“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” – Roy H. Williams

We love the adage that the customer is king, yet so much of our retail practice is presumptive on what it is the customer actually wants.

Often the outcome is misspent or misdirected in brand cues that don’t trigger the desired responses.

What could we do a little differently to get that much closer to this moving target we call the customer?

The first step is to throw the old rule book of customer service and satisfaction. When you stop to contemplate what many retailers have done and continue to do, what we really have is a hit and miss effect that we have based many decisions on.

Often we make a presumption of how customers will behave and try and stay one step ahead of the curve. By way of example, traditional customer research is used to determine what customers are likely to purchase.

Typically, this tells us what a customer purchased, when it was purchased, and if we probe even further, we can see where they live, gender, and so on.

This data is history the moment the customer walks out of the shop or logs off the website and is only a small indicator of future customer behaviour.

We invest even further into building loyalty programs through this rational cognitive process, even though we all know loyalty is a highly emotional response.

How can we be truly loyal to a historical visit and the onslaught of a discount offer?

Can we predict our future by understanding our past?  The answer is maybe, but only if we understand the recurring patterns and drivers behind the past behaviours, rather than the behaviour itself.

As Katharina Kuehn, head of RDG Insights  puts it, “a large part of our behaviour as consumers is determined by our personalities, and it is the perspective of personality which allows us to predict what will resonate with a consumers across an array of situations in the future”.

Another example is the focus group, a classic approach to understanding consumer preferences. This again has a value, however, we know now that there can be a wide variance between what respondents say and do. After all, we don’t always do what we say we will do, do we?

In the absence of anything more advanced, we can make all types of presumptions as retailers, the implications for which can cost us dearly in terms of brand, shop, web design, inventory, fitouts, and staff training.

Perhaps one of the causes is the historical context that while the customer reigns, it is product that determines success.

Globally we see increased understanding of real consumer preferences (and its predictive qualities) to walk into truly customer centric retail shops, where colours, zoning, categories, products and many other brand cues are predicated on understanding rather than presuming their customer behaviour and absorbing the differences.

After all, a truly customer centric experience can only really start at one point.

I will be facilitating some upcoming Fit For Business retail workshops in November and welcome you to join me.

Register at www.retaildoctor.com.au  or call me on (02) 9460 2882 to help get your business truly Fit for Business

Happy Fit retailing,

Brian Walker

First published on Insideretail.com.au October 2014