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[14 comments]

Customer Experiences: The KISS principle

June 10, 2014

We talk a lot about the great things retailers can do to make the omni-channel customer experience optimal and seamless. It was no different at last week's CRMC event (Customer Relationship Management Conference). There were great sessions and speakers detailing sophisticated ways to personalize customer relationships — optimizing every engagement, so customers will be happy and buy more.

Some tidbits picked up at the conference:

Steven Braun, ex VP of digital and mobile marketing at OfficeMax, complained that brand loyalty is at an all-time low. Consumers want consistency in omni-channel communications from retailers, but many retailers are still aligned in silos and not communicating learnings across internal channels. He said a common set of facts is needed about customer interactions, along with a cultural change that gets companies to view their competition as being external, not internal.

Mara Kelly, VP CRM & loyalty at Toys "R" Us (TRU), and Ann Pressimone, manager loyalty marketing at the chain, talked about how retailers need to capture data and engage in ways that are meaningful to customers. TRU launched its Rewards R Us program in October of 2008 and now has 18 million active members in the U.S. They have been learning along the way: the perils of communicating too frequently; the importance of dynamic messaging; how to be proactive instead of reactive; and the art of having complex communications vs. outbound messaging. One of their main messages for retailers is to make sure communications revolve around the customer and not around internal departments or issues.

Nicola Saraceno, VP CRM, and Gianluca Pogliani, senior director analytics & consumer insights, Luxottica, said tech should be an enabler that allows ongoing conversations with a real and consistent presence across multiple reach platforms. Plus, the data must be right the first time, in order to create real-time personalization. Retailers can create sets of personas, so they can build campaigns with a personalized experience, faster.

It is easy to come away from a conference like this energized, thinking about what all that data, technology and improved analytics can enable us to do. And then reality hits us in the form of this e-mail from Southwest Airlines:

With a great reputation like Southwest has, you'd think it would be on top of its customer communications, right? Not exactly:

  • No personalization of the e-mail, even though the customer's name is in the subject line.
  • They want to know about a flight on "2014-06-05." Who talks to customers like that?
  • There are several lines explaining how one can change one's communications preferences to Spanish. Having flown with the same frequent flyer number for over 20 years, you would think they would know it's unlikely I'll want to do that anytime soon.
  • At the bottom, there are two different blurbs about not bothering them with "issues" and saying replies will not receive a response.

In my mind, the promise of personalized experiences and the reality of dealing with marketers are often different. The possible isn't often yet the reality. So, my advice for marketers is to work harder on the basics, really think about how automation, analytics and personalization can improve the customer experience, and stop trying to make personalization about efficiency and squeezing every last nickel out of your customers and your marketing efforts.

Discussion Questions:

Is the focus on the latest and greatest personalization and analytics technologies diverting retailers attention away from getting the basics right? Which retailers have impressed you with the job they do communicating across various marketing channels?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How would you rate most marketing personalization efforts you've seen in the last year?

Comments:

I have dinner with CIOs and other top leaders every week, and most of them say that their Boards of Directors simply don't understand how ancient systems and silos negatively impact customer service.

It might be time for a retailer or two to hold a seat on the Board for an actual customer -- a woman managing a household who's responsible for most of the purchasing. That might be a wakeup call.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Retailers apparently hate "the basics." The evidence? Most of them are pretty poor at executing against them.

Technology can easily become a labyrinth of denial, a forest of bells and whistles, features and functions, apps and options that quickly make it all but impossible to see the trees of individual customer need sets.

Analytics are one path to insight, but they aren't insight in and of themselves.

As more channels it seems it's a little bit like being right or left eye dominant. Retailers that excel in one channel rarely excel in all.

So while I'm sure wiser heads than mine will cite the Apples of the world, I'll just cynically note that my new iPhone came with no instructions other than directions to a website that was great if I had a FAQ. For everything else there is YouTube.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

It's the basics, stupid. More than personalized emails, texts and coupons consumers want a seamless shopping experience. They want to walk into Gap, and find that items in-store are the same price as items online (they are not). They want to go to Target, and finding items out of stock (which they frequently are), have a sales associate place the order online, so the item can be delivered to the consumer at no additional charge. The stories go on and on.

Retailers need to take care of the logistics first, then address personalized offers to consumers.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I could not help but smile reading Ryan's comments about his new iPhone. I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy that came with the same set of "non instructions." Great customer service, isn't it? They are taking the easy way out leaving the consumer to fend for themselves after spending the money on their product.

KISS means what it stands for. The simpler the process the happier the customer base using it.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

The customer experience is really simple. Sell a product that does what it is supposed to do and be nice to the customer. That "nice to the customer" part includes every touch point, including what happens after the actual experience of buying the product, which could include some type of follow up, customer support, and more.

Technology gives us a great advantage if used properly to support the customer experience, instead of complicating it. We've gotten into data collection and it becomes overwhelming at times. What information is important? What information will aid in enhancing the customer's experience? It's easy to get caught up in complicated information.

We're just scratching the surface of what technology is doing to help the customer experience. True personalization that allows interactions that are customized are starting to become easier to create and (probably most important) relevant to the customer.

If you want to learn from the master in this business, watch what Amazon.com does to communicate and customize their messages.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Just like dieters who keep looking for yet another simple way to lose weight, retailers turn to analytics because it may be the answer to what ails them when the basics fail.
When what you are doing doesn't work, try fixing it before turning to something new.

