Chairman, NED, Board Advisor, Investor, Author and Keynote Presenter
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What's the difference between selling 'stuff' and selling experiences?

6th Mar 2019
Chairman, NED, Board Advisor, Investor, Author and Keynote Presenter
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Selling customer experiences

Many organisations sadly overlook a customer-centric approach. Martin Newman explores what it means to be a successful business today.

When you choose which channel to shop in, be it online, on your high street, or at a shopping centre, you are also choosing an experience. What is it that drives that choice? Speed? Efficiency? Fun? Curiosity? Leisure? You won’t always want the same thing as a customer, and so overlooking the experience and engagement of your consumers as a business is a bad move.

To sell well, you need to create that journey. You need to ensure that customers keep coming back. The cost and quality of products are certainly a customer concern, but these are very often traded off for good customer service, ease, efficiency, a great location or just a shorter queue.

Don’t just think of the goods as your final product, but of the whole package: the ergonomics of your site, the service they receive, and the ease in which they can return or exchange goods. People don’t just remember the product, they remember the experience.

The first step in achieving a good grasp on how your customer feels is by engaging with them freely on how they perceive your service. Surveys on the website are a good, quick, cost-efficient way of finding out their experience online. They don’t take too long, and they allow shyer consumers to safely confront problems without the embarrassment of doing so in store.

Another great option is to run exit surveys in store - they take seconds and allow consumers to freshly impart on their experiences without memory getting in the way.

Of course, social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter are the perfect place to get customer feedback. But you’re very exposed in that environment and you have to be ready and able to deal with criticism openly: the press might well leap on a bad customer experience that is out in the public eye and being perceived as a ‘bad’ brand will of course impact how many others choose to shop with you. 

Transparency drives trust has become something of a meme on social media with unhappy customers sharing everything from tiny clothes to hilariously inaccurate orders. Have the systems in place to efficiently comment and make amends on these situations: online feedback is inevitable and trying to censor it rarely comes off well: customers aren’t stupid, and they know something’s up if they can only see positive comments. Transparency is the driver of trust.

If you’re on a budget, I suggest that you try ‘walking the floor’! Talk to customers when they’re in the environment of your business. You’d be amazed how open they’re prepared to be and how much you can learn about your levels of service and other aspects. You’ll have your eyes opened to things you’d never even thought about.

Another thing I recommend is actually visiting your stores and engaging with the customer journey yourself. Get into the spaces and experiences of the people who have to traipse through your stores to find cream note paper or a size 4 stiletto. Try and return a jumper at 5pm on a Wednesday. Inform a member of staff about your nut allergy. Attempt to carry 16 espressos on your own.

Many B2C organisations sadly overlook a customer-centric approach by forgetting what they are providing: a whole service. There shouldn’t be a single aspect of your work that isn’t directly linked to your customer. You are, after all, with every cup of tea or sold eyeliner, being paid for delivering a service. If people are visiting a bricks and mortar store, they are doing it because a website wouldn’t cut the experience. They want to feel the fabric, look at the stock in person and experience the space.

Similarly, if a customer chooses to go online, they are going to want ease, efficiency, and as little hassle as possible. This can be broken up into three main questions: Why are they using this channel (store, platform, app, website)? What are they expecting to receive? How can you optimise that experience?

By not doing the simple, small things a customer needs, or, even worse, failing to take responsibility for your duty to that client, you are ultimately losing money. And beware: there’s more than enough competition to go around. If a coffee company doesn’t have skimmed milk, you can easily walk out and go next door. If a queue for a snack isn’t getting any shorter after 15 minutes, you can walk over to the next canteen. You can’t afford to be lazy. Good customer service isn’t about cutting corners, it’s about anticipating your customer’s needs and meeting them.

It’ll be a journey. You won’t get everything right. You’ll learn from your mistakes and you’ll find out what strategies work for you in your business, your location and for your share of the market. But if there’s one thing to be aware of in retail and business, it’s this: you aren’t just selling stuff. You’re selling an experience. You need to ensure you deliver it. 

Martin Newman was shortlisted in this year’s The Business Book Awards for his book, 100 Practical Ways to Improve Customer Experience co-authored with Malcolm McDonald.

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