The Experience Manager

Parker Avery Point of View

Laying the Foundation for Exceptional Customer Service

Your brand represents the experiences you are promising your customers, and it encompasses everything a customer feels and senses when interacting with your company.

A retail customer's experience happens through many touchpoints with your brand, including in-store, eCommerce, mCommerce, social media platforms, online review sites, marketing materials and call centers. Many retailers have similar merchandise assortments, and therefore need to determine how to differentiate themselves from competitors to gain market share and improve bottom-line results. Retailers who do this well rely on their employees as the main distinguishing factor. To insure this differentiation and maintain the brand promise across all touchpoints, employee training is of great importance.

Customer Touchpoints

Identifying your brand's customer touchpoints is the first step toward creating a customer journey map, and making sure your customers are satisfied every part of the way is a key element. Your brand may be known for great products, but wayward touchpoints such as failing to greet customers when they enter your store, difficulties checking-out while shopping online, being put on hold for an extended length of time, or billing mistakes on a credit card statement can deter customers from doing business with your brand. Customer touchpoints are your brand's points of contact with your shoppers from start to finish, before, during and after their purchase.

Identifying and making a list of all the places and times your customer might come into contact with your brand will allow you to identify your customer touchpoints and pinpoint key focal areas. For example, in-store touchpoints include signage to help people find product locations, the parking lot, as well as the many different interactions that occur inside the store, like door greeters, sales staff, visual elements, cash wraps, fitting rooms, etc. While knowing your customer touchpoints is important, it is only part of the equation. To improve customer satisfaction, you need to make certain each touchpoint leads to a great customer experience.

The Socialization of Customer Experiences

When customers have experiences that do not meet their expectations, there is a high degree of probability that they will not return and they will not purchase products from your store. Even worse, they are likely to not tell you about the bad experience, but others instead. Mobile technology easily allows customers to post and share their experiences with your brand instantly via text messaging, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) and online review sites (Yelp, Google Places, CitySearch, etc.), potentially going viral to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.

According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research in April 2013, titled Customer Service and Business Results: A Survey of Customer Service from Mid- Sized Companies, 95% of respondents who have had a bad experience said they told someone about it. This is in contrast to 87% who shared good experiences. In fact, bad experiences were more likely to be shared across each social circle identified in the survey:
• Friends or family were most commonly told (81% in person);
• Coworkers were next most likely to be told (57% in person);
• Respondents were 50% more likely to share a bad experience on social media and 52% more likely to share it on an online
review site.

Furthermore, 86% of respondents who have read negative reviews claimed that the information impacted their buying decision.

It is critical to understand that the amount of focus, resources and investment in training has a direct impact on customer experiences. When combined with a solid career development program, training also helps your employees improve trust, loyalty and job satisfaction, which greatly impacts turnover rates, recruiting efforts and staff management costs.

Proper training can have a dramatic and positive impact on how sales associates approach and interact with customers (as opposed to leaving it up to an employee's own judgment or "best guess"). As an example, training that incorporates a clear understanding of pricing policies and how to handle customer inquiries regarding pricing is critical as retailers increasingly implement differential pricing strategies. In such a scenario, the sales associates should (1) be knowledgeable about possible differences in online vs. in-store pricing, (2) be able to politely and plainly explain such discrepancies to the customer, (3) understand how to mitigate possible customer negative reactions, and (4) fully empowered to quickly make adjustments if appropriate. Training for these types of situations can dramatically reduce customer confusion and abandonment – and may even improve customer loyalty.

In the next sections, we explore tactics and approaches on how to ensure training supports the customer experience value proposition, and provide some examples of training programs from retail industry leaders.

Training as a Customer Experience Enabler

Exceptional employee training is the key to improving your customers' experience across all touchpoints. A solid training program must be much more than task-oriented and has to include an understanding of the fundamental role each employee plays in achieving the company's vision, mission and customer experience value proposition.

Additionally, a clear understanding of downstream impacts of proper process execution and handling of all types of customer interactions is absolutely critical. As a very basic example, if a sales associate does not properly scan a product when processing a customer sales transaction, the downstream impacts are inventory inaccuracies and replenishment issues. These types of actions not only create merchandise management issues, but can also negatively impact customer service and satisfaction by creating out-of-stocks or inability to locate products that are supposed to be on-hand "in the system."

