Retail customer experience - failure in an ADD and trustless world

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett February 15, 2015
If a 360 degree view of the customer is a myth then can we expect better of thinking around the customer experience? I am far from certain.

I've long argued that CRM was never about managing a relationship with the customer and that even if it was, then the notion itself is somewhat distasteful. Constellation's Ray Wang often argues that customers want 'experiences.' That foggy term doesn't fly with me either. The last experience I truly appreciated was   the Jimi Hendrix Experience - now that WAS something. Derek duPreez argues that business needs to reflect internally and that:

Processes that are siloed and departments that operate without talking to each other and with different incentives will not see success by buying some shiny new kit.

I think Derek missed a trick. Earlier in his piece he had argued:

In the offline world, if I go into a shop every day and get to know the shop owner, I don't mind trading some information with him/her, because you build up trust. I'm not sure how online retailers can do this without that human interaction.

That is getting closer but is only another piece of the 'customer experience' puzzle.

In the fall of 2013, we published Paul Greenberg's A stake in the ground – moved. Social CRM rethought. It was an epic attempt to understand how social interactions are impacting the technical approaches being taken by CRM vendors, what this means for customers and to conclude with a fresh definition of CRM for the 21st century. If you'd like a copy then please sign up for it here.

Esteban Kolsky spends a lot of his life guiding vendors in customer driven strategies. He recently said that in boiling this down, we can think of the relationship with customers are falling into five broad buckets: intent, satisfaction, knowledge, resolution, and engagement.

All these efforts add tremendous value to the conversations around what works and what doesn't in the modern age. The problem with all these approaches and to which Derek alludes, is that it is very difficult to account for the many varieties of human behavior.

As a workaround, vendors and analysts attempt to categorize forms of action and behavior in the hope that people will fall into one or other bucket and from which technology can hopefully draw an inference. In doing so, they dehumanize the individual in much the same way that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has the same impact in some critiques.

For example, it is common these days to think of the average millennial as akin to a person with a form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). In doing so - even in jocular fashion - we lose something of our humanity in making comparison to an often highly debilitating condition. But still technologists try fix it by thinking of ever new ways of keeping us 'stuck' to a buying page.

I tend to the view that Derek's skim view of trust is what really matters. And in that context I sense that we are constantly drawing inferences based upon our real world experience.

This came home to me in a conversation with someone who was talking about a set of real world shopping experiences. She said that in some shops, it is clear that assistants receive little or no training in what 'customer care' means. In retail clothing stores we routinely see racks of clothes that are disorganized by size and style. Who thinks that's good idea? The levels of staff disinterest at your average high street retailer seem to be rising.

Yet on the retail side I often hear assistants saying that it is impossible to satisfy customers who have no time nor patience to listen. I'd speculate that is growing out of the implied instant gratification we can get from Amazon and similar ventures. In the conversation mentioned above, the person said they would rather buy via Amazon than attempt a real world purchase for many classes of goods and service.

In short, we seem to be operating in a world where attention and trust are in short supply on both sides of the retail equation. In that analysis, our technically led attempts to find patterns and adjust or augment softwares to accommodate changes in behavior while still leading the customer down the transactional road to an exchange of value seem futile.

Now contrast that with my recent experience in a high end store. I needed a replacement item which would lead to a small transaction. I was treated in exactly the same way as I would if I had been making a $1,000 purchase. It was pleasurable and created an emotional attachment to the brand that lives on in the memory. It had the opposite effect. Rather than wanting to get out of the store, I felt like I wanted to soak up some of its ambience, bottle it and take it away.

It is that attention to service during the transaction that overcomes the ADD problem. It is an experience I  have seen that repeated at other high end brand stores. There is a penalty on both sides of the equation. The brand needs both a high cost and high revenue profile in order to make it work for everyone in the value chain.

Comparing those experiences, it seems to me that where one segment of the market recognizes the value of service and a satisfying experience, another has yet to get to grips with commodification. It explains in large measure why a portion of the buying population will prefer the farmer's market, even though they end up spending more than at a supermarket.

But then not all parts of the buying market can afford to pay premium prices for the service experience on offer. It is here that the so-called omni-channel approach attempts to overcome customer inertia. Right now, the thinking (at least in the UK) is that omni-channel works well. For example, the lack of a well executed omni-channel strategy is often cited as the reason Morrisons has experienced (sic) so many problems.  On the other hand, a Forrester report claims that cart abandon rates are significantly reduced using Sailththru's personalization technology.

So if some of these software appear to work then where's the disconnect? We need to get back to some basics and recognize that not all experiences are created equal across all types of buying pattern. What may work for food retail may not work for CPG, high end goods and so on. It strikes me as futile to try replicate the real world experience in digital form but how much have retailers learned from the real world.

It strikes me that at one level, there is precious little attempt to figure out what matters to people in real world situations. That would be a good starting point. Simply pointing to (say) call center service failure without examining how the economics played havoc with customers is missing the point.

Regardless of my anecdotal ramblings, this discussion has a much bigger problem. Retailers have done precious little to truly understand what consumers want in the modern age. Too often they have tried to apply a technology fix to a poorly understood issue instead of asking buyers what floats their boat in a given set of circumstances, testing those results and retesting to see if assumptions hold true. In that sense, all discussions end up scratching the surface.

What do you think? Have I got the general sense right or am I missing important factors? Do the reported improvements of applying technology fixes truly address the issues consumers face while giving retailers a boost to revenue or is it a one sided bargain? Are we at risk of attempting to apply DSM style categorizations or is it just an Americanism gone awry?