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Can you afford not to serve your customers better?

Updated: Jul 25, 2018

I've been meaning to write this for an age. Time just disappears doesn't it? Before you realise it, the good times of summer will make way to the gloom of winter and we all long for the 'good old days' of summer 2018.

I think that's quite a useful metaphor for the service sector at the moment. Customers across the country are longing for better service. The high street is up against the biggest threat of an age. The internet. Not only are strong e-commerce players cleaning up with up to the minute information and speedy delivery, they also have the edge when it comes to product knowledge.

This entire post was ignited in me when I saw a post on twitter. An unassuming comment about service at Currys PC World. Here's Jay's post:

Jay has given retailers a golden ticket there. It's probably the best steer a high street retailer could get on where their priorities should be. Your people should be your competitive edge. They are the one element of the high street experience that a computer will never be able to match. Personal service, expert knowledge and a genuine empathy for the customer cannot be matched by technology. As humans we need human interaction - that same is true in the learning world.

Here's what we think retailers should be doing to survive the obliteration of the high street as we know it...

1 - Technology is not the enemy

Technology has a wonderful role to play in that experience. One of the biggest tech giants in the world (Apple) still have a high street presence, and they do it brilliantly. Their people love the products, know everything about them and encourage you to use them. They also help you fix it when things go wrong. Apple are proud of their user-led experience and it flows through to the shops too.

Businesses that do not embrace technology will be left behind. Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, House of Fraser - some great examples there of businesses that need to (and are) making changes to ensure their survival. M&S have played with technology (remember the tablets on shoulder straps on their staff in store?) that enable customers to order what is not available. Which leads nicely to our next piece of advice...

2 - Get the product right

This might be news to many, but customers will buy from you if the product offering is right. Times have changed, and retailers need to change with them. Even a decade ago, the warning signs were there. Today I can walk in to a Marks and Spencer or Debenhams store and be reminded of my shopping experience from 30 years ago. Nothing much has changed. The stores are uninspiring and big business seems to have lost its way with their people. I saw an article online about the new concept Debenhams store (https://www.debenhams.com/content/new-stevenage-store) - which is a massive step change in approach. It needs to go much further. A concept store should be exploring Champagne bars, wine bars, a relaxation den, a spa - all of these things will tempt customers back in.

3 - Your people need to know

Once you've done all of the great development work with your product and got the technology right, your people really need to understand it. They have a right to know why you are making the changes and what their role is in making that a success. If you invest in product but not in your people you will find it hard to get the best return. Training can be seen as a big expense (we get that!) but the failure cost would be vast. Your people are more invested in the success of the change than you might think - and change is probably what you will most need to help them with.

They need to know their stuff too. They need to be able to offer expert advice and be able to answer customer questions with confidence. If they don't know the answer, they need to be able to find it quickly. Technology can help you here too (hold that thought - we are talking to an organisation at the moment that will really be able to help you with this).

Every company we work with is changing. The high street need people that are invested in the product, the brand... the promise you are making to your customers. If your people get it, your customers will too.

4 - Find your place in the world

The original concept of a 'chain' store will be dead in a few years time. Even the word 'chain' can be interpreted differently. To the positive; linked, joined up, strong. To the negative; heavy, cumbersome, rigid. Customers like the consistency of chain stores but only when they are consistently good. I think we can all think of a time in a well-known store of our choosing where we don't really feel the people there have been fully invested in our experience.

The advice here is 'find what you do well and stick to it'. IKEA are well known for the look and feel of their stores. They feed you cheaply, the furniture is tried and tested, the design principles are consistent, and they are doing really rather well. There's room for improvement in their people plan for sure, but innovation and usability are their bedrock. They've found their place in the world - and it looks like Sweden. Look at some of the innovations they are working on here: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/01/31/10-game-changing-ideas-innovations-ikea-ingvar-kamprad/

Here endeth the lesson. We work with many organisations and they all have two things in common. They are experiencing and introducing huge change to culture, business models and customer experience. They are also doing their best to engage their people along the way to give the best possible service to their customers.

Please. Don't let Jay down.

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