Proper training allows you to improve the performance of your employees by enabling them to see the "bigger picture" of your retail operation and how every action they take in the store can have a direct impact on success of your company. Ensuring your staff training is comprehensive in content and solid in delivery, feedback and follow up also puts you in a better position to meet your business goals.

In today's world of instant social-media sharing, choosing the appropriate combination of methods to train your employees is more important than ever. The following table outlines several different training methods, which should all be evaluated as possible approaches to meet your training goals. Typically a blend of these training methods is used, but the best combination of training will be dependent upon your unique retail environment and customer service value proposition.

Training Methods

The Creation of Brand Ambassadors

All customer experiences with your brand – both good and bad – are most often a direct result of your employees. Employees are your brand ambassadors and advocates; they create exceptional customer experiences by connecting and engaging with the customer. Customers who have a true human relationship with a brand ambassador typically buy more and remain loyal for a long period of time.

In this section, we highlight a few examples of best in class retailers who understand the importance of continually evolving their training programs to meet changing customer expectations and ensure their employees deliver the best possible customer experience.

apple logo A key component to Apple's training begins with their screening and hiring processes; the company only hires Apple "evangelists," which in turn makes training much more enjoyable for the employees – they truly love the products. Apple's "How To Be a Genius" employee training manual focuses on five steps of service:

1. Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
2. Probe politely to understand the customer's needs (ask closed and open-ended questions).
3. Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
4. Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
5. End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

Additionally, the training outlines a list of Do's and Don'ts, specifies words the store staff is not allowed to use and details how to identify and take advantage of customer emotions. Another key element is training store associates to use empathy in handling customers – particularly in difficult situations – enabling customers to have confidence that the associate truly understands the customer's issue or need. Lastly, Apple's focus on customer value creation is heavily emphasized in their training so that store staff can easily portray how the company's products and services add value to customer lives.

nordstrom logoNordstrom's motto "Service is a Culture not a Department" is best exemplified by three key techniques in Nordstrom's training manuals:

1. View every customer interaction as a story opportunity. Train each of your employees that every customer interaction is a story opportunity, and the first step in creating a legend about your company. These stories, repeated over and over, eventually become legends and serve to form the image of your company. Your team has the power to create positive legends by serving customers in an exemplary fashion.

2. Define service from the customer's point of view. There is often a wide difference between management's perception of exemplary performance and the customer's viewpoint. When evaluating the quality of your product and the performance of your staff, it is important to not guess, but ask your customers. No one is in a better position to judge. This means you need to continuously talk with your customers. Be proactive: ask questions right after a transaction; talk to them again in 10 months.

3. Exceed your customers' expectations. If you are meeting your customers' expectations, you are already ahead of the game. You will have satisfied customers who will recommend you to their friends. But you cannot create legends by simply meeting customers' expectations. Legends are the result of an event that goes beyond the expected.

macys logoMacy's new training program, called "Magic Selling," requires new sales associates to attend a three-and-a-half-hour session when they start at the company (versus a 90-minute video as they did under Macy's former program). The program title is actually based on the acronym, M.A.G.I.C.:

• Meet and make a connection.
• Ask questions and listen.
• Give options and give advice.
• Inspire to buy.
• Celebrate the purchase.

The enhanced training program introduces new sales associates to the company, the vision, the brand values, the core customer and Macy's business priorities. A course on the company's position on diversity and inclusion is also included.

Also included are seasonal refresher courses and individual coaching from managers while on the sales floor. Weekly associate "scorecards," enable management and associates to set quantifiable goals and monitor progress.

Furthermore Macy's continues to bring new technology-based customer tools into their stores. The company is increasing sales associates' use of tablets and other hand-held devices not only for selling, but also for associate training and product knowledge.

Final Word

Simply put, your employees are a critical component of your brand; they represent your company at every touchpoint – most prominently in the physical store – and can be the difference between a positive customer experience and a negative one. Employees are the key to creating exceptional customer experiences, and skilled employees who are well trained are imperative to your brand's success. It is your employees' responsibility to ensure customers have their ideal shopping experience, but it is your responsibility to provide the exceptional training and tools in order to best prepare them. Your employees are The Experience Manager – they own your customer's experience.

If you’d like to learn more about our vision or understand how you might take advantage of this strategy, contact us at or call 770.882.2205.

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