I’m writing this article fresh from a visit to Specsavers. I’ve just signed up for monthly home delivery of contact lenses, which will come in a neat package that will definitely fit through my letterbox. (They showed me a sample package).
Fair play to Specsavers! They have thought about the customer journey of busy contact lens wearers, like me. They have identified a common pain point: out of lenses and no way to get to a shop during opening hours for more. They have come up with a simple solution: to deliver the lenses to their customers with the reassurance that the package will fit through a standard letterbox. To me, that’s customer-centric thinking in action and good customer experience delivered. Literally.
I don’t often feel so positively about my experience as a customer I must admit. I have pretty high standards. And I’m not alone in this. The expectations of customers in Ireland and around the world are ever increasing. Travel, emigration and online purchasing have exposed us to best-in-class experiences. Our everyday experiences are now benchmarked against the best of them, such as those that the international giants offer. When you consider that two thirds of Irish people have bought something on Amazon (according to a recent PWC report1), that’s setting the standard for the customer experience we expect in all our online purchasing.
But it’s not just about having a wonderful website and slick online sales function – though that matters hugely. A pressing challenge for many Irish companies with retail outlets around the country is the design and delivery of a coherent omni-channel strategy that optimises each and every opportunity to interact with customers, whether in store or online.
The jury may still be out about how this will work best but in W5 we observe that companies using the retail space to create some theatre around their brand, and so drive emotional engagement and loyalty, are having strong success.
Jameson, a star performer in the whiskey category internationally, is a case in point. Jameson has established an award-winning visitor centre in Smithfield which creates a platform for the brand to express its unique personality, engage with customers on a personal level and deliver an emotional experience. Given that we now understand we are emotional beings first and foremost and that emotions influence what we remember, how we evaluate our encounters and make our decisions, Jameson’s Bow Street experience seems like a very clever move – and one sure to drive engagement and promote loyalty.
Another challenge for Irish companies is the difficulty in managing and positively impacting the customer emotional state when the interaction is remote. When we are dealing with customers face-to-face we can see and intuit their emotional response and, like any clinician with a good bedside manner, take steps to optimise the interaction by recalibrating our words, tone of voice and body language. These ‘soft’ tools are obviously not available to us in online engagement which is a key challenge for companies dealing with customers who are emotionally charged during a buying process: think mortgages, healthcare, pensions or indeed any interaction of significance to customers. I don’t think any organisation has yet cracked it but one thing we know for sure is that the more intelligence we have on emotional triggers, positive or negative, the better. We can then manage and avoid the especially negative triggers.
An enduring challenge for everyone is employee engagement. Frontline customer experience in Ireland, as elsewhere, is now increasingly delivered by semi-skilled employees who often report that they are not empowered with the right tools or training to work optimally and who feel the work is not meaningful. It is no surprise that in this context the experience delivered to customers suffers.
The challenge posed by a feeling of lack of engagement cannot be underestimated. A recent poll by W5 showed that almost half of employees in Ireland said they don’t feel like going to work in the morning (the results were higher amongst those in lower than supervisory grades). Do you want your customer interacting with someone who really doesn’t want to be there? Attractive incentive packages that reward customer service agents with stronger customer reaction scores can be a way of engaging employees but essentially it come down to three things. Firstly, employees need to be empowered to deliver, with the right tools and right training. Next, they need to understand and be motivated by the purpose of the organisation so they can evidence it in their work. And finally, they need to be listened to and meaningfully involved in decision making. Indeed, if you are not listening to frontline staff you are missing a trick big time. These are the people who often have the strongest link to and understanding of customers.
So, in Ireland today there are four key customer experience challenges that we need to attend to: keeping pace with international competitors; managing and optimising an omni-channel strategy, managing and optimising emotional interactions online and employee engagement.
It’s a lot. But we’re on it. Customer experience in Ireland is improving. As an industry we are listening and learning with an appetite to do better, to be better. It is the well-considered, simple things like posting out contact lenses in a letterbox-friendly packet that will ensure success.
PWC Retail & Consumer Report 2018.