what your customer and associates experience first-hand can be enlightening and invaluable. Unannounced store visits and meeting with field associates and customers are critical to staying grounded and in touch with key constituencies. Consider mandatory field visits for leadership team members and a job switch program to foster a greater appreciation for the contributions each role plays in building great experiences.
- Encourage Innovation and Empower Employees: Building a great customer experience is a journey that also requires vision and innovation. Over the holiday break I read an interesting article on CNBC talking about the mall of the future. While no one can predict the future, getting there doesn’t happen overnight. Make the most of your post-holiday analysis and marry futurist/progressive thinkers with analytics teams to help identify trends and areas that need future investments so that your company can prosper. Then empower employees responsible for implementing solutions to support the vision by giving them decision-making authority over vendors, solutions, services, and support.
- Boost Employee Morale: Demonstrate your appreciation for employee efforts and recognize a job well done publically to reinforce such behaviors. Empower employees to go above and beyond to help assure great customer experiences and establish a rewards system that is flexible and personalized as the individuals themselves.
- Take a Partner vs. Vendor Mentality: Establish a true partner program vs. vendor strategy. Rethink procurement team evaluations from cost savings to long-term partner viability. Establishing a rating system for partners and have them evaluate and rate you back. Incorporate evaluation criteria with an eye toward the impact on the customer experience. Move from the easy/safe choice to the best choice for partnerships. Often this means taking some risk. While it’s easy and safe to pick the established market leader as your vendor of choice to power key components of your marketing efforts, it is rarely the best choice. Start-ups in many instances can be the most effective partners to fuel both product innovation and agile strategies to help differentiate and push your brand. Big brands that place their bets here often receive better service, quicker response to product/feature needs, and benefit from the “A” player account management and guidance. Some brands even invest in partners they believe in who are critical to their vision and strike deals for warrants in exchange for meeting certain goals – making it a financial win/win for both sides.
- Think Multi-Channel Handoffs to Build a Seamless Digital/Physical Customer Experience: We live in a multi-channel world, where consumers move seamlessly between digital and physical channels, but their experiences are anything but seamless. One of the greatest challenges omni-channel brands face today and in the future is meeting consumer expectations to receive any content they desire in the proper context at their moment of need. Today’s point solutions are limited by having a narrow view of your data and limited execution capabilities. Cloud providers, while stronger on the data front, are typically plagued with legacy technologies and execution platforms that can’t handle real-time decisioning and execution. These problems will require brand to make additional investments in new tools and processes that normalize various signals and customer data elements to make smart decisions that can then be executed across multiple channels in real-time. Look for solutions that handle data, decisioning, and delivery across channels in real-time. While still emerging, these solutions can facilitate highly personalized, real-time, and omni-channel communications based on customer needs, interests, behaviors, and preferences.
The world is changing, consumers expectations are growing, and marketing solutions that enable omni-channel brands to create great customer experiences in real-time for today’s Internet of Things world will be tomorrow’s winners. ‘Til next time.