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Does your brand understand customer experience?

I was looking for footwear in foreign climes recently. I walked into a promising-looking store, and noticed something interesting: the shop assistant attending to me was wearing a bluetooth earpiece.

What that was for soon became evident. You have all had this experience when buying shoes, I am sure: you choose some possible pairs; and the assistant disappears into some subterranean storeroom to search for your sizes. He or she will then come back after a long time with some, not all, of what you needed; you look at other pairs; said assistant goes to the store again. This back-and-forth is very inefficient. It ties up one employee with one customer for ages; and takes up a huge amount of the customer’s time.

The bluetooth earpiece solved that. The assistant dealing with me simply relayed instructions to another employee permanently stationed in the storeroom. That left the front-end employee free to chat, up-sell, cross-sell, build the relationship – and keep an eye on other customers. I noticed all the customer-facing staff were very good at just that, and were clearly selected for the job. And they went the extra mile: when I asked for directions to a different store in the mall, another assistant personally accompanied me there.

The shop in question was Adidas. Given this brand’s premium positioning, it no doubt has the money to invest in the best staff, as well as headsets and extra employees. But that is not the point. Adidas clearly understands the customer experience it is striving to create, and plays accordingly. It sells great products – but that alone is not enough. The in-store experience reinforces the price premium.

I bought the shoes.

Do you think enough about the customer experience your brand delivers? It matters greatly, whether you sell shoes, burgers, cement, banking or auditing. Most of us just try to create a decent product at a decent price, and leave it at that. The real players, however, pay deep attention to every interaction with the customer. Much selling is done away from the act of selling: in the ambience, sentiment and psychological connections created.

More than two years ago I wrote on this page that the food delivery business would rocket in Nairobi, as it does in most big cities with big traffic problems and increasingly busy lifestyles. But, I warned, delivery is not just something you tack on to your restaurant business: you have to do it right. It has its own playsheet, its own critical success factors.

Did anyone pay attention? Some clearly did: the other day I ordered a pizza and was texted a link to watch the rider on his way to my home on a map. Applause.

But so many are still doing this delivery thing woefully badly. When you call, you mostly have to shout your order to a busy employee in a noisy environment, who seems to be doing several things at the same time. You have to repeat your name and directions because restaurants seem unable to create a simple database with maps and order histories. And you have to be prepared to bite your lip when your order invariably arrives with items missing, because simple cross-checking of packed orders before despatch is apparently too difficult.

Come on, guys. As consumer trends change, you have to keep up. The delivery customer needs speed, convenience and accuracy embedded in the experience they have with you. If you can’t motivate people and design processes to deliver those attributes, don’t even bother.

At the heart of this is enlightened leadership. You need to have the wisdom to understand the power of customer experience in driving your bottom line. You must have ‘wow’ experience rooted in your strategy. And then you must have the doggedness to deliver the wow, day after day, outlet after outlet, customer after customer. That’s where it all falls apart. Consistently excellent customer experience requires leaders who walk around, who observe, who anticipate, who correct, who rescue situations.

In short: you don’t just think about great experience or decree that it should happen. You have to inspire it, hire for it, design for it, clap for it, reward it. And you have to weed out inappropriate behaviour and falling standards long before things get really bad.

As Adidas knows: you don’t just sell great sneakers; you sell lifelong brand relationships and experiences disguised as great sneakers. If you can understand that, you, too, may be selling profitably for decades.

(Sunday Nation, 15 October 2017)

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