For years, people have been speculating that the rise of e-commerce would spell the demise of in-store shopping. And yet, brick and mortar is still very much part of the retail experience. More Canadians are choosing to shop in-person for a variety of reasons: some want to ensure the quality of their groceries, others want the opportunity to discover new products in-store.
And some just want to enjoy the experience. That’s a crucial takeaway for retailers: our survey found that 52% of Canadians believe their customer experience would be enhanced by the ability to quickly and conveniently navigate the store. Modern retailers are combining these two factors, augmenting their products with the experience of buying them. Convenient and dynamic layouts; personalized service; new product samples; exclusive in-store offers and opportunities—these are the luxuries customers are looking for as they partake of the real world of retail.
We’re witnessing the re-emergence of a “community of commerce”, a growing trend that brings together retailers, their sales representatives, and consumers for a cohesive brand experience—and younger Canadians have been especially enthusiastic.
As the retail experience continues to evolve, how can brands here in BC and across Canada better engage their customers?
Today’s customers are discerning and socially-conscious—and that goes for younger generations, especially. A third of Canadians are willing to pay a higher price if they know that products are sustainably sourced and ethically made.
As a result, we’re witnessing a rapid change in mindset around how retail businesses measure success. It’s not all about “return on investment” anymore; many companies are adding a whole new metric to their vocabulary called “return on experience” (ROX).
Brands that align with their customers’ values keep them coming back. And when you improve your interactions with customers and build a brand that they actively want to identify with, it benefits your entire company.
But are Canadian companies investing enough in creating these memorable connections and experiences for their customers? According to our survey of Canadian CEOs, only 2% feel they have comprehensive data about their customer and client preferences that they can act on.
We’ve established that providing an excellent customer experience is critical to retail businesses—and this begins with the employee experience (EX). As physical stores transition into experience centres, it’s the face-to-face, front-end interactions that truly differentiate the brand and build customer loyalty. If employees have a positive experience of their brand, they’ll provide a better experience to customers. That’s one reason why companies need to invest in their people.
Yet North American brands are still lagging behind here. On average, they spend over a trillion dollars on customer experience annually, yet spend much less on employee experience. If you look at top-performing companies worldwide, 91% of top performers have an executive in charge of EX, compared with only 74% in Canada.
This needs to change. Positive brand interactions can keep customers coming back, and negative ones can likewise have a lasting impact. I experienced this recently, when an encounter with a flippant and unhelpful employee turned me off the dry cleaning business my family had been regulars at for over 10 years.
It might have made a critical difference if the company had recognized that this single team member, by working on the frontline, was responsible for their entire brand and customer experience. Instead, they lost a life-long customer. Management must make sure employees are content, engaged, and aligned on the company’s strategy, and they need to empower them with the tools and training they need to deliver a winning customer experience.
Investing in employee experience doesn’t stop with the frontline staff. What about the IT director at a cosmetics company, or the person stocking the shelves of a clothing retailer’s warehouse, or the procurement manager at a grocery store who oversees supplies for the corporate office? These employees can be as engaged in promoting the business as their colleagues behind the service desk and contribute to creating what we call “magic moments”.
I often think back to a time when I was travelling to a PwC Alumni event with Donna Thurber, who works as the financial controller at Saje Natural Wellness. Based out of the Vancouver corporate office, she doesn’t meet customers on a day-to-day basis; nor was she brought on to be a brand ambassador. Yet, as soon as I mentioned that my wife and I are fans of Saje, she inquired about the types of products we use and gave me fascinating insights into all of them.
I was already impressed before she pulled a Saje travel kit out of her bag and told me about the latest products. She gave me samples of all her top picks and told me what she liked about them, at work and at home. It was phenomenal: she engaged me in conversation, promoted the brand, and shared her own personal connection to the products.
Companies need to ask themselves if they’re investing enough in turning their employees into effective brand ambassadors. Can they speak knowledgeably about the services? Are they equipped with tangible products they can share with others? A food processing company that I work with has a store in their lunchroom so that employees can take home any product they want, try it with their families and bring feedback—and this is available to everyone, whether they’re the receiver on the loading dock or the CFO.
I can’t stress this enough: companies need to create opportunities for their team members to have the same sorts of experiences and magic moments that they want their customers to have.
If you think you can boost customer experience and the bottom line just by automating your services rather than investing in your employees, think again. Compiling data and investing in predictive analytics should augment the personalized services your staff provide by helping them anticipate what individuals need, when they need it. You’re not replacing your sales reps; you’re empowering them with tools for better brand engagement.
In short, investing in technology needs to be seen as an extension of existing investments in customer and employee experience—and there are other factors companies need to consider if they want to retain their best talent, while helping them feel happy and fulfilled. Do your employees feel adequately supported? Can they afford to live where they work, especially in a province like BC? Thinking through these factors will ensure you’re building not only a competent team but also a happy one, equipped to represent your company.
Marketing may get your customers in the door, nice décor may contribute to their experience, but one negative interaction with a disgruntled or disengaged employee can undermine all of that—or, hopefully, one magic moment makes the experience one they remember, share, and keep coming back for.