The emotional customer journey

 

By Joshua Strutt
Strategy Analyst, Retail Doctor Group


The ultimate goal for retailers is to understand what goes on in the mind of a consumer, however the truth is, to win the retail customer you have to win their mind and their heart in order to transform them from shopper to customer

This means you need to gain an appreciation or understanding of, and empathy for, the customer from their perspective. The way we do this is to consider and ‘chart’ the Customer Journey…’to walk the customer walk’. In this article we’ll explore, examine and explain some of the positives and the negatives that the shopper will encounter on their journey to becoming your customer.

To fully understand how we can optimise our customer journey we must both talk to our customers and diagnose our current retail offering.

TOP OF MIND IS A GOOD START – BUT IT’S NOT THE FINISH

Loyalty does not mean exclusivity and the chase for pure exclusivity in an imperfect market is reasonably futile, however the ambition of being “top of mind’ in the purchase selection process is entirely achievable and a great start to winning and retaining the customer.

These days customer sophistication and critiquing of your retail offer is more discerning than ever before and the margin for error is narrower than ever before. To win today’s customer mindshare; your retail offer has to be consistently better in all facets of their operation, not necessarily perfect…just better.

This also places increasing focus on the art of skillful selling, so that conversion from shopper to customer is a focus of the retail business, which unfortunately in some (if not most) cases, it is not.

A favorable returns program rates extremely highly in the customers mind as a driver in their retailer selection criteria. This tells us simply that customers want the right stock, in the right environment and enjoy the security of being able to “insure” their purchase if necessary.

This security underpins the next level of retailer customer relationship, which is, they want to have trust in their retailer and there are no surprises for understanding the power of this attribute in the customer journey.

FRESH IS BEST FOR YOUR CUSTOMER

It’s essential that your store retains a ‘fresh’ feel, with subtle yet constant change. Flexible merchandising systems and getting the basics in shape allows you to execute time and time again with minimum fuss for maximum effect. Look and learn from other retailers (not just in your category) for the things they do that communicate ‘fresh, new and innovative’ to their customers.

LOCATION, LOCATION, EMOTION

The majority of consumers are unlikely to go ‘out of their way’ to a retail offering with little point of difference to their competitors.

However, they would remain loyal to a retailer, and are prepared to walk that extra distance, to one they had built an emotional relationship with and their compelling point of difference outweighed that of the competition.

It seems distance/inconvenience is directly proportional to the uniqueness of the retail offer and the emotional relationship between retailer and customer.

The divide between transactional retail and experiential retail is growing, with COVID acting as an accelerator.

Experiential Retail

  • Take me on a journey. Don’t bombard me with information (especially when I first arrive) and streamline the path that leads me to the product.
  • Wrap a story around your product or offer: Enrich and affirm my product selection choice, show me how to use it and provide me with benefits.
  • Entertain me in your store environment: We see retail environments increasingly moving towards and merging with this concept of “retailtainment”. The store becomes a “theatre” where experiences and shopping, as retail therapy, are crafted into the shop design.

The retail shop that does not contain any (if not all) of these store design attributes will at best be forced into a transactional, price competing offering.

VISUAL MERCHANDISING AS A COMMUNICATION TOOL.

A strong coherent message is the most powerful ingredient to motivate the retail customer.

A busy, complex window or display is perceived as distracting and somewhat confusing which invariably leads to a loss of customer motivation to enter your store let alone actually buy something. Capturing the central message of the retailer’s offer with effective visual merchandising is the critical ‘attraction’ lever. Interestingly some respondents noted that low maintenance standards (such as dusty fixtures and broken lights) contribute to sending a negative message and successful retailers continue to heed and reinforce this need to get the basics right.

SO WHAT REALLY DRIVES THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY BACK TO THEIR RETAILER OF CHOICE?

These attributes form the “non-negotiable” or “base entry levels” for the commencement of the consumer – retail relationship.

  • Good staff attitude

Staff with a positive, cheerful disposition coupled with positive listening and relaxed interpersonal skills goes a long way towards building the staff-customer retail relationship.

  • Accurate product information

The salesperson “knowing their stuff” and conveying this in a manner in which information is exchanged, the customer builds knowledge and the building of a trusting relationship takes place.

  • Delivering on promises

The retailer doing what they say they will do and honoring their word is fundamental to the perceived values of the retail organisation.

  • Consistency in meeting their expectations in all aspects of service, price, product selection and choice.

This “consistency of dependable product and service” factor really drives much of the respondent preference and behavior. Keep it predictable and secure with little or no room for unpleasant surprises – these are attractions for an increasingly time poor, pressured customer.

  • Value your customer’s time

Let’s also face it, time is of critical importance regarding all customer interactions. Be courteous and don’t delay your customers or force them to wait…for anything! Most interactions will be spent on their downtime, your staff are paid for being there, but your customers aren’t. Help them to maximise what should be their leisure time and combine the above points in an effective, efficient manner!

DON’T TELL ME – SELL ME!

Store staff remains your direct link to the customer. How the customer is treated by them will determine your future retail relationship with the customer.

Customers, when asked how they rated store staff on loyalty driver attributes, rated highly;

  • Honesty & helpfulness
  • Happiness and a positive disposition
  • Service and selling skills

These attributes really don’t require individual descriptions to comment that they are the hallmarks of a motivated, productive and passionate retail team.

BUT WHY AND HOW WILL A CUSTOMER TURN INTO AN EX-CUSTOMER?

Our mystery shopping division showed that inconsistent service is one of the retail de-motivators that caused the customer to look elsewhere on their customer journey.

Customers do not expect to be recognised and greeted by name, they do however, have high expectation to be given good and accurate information and help in selecting the products or services they require. They do not want their personal space invaded, or being instructed on “what they need” nor being pressured into buying.

Other de-motivators include

  • Undesirable staff attitude. Slow service time, arrogance and positioning the customer as an intrusion all contribute to this perception.
  • Not making the customer feel valued. This is best defined by a lack of interest in the customers needs coupled by an indifference to the features and benefits of the products – typically identified by a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
  • Dishonesty or lack of integrity. Changing the selling story to fit what the customer might want to hear, coupled with a “sell at all costs” attitude can inadvertently send these signals.

Furthermore, the salesperson failing to establish eye contact and seeming a little evasive in verbal and non-verbal body language are all contributors to this customer perception.

IN THE END IT’S A MIX OF HEART AND MIND THAT TAKES THE PROSPECT ON A JOURNEY FROM SHOPPER TO CUSTOMER

Doing the basics consistently well, with innovative and exciting store presentations is the surest way to transport the shopper on their journey to a customer in your store.

We are also reminded that as customers we can be complex beings, seemingly wanting the predictable (stock, sales, service) and having it wrapped in the unpredictable (new, exciting, different, entertaining).

What was increasingly apparent, however, was that the customer essentially buys on two levels, being:

1. The Rational (or non-negotiable).

That you have the product, they know they can return it if they have to (without embarrassment, problems or waiting on the manager to come down from the 7th floor) and that they will experience a positive interaction in a well merchandised and well-presented store.

2. The Emotional (or relationship building phase).

This includes the degree of confidence and trust they have in their retailer of choice supported by their relationship with a skilled and sincere salesperson/people.

Understanding the retail customer journey is pivotal to ensuring your desired customer retains you as their “store of choice” and continue to take you with them on their customer journey.

Josh Strutt is Retail Doctor Group’s resident Strategy Analyst. Josh holds an MBA from Swinburne coupled with a deep background in retail implementation and is the go-to person for understanding how to efficiently maximise daily retail operations for big picture growth.

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