Although much about providing a great customer experience is timeless, it’s also a good idea to align your strategy with today’s consumer trends. In particular, I suggest adjusting your style of service in the following five ways.
- Amp up your speed of service. I still hear veteran business people spout that old platitude: “Quality, speed, price – you can only pick two.” However, this old saw isn’t as true as it used to be, in many industries, and in many customers’ expectations. Great companies from FedEx to Amazon to Mod Pizza have convinced customers that speed is often synonymous with quality, rather than the enemy of it. Certainly, there are industry-by-industry exceptions, and there are even industries where moving too quickly is suspect (fine dining, for example). But in many industries, it’s worth taking an axe to your assumptions about acceptable turnaround time. Because your customers already have.
- Share your shopping technology, so that it can be used by customers, employees, or both working together. A smart trend, particularly in retail, is the installation of technology that can be used by customers or used for customers by salespeople, or shared by both parties, depending on the preference of the customer. For example, the retail touchscreens from IQMetrix can be used as a tool by a human salesperson, allowing them to share the “endless aisle” with customers (items that may not be on the shelf of a store but are, in fact, available for sale). Or, they can be used by a customer who doesn’t want anything to do with a human employee. Or, and this is one of the most interesting applications, is to think of screen-sharing as a solution for retail clienteling (“clienteling” is retail-speak for what a personal shopper does). Millennials aren’t always comfortable talking with sales staff. But they do a lot of screen sharing, a lot of “look at this!” This has great retail potential, as in the following scenario:
Associate: “This is cute, isn’t it?”
--hands customer the tablet--
Customer: “Yes, let’s add this to my closet.” (Bingo!)
- Cut the scripts: provide genuine, unscripted service. Scripted service, provided by servile, unempowered employees who are required to ask a manager before doing anything unusual or creative for a customer? That’s so 2013. If you’re still offering that kind of service, you are essentially turning your employees into inferior versions of an app. Anything that can be scripted can be turned over to machines, and customers today realize this. What customers today want, when they want human service at all, is a peer-to-peer, genuine, useful experience.
- Make your customer experience easy for customers to share. Customers today share all the time: while they're deciding to purchase, while they're making their purchase, and right after the purchase is completed. Smart businesses are embracing this phenomenon: Eye wear retailer Warby Parker allows you to try on frames, take pictures of them, and share them socially to get reactions and “votes” from friends and family before you commit to making purchase. Drybar, the hairstyling phenomenon, encourages you to share images of your new blowout and have friends rate it on Facebook. (If chosen, you can even get in a VIP section for the week that goes on the “celebrity wall.”) And on Nordstrom’s app, customers choose their clothes in the “dressing room” section of the app, then share with their friends and get opinions.
- Emphasize the localized authenticity (“terroir”) of your company or location. Customers want to do business with companies that they are “authentic” or “the genuine article.” A key way of achieving this feel is to consider the “terroir” of your service or product. Terroir is the French word for the convergence of factors—geography, climate, and so forth—that go into making a local wine, but I find it can be much more broadly applied. In fact, smart brands are applying this concept of “terroir” or “localization” to everything they do:
- That's A Some Pizza, a tiny-but-bustling 500 square foot Seattle-area restaurant, wins customers over with both delicious pies and the (true) fact that their crust comes from a sourdough starter that dates back to Seattle's Alaska-bound Klondike gold rush.
- When Starbucks only had a hundred or so stores, every one of them was pretty similar in the interest of uniformity. But now, with thousands, each new store is designed to intentionally not be like the others, and instead to reflect a local design flavor and vibe. (Starbucks has gone so far as to disperse the location of its design studios to multiple locations globally, rather than to carry out all the design work in Seattle.)
- Taj Hotels and Resorts is similarly re-tooling its global luxury brand to embrace each locale in which it operates. It calls this concept “Taj-ness.” When I first heard this term, I thought it meant emphasizing the Indian roots of this venerable brand, but in fact it means something different. If you listen to Taj’s CEO Rakesh Sarna’s description, as shared with Buying Business Travel, you can get a good sense for how this concept of terroir, or local authenticity, should be conceptualized and accomplished. The principle, says Sarna, is "to pay homage to where you are;" no longer, says Sarna, will the Dubai hotel "feel like Kerala or like the Pierre in New York..." And, for that matter, "Don’t turn up at the hotel in Cape Town and expect everyone [on staff] to be dressed in saris."
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, speaker, author and thought leader.