OPINION: What retailers need to do to improve the customer experience

"A poor in-store experience is the quickest way to dent customer confidence", says Qmatic
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"A poor in-store experience is the quickest way to dent customer confidence", says Qmatic

Steve Williams, MD of customer flow management firm Qmatic, talks about how retailers can improve their customer service this Christmas.

Despite all of your best efforts to avoid peaks of customers rushing into your stores at once, it's still going to happen. After all, Christmas is the busiest time of year for the majority of retailers. 

When it does happen, it is critical to remember that the customer experience is king. Online, offline, Christmas or not, every customer interaction with your brand affects their future relationship with you and propensity to spend with you again.

A poor in-store experience is the quickest way to dent customer confidence, and with the cost of new customer acquisition way more expensive than customer retention, it makes sense to invest in this area. 

It's important, because all the research we see shows that around 70 per cent of all sales will be concluded face to face. In retail there is wave of data that points to customers wanting to collect their goods in person. And when the retailer gets it right, the customers stays in store and buys more. As we know, 60 to 90 per cent of buying decisions are made in store.

So, more than ever, retailers have a need to decipher the customer experience to better understand the drivers of positive outcomes. An often forgotten touch point is the transition from the virtual to the physical world and too little time is spent on understanding how this transition and the in-store experience can be optimised.

Stores are looking for ways to reset expectations with a focus on the customer experience, maximizing cross-selling to existing customers and driving cost down.

The question is how.

There are three key areas which a retailer should work to improve that will have a positive impact on the customer experience. 

•Increase the quality of service

•Reduce the waiting time

•Improve the customer’s perception of the visit

At the heart of the customer experience is the quality of service provided. With a modern Customer Experience Management (CEM) solution it is possible to identify and segment customer at arrival or with a mobile app even before they arrive at the store.

Such a solution will increase service quality by better matching customers and staff, based on the customer’s need and staff competence. In some cases, advisors are in a stronger position to meet the need since they have access to the customer’s service history and can prepare accordingly.

Customers are perhaps most aware of time when they are waiting. It creeps along. They don’t feel welcome or even acknowledged. In this way, a reduction in waiting time goes hand in hand with an enhanced customer experience.

In addition to streamlining the customer flow and making it more efficient, a solution should reduce the actual waiting time for customers by steering customers to less busy hours for Click and Collect for example. This can be achieved by using a calendar booking system, for example, making it efficient to make appointments and book meetings.

Often we see big money being invested in store digital signage. Often these solutions are poorly implemented; ranging from being in the wrong location or even worse, displaying totally irrelevant information to the visitors. A solution should reduce the perceived waiting time by using target media in the waiting area to present brand information and entertainment, for example. This transforms passive waiting into what we call active waiting or relevant distraction – for a more enlightening customer experience.

There are quite a few things a retailers can do to improve the customer experience. The work needs to start though in the interaction between the virtual and physical world to understand the vital first touch point.

About the author

Steve Williams is Managing Director of customer flow management firm Qmatic