Lewis Olishansky, Principal, Retailmatics

Amazon always comes to mind, as the ordering process is simple, and returns are usually not a problem. Any big utility - the airlines, and the infamous banks and credit card companies absolutely suck at service. The fact they exist, and take your money without any personal touch just makes me angry. Small independents are not off the hook either, as uneducated employees who don't care can ruin the experience of buying something quickly.

I was taught customer service by my father and mother, who told me to be a good listener, honestly answer the customer's questions, and surround yourself with smiling, extremely friendly employees who know how to greet people and handle a simple transaction without looking like a fool.

Yes I am a simple man, and our online Facebook experience must meet the standards I have set for a pleasant experience to view, and always maintain the freshness of what we offer.

Online technology must be simple, and help needs to be available 24-7 if you want to succeed in this intensely competitive genre. There are plenty of good online companies who respond to your needs, and that is what I look for when searching for things that I need for my store, or personal stuff for home.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

New technology and analytics are wonderful enhancements that can improve the customer experience in-store and on the web. However, they do not in any way replace the critical issues in customer experience -- which are driven by culture and values. Essentially, companies fail to treat their two critical constituents with the dignity and respect that they need -- their best customers and their store associates.

By seeing their customers as "revenue machines" rather than as trusted partners, and by seeing their store associates as easily replaceable, most retailers are driving down their retention and profitability themselves. The lack of core values around these two groups lead to extensive commoditization and attrition.

No amount of technology can replace that.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

Imagine you're at the checkout stand making a purchase. During the whole time the checker is ringing up your sale, she's distracted by interruptions, doesn't even look you in the eye, and doesn't bother to ask you how your day is going. She finishes bagging your purchase and totaling the sale. As she hands you the receipt, she finally looks up at you, smiles and thanks you by your name, which she gets from your loyalty card. Was this a personal experience? Is addressing you by name alone relationship building?

Now, imagine another checkout experience at a different store. The checker greets you with a smile and introduces himself. He asks you how your day is going while scanning your items. He shows a genuine interest in making sure you found everything you were looking for. He makes you laugh. He bags your items and hands you your receipt. He asks if you would like help taking your items to your car. He thanks you by name and wishes you a good day. Far more personal? Of course!

You have a loyalty card at each of these stores and they have collected data on your purchases. Both send you a follow-up email. Which are you more likely to open? Which are you more likely to follow on Facebook or tweet about? Which store has a personal relationship with you?

Relationships aren't built solely on collecting data or calling someone by name. How a customer responds to being engaged with on multiple channels is more based on whether you have taken the time to build an authentic relationship complete with proper introductions and getting-to-know-you small talk. Otherwise, "personalization" is creepy. Customers want to be treated personally, not be personalized.

'RetailRetell'

I don't think there is a retailer today that does a solid, 7/10 job of communicating seamlessly across channels. A primary reason is because the sales channels have been run independently for years/decades and it's going to take time (aka years) to integrate them. I am working on a couple of projects currently trying to facilitate this, and both are multi-year efforts.

And absolutely agree with Cathy's comment that there is a major disconnect between the boards and many senior executives, their systems' capabilities, and the how these investments are being made.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Yes! This isn't just about communicating across the marketing divide, but also ensuring that there is a follow-up to the initial communication and that the consumer has what they were looking for initially...especially for an upset consumer....

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

This is really not news, but a refresher course. Having completed a weekend event of putting the concepts of "Service design" into place, one thing came back to slap me in the face. It's about the entire life cycle of the service! Each step along the customer's path should have in mind the step before and the step after. Duh!

How many retailers need this wake-up call? You don't just look at isolated instances along the path to purchase and stick in technology. No, you look at the entire journey and make sure it all comes together to see the customer through to the end. A happy end, I might say for my 2 cents....

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

In reading an interview yesterday with a CEO of a supermarket retailer, I smiled when I read one of his strongest "learnings." That was, bad marketing can take down a retailer faster than most anything else. He equated it to retailers often promising to be something they are not.

The effectiveness of the use of personalization and analytics is not necessarily in the marketing received by the customer, its presentation, its value, or the form in which it was received. It is in the steps to execution of that offer or commitment that is the customer experience.

It really doesn't matter how you deliver the message if the retailer can't deliver the execution too. Technology is not a silver bullet that corrects that or can exist without it.

Even in the simplest old world, without any personalization when you published an ad, the consumer judged a retailer just as equally on what was in the ad as they judged their ability to deliver it. It has always been the case that the ability to deliver was likely the more weighted factor.

If you know I like apples, and you send me an offer for a free pound but you don't have them, am I not even less satisfied than having received no offer at all?

Technology is just the new tool. Execution is and has always been the most important factor.

The survey results are the story here, with respect to which retailers are impressive in communicating across various marketing channels. If likely 90% or more are ineffective, it will be hard to come up with the few that are, or are thought to be effective. When the group is that small, it's probably hard to tell in the first place.

'Scanner'

The challenge of personalization does not end with conveying the right, relevant promises to customers with varying needs and interests. It also means being prepared to flawlessly deliver on those promises.

For retailers that extends to the stores themselves. If a personalized deal item is not available, or there's a redemption hiccup, the chain of trust can be broken. Weak implementation can make liars out of your marketing folks.

For airlines, differentiation generally comes down to travel frequency. Except for a few top-tier fliers, it's not really very personal at all, and in my experience the communications tend to reflect that. But that's no excuse for lazy email programs that convey indifference. There's still a brand and a set of customer relationships at stake.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

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