Organizational Engagement - It's For The Customer

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. 

  • Educate your business on what’s important to customers and how to use emotional intelligence to deliver personalized experiences. 
  • Reward great customer-focused behavior – not just strong sales results. Lead with a customer focus – consistently communicating the importance of the customer in your strategy. 
  • Equip your store teams with the data to make decisions and do what’s best for your customers – after all, they know the customer better than anyone. 

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.

4 comments about "Organizational Engagement - It's For The Customer".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Cece Forrester from tbd, March 24, 2015 at 10:18 a.m.

    How exactly do you see pushing customer data to the front lines and having the associate use it? And especially, how would this happen without getting creepy and overstepping the current stage of the relationship? (Technology might enable us to call someone we've never met by name without their giving it...or tell them we know where they live...but that doesn't make it a positive.) Knowing where the line is is a big part of the judgment associates are expected to use. It would be a mistake to override that with directives that could lead to awkwardness and alienation. It might be better just to let them elicit information in the normal way.

  2. Emilie Kroner from dunnhumby, March 24, 2015 at 2:59 p.m.

    @CeCe - Thanks for the question - In terms of the level of data, we often see retailers keep customer insights (what customers in general like to purchase, how they purchase, segmentation of customers, how customers feel about their brands, general shopping patterns) at a corporate level and if properly equipped to understand these trends and general insights (not PII) through appropriate reporting mechanisms or even simple sharing through the cascade of operations, associates could have a significant ability to impact the customer experience.

    Additionally, by building a culture that empowers associates to use emotional intelligence cues to deliver more relevant experiences (rather than transactional relationship greetings, etc we often see), associates can culturally feel equipped to treat customers differently based upon situation.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 24, 2015 at 3:45 p.m.

    CeCe, you hit the nail on the head. At $7.25/hr part-time with a high turnover, don't expect much and don't give your information to people you don't know. Just because a person is working as a minimum wage clerk in any form of retail, doesn't mean they like it or are good at it. It's a job, for now. I've heard in department stores, a clerk asked a customer for their social security number. Last time, I spoke up and she didn't get it from the woman who forgot her charge card for a $20 purchase...B2B is a totally different animal with a different conversation and approach.

  4. Cece Forrester from tbd, March 24, 2015 at 7:51 p.m.

    Thanks for the explanation, Emilie. If you are talking about general insights to give sales floor associates about possible customer interest based on general trends that have been noted in the data, that makes more sense and wouldn't result in over-intrusiveness. Also, if associates could simply be encouraged to ask open-ended questions about what the customer's needs might be today, and place less emphasis on rote phrases that sound like a half-hearted attempt to be your pal (sorry, I'm busy thinking about what I want to buy and didn't come prepared to discuss how I am today) they could stay focused on genuinely helpful suggestions and that might be a win-win.


Next story loading loading..