Move from being customer-focused to customer-obsessed

Leading retailers took to the stage to talk customers at the AICC Retail Lunch

Being customer-obsessed is different to being customer-focused, key retail CEOs agree, and businesses need to know the difference.

CEO of Scentre group, Peter Allen; group CEO of Accent Group, Daniel Agostinelli; and CEO of The Iconic, Erica Berchtold, took to the stage to discuss how to keep up with an increasingly demanding consumer at the recent Australia-Israeli Chamber of Commerce (AICC) 2019 Retail Lunch in Sydney. The panel started with an acknowledgement of how technology has created an always-on, connected customer, who is more informed than ever before, and this knowledge makes them demanding. As a result, today’s consumer knows what they want and if retailers don’t provide it they'll hear about it.

However, this also provides a great opportunity for retailers to ask if they are interesting enough to attract the time and attention of these demanding consumers by engaging, influencing and inspiring.

What does CX mean?

For Berchtold at The Iconic, customer experience (CX) is about meeting the expectations of the customer and then expanding upon them. While online used to be a bargain space, it's now about being inspired, and inspiring with fashion and sustainability trends.

“We need to shift away from what we thought customers wanted and stay ahead of the herd,” Berchtold said.“This is also in how can we help a customer navigate through a lot of choice online. We’ve developed features called 'follow the brand', which is like an Instagram feed about brands they want to follow, and we’ve developed a wishlist board, which can be shared. It is cultivating that emotional engagement with a customer and helping them to have a better experience.”

Agostinelli said Accent tries to create the right environment for customers by asking if it is really customer-obsessed and being led by that.

“We’re looking for growth at all times, which is not easy to get," he continued. "What we’re trying to do is spread wins across most of the markets in footwear by launching new brands, like Pivot and Trybe, and being innovative and making people want to buy because of the environment and the experience they are getting from us.”

As Allen pointed out, customers are judging retailers by the latest best experience they’ve had – and it may not be with your brand. Key to keeping up is data and measurement.

“Customer-obsessed is really different to customer-focused, so we are moving to being customer-obsessed by putting ourselves in the customers’ shoes and delivering what they want. Tech enables us to do that on an individual basis,” he said. “Our job is to be attractive to the customers, so we need to curate the right mix of retailers, showroom, or stores. And it’s not just physical retail, now 42 per cent of our space is experiential. People are spending more money on experiences than on stuff.”

With so much data available, it’s about using the points most useful and relevant to your business, Berchtold said.

“Figuring out what is going to be most helpful from the data is an art. Plus, I’ve never been satisfied with giving a customer what they want, I’m focused on giving them what they don’t know they want yet," he commented. "The word 'channel' doesn’t exist to a customer, they are just shopping. So it’s about being obsessed with the customer and knowing what they want.”

Agostinelli said Accent tries to collect data at every point of interaction, and has a big database, which is also important for its innovation work.

“If you are going to have a relationship with customers, you have to have all the data and understand what their needs are. The days of sending an email to every customer are gone, the days of posting a photo on Instagram are gone, you’ve got to personalise things at an individual level,” he said. “We were always obsessed with the customer and what they wanted. It’s more about the environment and teams - can we rally the troops to do what they need to with the products we provide.

“The fact is, if you are not relevant customers are going to go elsewhere. So we are working in hard to be relevant."

An example in-store is MyFit, which helps consumers to get the right shoes to fit. Agostinelli said it’s also an experience. "We are looking for what is the next theatre experience in the same way. Just three weeks ago we launched a new artist’s music single in one of our stores," he said. 

“We track how long it takes to answer a call or to answer a chat, but we don’t care where it comes from we just want that sale by providing the best experience we can.”

Ethical investing

Many brands are also recognising being ethical and sustainable is becoming increasingly important to consumers.

“We jumped ahead of the bulk of customer sentiment and got on-board with sustainability, and customers can shop via those aspects,” Berchtold said. “They can see how it’s made, using what products, and that is increasingly becoming important to consumers. We don’t want to do a lot of express shipping, as it’s more detrimental to environment, so we communicate this to customers. We are also looking at what to do with leftover product, returns and so on."

As demographics change and the individual emerges from marketing efforts, retailers are also moving away from targeting via demographics.

“The biggest challenge we have is meeting a need across age demographics, so we’re looking at them as aspiration groups, rather than demographics,” Allen said. “We understand who our customers are, but each of our centres are very different across the portfolio.”

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