Best Practices of a Winning Customer Experience

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Customer service in retail has been elevated to the ideal of creating a positive customer experience every time. While the term “service” implies helping a customer with a particular need at a particular time, “experience” covers multiple customer touchpoints, whether in person or online.

For the second year, Multichannel Merchant recognized leaders in this area with our Excellence in Customer Experience Awards. Presented at the 2016 Operations Summit, the awards honored companies that routinely excel at every phase of the customer experience. As we did last year, we used data from the SmartHub™ benchmarking tool by Radial to determine top performers in five of the six award categories. In analyzing the data, a set of best practices has emerged that can inform any retailer looking to enhance the customer experience.

Best Practice #1: Hire the right people for your front line. Your customer service representatives are more important than ever. It’s a tough job to do and a tough job to hire for. We’ve learned from our award finalists and winners that you should look for more than a reliable, well-spoken individual for a customer service job. Additional qualities to screen for include problem-solving skills, an affinity for your brand, empathy and creativity.

The other side of this equation is to trust your CSRs and give them autonomy to solve customer problems. Individuals with these qualities and skills are more likely to come up with solutions that satisfy customers and don’t “give away the store.” Even if you can’t find the right profile for every position, you can create a next-level job that can handle problems that need to be escalated to someone with more creative problem-solving skills and the autonomy to use them.

Best Practice #2: Be transparent. You may not have the best policies out there, like free shipping, free returns or an unlimited returns window, but that doesn’t mean your customer experience can’t be the best. Clarity and transparency are just as important to customers. Some of the finalists don’t have the most generous policies but they are quite clear on their shipping and returns fees and other policies that customers want to know about before they place an order. 

Best Practice #3: Make the packaging fit the product. That sounds awfully obvious, but the SmartHub data shows that not all retailers follow this simple rule. Small items in too big boxes filled with air packaging may make sense inside the DC. But to the customers who receive them, it looks wasteful. If they want to return the item and your returns aren’t free, the cost may increase with the size of the packaging depending on how the customer chooses to ship it. That’s why the SmartHub data rewards merchants that use appropriate packaging and dunnage.

Best Practice #4: Find the right balance of personalization. Collecting data on customers is an important part of creating a relationship with them. Many customer experience leaders have systems for personalizing their customer interactions. At Ulta Beauty, our Retail Innovator of the Year, that means knowing what brands the customer prefers whether she is in the retail store or online.

Customer preference information is a valuable tool for upselling or spurring repeat sales. Used too often, though, or for inappropriate product suggestions, it can be intrusive and actually turn customers off. The best use it wisely, like generating shopping lists for consumables that are then sent via email to customers, or suggesting complementary items while the customer is actively shopping online.

Best Practice #5: Use every touchpoint to communicate what your brand stands for. You’ve worked hard to make your brand stand for something, be it luxury, durability, quality, indulgence, reliability or something unique to you. So let every customer communication reflect your brand in language, design and personality. Whether you’re serious or fun, old-fashioned or funky, let your personality shine through on your box or bag and in every email. 

The finalists and winners of the 2016 Excellence in Customer Experience Awards have one big quality in common: Every touchpoint reinforces how they care about their customers. They don’t just say the customer is king; they make them believe it. It’s embedded in the language they use, in the obvious care taken to ensure that the merchandise arrives safely, in the ease of making exchanges or returns, and in the fairness and transparency of their policies. These companies pay attention to the details, delighting their customers and inspiring loyalty at every step.

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