“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos Amazon CEO

Recently I met a customer experience design planner at a function and was immediately struck by the title and thought, with due respect to that person’s considerable skill, isn’t that what all retailers have tried to be since before the days of Sam Walton?

That is, attempting to have a potential and existing customer buy into the feeling associated with a brand and its attributes, touching all available touch points.

Isn’t that what David Jones through to the local delicatessen all attempt to do in their pursuit of the customer’s ongoing patronage?

Here is the first observation about the customer experience and its measurement.

In the past the customer experience predominantly relied on customers being able to tell us what they feel, however, the reality is that we are generally able to say what we think but we are not very good at expressing our feelings, inner motivations, and reasons why. Understanding these requires an entirely different set of measures.

The second observation is the assumption that the customer experience needs to be embodied in flashy new fitouts and advanced bells and whistles. This may not be the case at all and in some cases, we would not recommend shop upgrades or refits because it will serve to undermine the very essence of the brand’s DNA such as in categories where discovery, surprise, and exploring are all at the brand’s core.

Behaviours such as browsing (increasing dwell time) are imbued into the customer experience and cultivated accordingly. Lighting appearing random is a consequence of well conceived customer navigation and even the slightly dishevelled look is all about creating the relevant customer experience in this particular example. Of course, these emotional attributes are understood by interpreting feelings into desired spaces, converted into retail brand touch points.

There are many features to designing the customer experience and not least of beating deep in the heartland of the retailer’s offer are the operational pillars of stock and service.

We know from our many operational diagnostics that in areas such as the ‘out of stocks’, the probability on average of any given retailer being out of stock on its lead or core lines will be between 10 to 40 per cent (fashion and speciality lifts this range). This is very different from the quantity of stock on show, rather the profile and replenishment ratios.

Nothing turns a customer off or undermines the customer experience more than the out of stock situation and yet it is often not considered in the customer experience.

So what really is the customer experience?

Is it who we seek to attract or is it focused on retention and increasing transactional growth with existing customers?

Are they similar or disparate tactics? What does this say about our offer in all its dimensions?

What is the pre-sale through to post-sale customer experience? How have we informed retail shop, site, and category design?

And what about the sales teams? Are they buying into the customer experience and serving as enablers to the experience?

One ‘Business Fitness’ measure that we like to engage on the shop floor is to have staff recite a customer’s story to the team at sales and service meetings. This helps to bring the customer experience to life. After all, it really is about the story and who chooses to buy into it. Isn’t’ it?

Happy ‘Fit’ retailing.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of retail consulting company, Retail Doctor Group. He specialises in the development and implementation of retail and franchise strategies. Brian can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or brian@retaildoctor.com.au.

First published on Inside Retail on the 25th of February 2015