The ghosts of Xmas CX - past, present and future
We all know how the story goes –a miserly person is made to revisit his past, look at his present and recognise what his future could be if he doesn’t change his ways. And now A Christmas Carol brings its cautionary tale to the behind-the-scenes business of retail.
Of course, it’s wrong to cast retailers in the role of Scrooge - while they exist to make a profit, they’re in the business of giving people what they want (albeit at a price), and Christmas would be much less colourful if they stopped. But there are lessons to be learned from the past, quick fixes to make the present work better and strategies to ensure they aren’t left behind in a customer experience-driven future.
Any Christmas ad from the 70s to the 90s shows that back then, it was all about selling products as quickly as possible. Delivering an ‘experience’ was left to the buyer, who was expected to brave the queues and the weather to pick up what they needed. The idea that ‘Christmas shopping is a nightmare’ took hold – customers were often the least important part of the process.
Choice was limited – if items ran out, customers went without. The joy of giving was overtaken by the pressure of uncertainty. Co-ordination between shopper needs and retail operations didn’t really exist, because using business and customer data to link processes in any meaningful way to make things easier for buyer and retailer was not yet on the agenda.
No-one wants to return to the days of isolated pockets of paper-based data and no specific strategy to deliver better customer experiences. There’s no reason (or excuse) for these particular ghosts to still haunt us – even the most traditional retailers have woken up to the need to make shopping as seamless and painless for the customer as possible.
Around ten years ago, with the advent of the first of the big John Lewis ads, retailers realised that it pays to tap into the sentiment and wonder of Christmas rather than just selling to stressed shoppers. Today, customers buy into a feeling – they’ll only invest if it reflects their own experiences and wishes for the season. Delivering that kind of Christmas means personalising as much of the journey from browsing to purchase as possible – and that means customer experience management on an individual level. Just anticipating peak shopping times to ramp up stock and sales resources and managing queues with mobile payment facilities can make a difference – go one step further and let store associates order online for next-day delivery in-store or at home, check customer profiles and access their wishlists and there’s every chance that they’ll get that special experience they related to in the ads.
Smart customer experience management is the key to a happy Christmas and a happy business year Application and service orchestration has opened up a world of opportunity for speedy integration, and agile project management means you can set up useful, customer-friendly initiatives such as online ordering in-store and mobile PoS in a couple of weeks.
Christmas yet to come
There’s nothing like uncertainty to stop even the most seasoned retailers in their tracks, and the last couple of years have been uniquely challenging – socially, economically and practically. Given the ever-changing retail landscape, it’s not surprising that some may be reluctant to commit to digital transformation - today’s investments could be tomorrow’s expensive mistakes. But customer expectations are only going to grow, and the need to deliver something seamless, integrated and, where possible, magical, will become standard. This year’s hastily-delivered campaigns to get the data flowing freely and profitably must be the basis for next year’s fully-developed strategies.
If there’s one thing this seasonal story has taught us, it’s that nothing stays the same. While you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can plan for the inevitability of change – being swift, agile and above all open to the prospect of doing something different with customer experience will place you in an excellent position to take advantage of that change.
There’s no time like the present
Of course, the key lesson is that you should not have regrets that haunt you. What you do today will make where you are next Christmas so much better.
With a background in marketing and psychology, Emma Newman is a talented Head of Client Success who has worked with high-profile clients across the retail spectrum. Much in demand as a customer experience expert, she has been instrumental in building customer-focused strategies for a number of leading brands.