When I was a child, I loved shopping with my mother at our local Hallmark retailer. I could always count on my mom to never miss a birthday or a special occasion — whether it was for family or a close friend. Deep to her Southern roots and despite having three children and working full-time, she’d have a birthday or Valentines’ Day card for me, and I cherished knowing that. When she walked into our Hallmark, I remember her interacting with their associates — they knew her and they knew me. But not only was there a connection and a relationship between my mom and the Hallmark associates, they knew what she wanted; they knew how to ask the right questions, they knew how to best serve her needs.
In today’s shopping environment, I’m lucky if a sales associate even greets me at many of the retailers that I frequent. Not because retailers don’t care about me as a customer, but as the competitive marketplace has continued to explode, retailers have had to get smarter around cost efficiencies and labor challenges. Unfortunately, the operational workforces have more responsibility, less training, and fewer opportunities to serve their customers and make crucial relationships, which has significantly changed the level of personal service that you or I as customers receive.
It’s ironic: In the age of personalization, have we lost our ability to get personal at the store level?
We don’t have to. We have an extraordinary opportunity to bring the power of personalization in the age of customer data, to the people, but that requires us to make smarter and clear strategic choices; change the structure and organization to ensure teams are able to deliver to the customer, and ensure that, as leaders, we are creating a culture that empowers, rewards, and provides our teams with the opportunities to learn and grow — all with the customer in mind.
Many of today’s strongest organizations differentiate themselves by ensuring that their business is structured and supported to constantly deliver to the customer. From the initial interview process at Zappos, employees are screened to make sure they have the values and passion around customer service. Baristas at Starbucks are educated and tested on all products so that they can educate customers as well as make recommendations. Ritz Carlton employees are empowered to provide great personal experiences to customers, with limited parameters. Nordstrom trusts their employees to deliver great experiences by using their “best judgment in all situations.”
For most companies, the people who have a direct ability to change the way customers think about the brand comprise over 98% of an organization. so why aren’t we focusing more on them? After all, imagine that each of your 10,000 customers can help only onecustomer a week to buy one more item at a $5 AUR (average unit retail), resulting in a $2.6M incremental sales lift. Sounds like a pretty solid investment for relatively small changes.
I say we start using the vast amounts of consumer data we have to start truly transforming the way we deliver to customers. The key is pushing this knowledge down to the front lines and getting the customer information to those who day-in and day-out have the ability to impact the customer experience within minutes.
Using data, we can discover what customers want and make internal customer promises to stay focused on what matters most to customers. Brands and retailers must hold themselves accountable as a business to these promises, making them the cornerstone to business strategies.
While it may not be realistic to get back to the personalized model of the “mom and pop” stores, the data is there to help us get closer to our customer in a number of ways that are important to them, and that will ultimately help build loyalty with them. As business leaders, the onus is on us to make the data accessible to everyone in the organization, as an integrated part of our culture.