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Branding and today's retail customer

Retailers should evaluate the effectiveness of branding strategies in their quest to deliver upon the customer experience promise. ELIZABETH BOYD reports.

Erik Nordstrom, co-president of mega-retailer Nordstrom Inc., once said, “Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer – solve something for the customer – and there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office.”

Nordstrom worked his way up inside his own family’s organisation, which gave him experience in various departments. This helped him understand the retail business on a granular level, enabling him to perform in a variety of leadership roles inside the organisation as his responsibilities grew.

It’s important that retailers and store managers spend time in the store interacting with customers. This can not only help managers understand their needs and wants but also create moments of delight.

Storeowners who apply the same principle, will support a culture of customer focus. Focus on hiring employees with a core understanding of the business and its customers so that there are consistent practices that drive engagement and interaction.

Ralph Lauren is an iconic brand with a very specific and consistent aesthetic across its assortment – from apparel to home furnishings and fragrances. The company maintains a high-level of consistency with its brand promise and one of the reasons for this is that employees embrace the vision.

Founder Ralph Lauren said, “We know who our customer is and we’re a company standing firm with our point of view.”

Leadership is a brand feature

Branding is the personality of a business. A brand has a character, a look, a tone of voice and a way of behaving and delivering an experience… and leadership style is a part of that.

"Retail is the business of building relationships - these relationships are essential for delivering an elevated level of interaction."

From international jewellery brands such as Pandora and Tiffany right through to independent jewellery retailers, management’s leadership style is responsible for the personality and culture of the team, which impacts the reputation of a store via the quality and quantity of service it delivers. To staff, the brand equates to the experience they are likely to have on a consistent basis as a member of the organisation.

Customer experience is widely considered by analysts to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the near future. Retail leaders can create and shape their brands in the eyes of not only their customers but also their staff. Creating a brand identity as it relates to service and experience, including the mission and values of the organisation, will help stores establish a reputation inside the small world that is retail.

With consistency and a high-level of customer experience, brands can build a value proposition that offers unique and vivid engagement and an interaction that delivers happiness. This brand consistency has one massive advantage – recognition. With recognition comes familiarity; with familiarity comes customer trust and confidence. If done well, consistency also brings clarity and purpose, which customers will support.

Human nature is not known for embracing newness and there is research that a customer needs to be exposed to a brand 17 times before they start to believe. This is why it’s so important to be consistent, to understand customer expectations and to position staff to deliver on those expectations.

Customer-experience expectations

Customer experience refers to the complete experience a customer has with a business and the happiness it brings them.

Customer experience is an integral part of customer relationship management as a customer who has a positive experience with a business is more likely to become a repeat customer.

In fact, 74 per cent of senior executives believe that customer experience impacts the willingness of a customer to be a loyal advocate. This statistic should resonate with management and inspire businesses to ensure their brands and teams are ready to deliver a consistent level of greatness with each customer.

According to marketingland.com, retailers are ignoring more than 80 per cent of customers’ social media requests: “The stats from the Spout Social’s Q4 2015 Index are damning. Retailers failed to respond to more than 80 per cent of consumer questions and requests on social media in the last year. And the cold shoulder from merchants was coldest when you’d think they could least afford it, during the holiday shopping season. During the fourth quarter of 2014, only 16.35 percent of customer queries to retailers were answered.”

Social media is a huge part of retail branding and retailers who aren’t delivering a brand promise through social media that is consistent with store-level interaction are failing their customers and their brand.

Create a clear vision

The first step in any customer experience strategy is to have a clear customer-focused vision. The easiest way to define this vision is to utilise a set of statements that act as guiding principles.

"Just as managers want to solicit feedback from customers to gauge experience delivery, managers also want to solicit feedback from employees."

Online shoe and clothing shop Zappos embeds core family values into its culture, which includes delivering phenomenal service and embracing change and evolution. Once these principles are in place, Zappos drives the behaviour of its team to deliver its customer experience promise. Every member of a store’s team should be aligned with its principles, which should be included in all areas of training, development, and career guidance.

Create an emotional connection

The best customer experiences are achieved when team members create an emotional connection with a customer. Research by the Journal of Consumer Research has found that more than 50 per cent of an experience is based on an emotion as emotions shape the attitudes that drive decisions – customers become loyal because they are emotionally attached; they remember how they feel when they use a product or service.

Happiness is made up of three aspects:

  • Anticipation

  • Experience

  • Memory

The research, titled, Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Count, proves that customers don’t buy strictly for rational reasons and that it’s much more important to engage customers on an emotional level. A business that optimises this connection outperforms competitors by 85 per cent in sales growth.

Capture real-time feedback

How does a business know if it is delivering a phenomenal customer experience? It’s easy. Just ask. Shopping surveys can be delivered using a variety of automated email and telephone tools, especially when an organisation has an omni-channel presence. It’s even possible to make outbound calls to a store’s best and most regular customers to gain more feedback about their visits and levels of engagement inside the store.

Teams with quality framework

Every staff member and each area of your business will require different competencies and focuses; however, there are critical success factors that high-performers display consistently.

Ensure management has a plan in place to hire talent that possess these qualities, as these employees can support the learning and development of the whole team by uncovering the latent talents of existing staff members and nurturing the obvious. Here are other components of a quality framework:

  • Shape staff development to be aligned with the mission and values of the organisation

  • Keep everyone on the same page with honest, clear, and consistent communication that engages and energises action

  • Invest in tools and resources for learning

  • Dream big and encourage the team to do so also

  • Understand the link between mood and performance and how that translates to work performance and customers

  • Know and understand all staff

Act on staff feedback

Just as managers want to solicit feedback from customers to gauge experience delivery, managers also want to solicit feedback from employees to see where gaps may exist in customer experience.

What tools, resources or training do staff need to better deliver a fabulous and memorable experience to customers? Follow through is essential. Quickly give staff what they need to maintain momentum, focus on the customer and provide excellent service.

Measure customer experience ROI

How do managers know if all this investment is paying off? The answer is in the business results. At the granular level, this can be measured daily and weekly in conversion, customer spending and traffic. On a broader level, metrics such as brand advocacy, customer churn and customer growth are vital measures.

According to Emmet and Mark Murphy, authors of Leading on the Edge of Chaos, reducing customer churn by 5 per cent can increase profitability by 25 per cent to 125 per cent, while a 2 per cent increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10 per cent.

Surely that alone is reason enough to focus on branding in this competitive digital age.












ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Boyd

Contributor • Excellence in Retail


Elizabeth Boyd is founder and editor in chief of Excellence in Retail. She has 18 years' retail experience. Learn more: cottoncandyfshn.com









Sunday, 22 July, 2018 03:13pm
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