The term ‘putting the customer first’ is one of retail’s clichés. While it’s quite likely that you think of yourself as being customer-focused, does your company structure support that? Is the mindset of the business all about what you want to say and do? Do you dictate how customers shop with you by not providing them with the tools to shop in the way they want?
Serving your own needs ahead of the customer’s means that they are having put in the work to get what they want out of the shopping experience. But with so many options around how and where to shop available to them, increasingly they can just go elsewhere if you can’t provide them with what they need.
Now savvy retailers are shifting their thinking in order to move away from this pushy approach and start pulling customers in. By removing the bad or boring parts of the shopping experience they are making the customer’s life better. These retailers understand that they may not get something back for every single thing they do, but by making the customer happy they will both benefit in the long run.
Here are some ways that you can make sure your mindset is truly customer-first:
1. Create a dialogue with your customers
Often retail marketing can seem like a one-sided conversation. Your advertising pushes your messaging onto anyone and everyone indiscriminately, but your brand doesn’t mean one thing to all people. In fact increasingly you can’t even control the way customers see your brand, no matter how hard you try, as highlighted by Scott Cook, Co-founder of Intuit: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
Your customers are looking to you to solve their problems or answer their needs, not just to be sold to. You should be listening to them as much as you are talking at them. With so many channels of communication available to you – social media, websites, emails, face-to-face and more, you have the opportunity to invite them into your world where you can show them the value you can bring to their lives.
2. Remove obstacles
Even today there are still a number of moments within the shopping journey that offer no value to customers. These include queuing, waiting for payments to go through, finding out an item is out of stock in store, or needing to tell the retailer what they looked at online last night. None of these things benefit the customer and there’s no reason why they should still exist today.
By removing as many of these moments as possible retailers can make things better for the customer. You should also remain as flexible as possible to be able to respond to changes in customer expectations in the future.
This culture of flexibility should extend right through your business, so that you can put new ideas into practice and experiment. Changes shouldn’t only be made through large, expensive programmes delivered every few years. Often customer improvements come through smaller actions such as deploying staff more effectively, using existing investments and tech in new ways and introducing new services. Having a mindset that embraces change means you can make cost-effective improvements whenever the opportunity arises.
3. Be open to external input
The pace of development in technology is one thing. The public’s uptake of it is another. Smartphones are now commonplace and your customers are already familiar with how mobile can be used to provide great service and experiences.
If you’re a retail business, rather than a tech one, then it can be hard to stay on top of new developments or to plan ahead for them in your strategy. This is where pulling in ideas from outside the business can help you to innovate more quickly, whether its access to experts you wouldn’t have otherwise, teaming up with start-ups or tech companies, or even calling on your customers and staff to help with new ideas for products and services.
By not getting stuck in a mindset that is closed off to outside influences you can ensure you’re always making use of the best expertise and solutions. External collaborators can also be a more cost effective way to stay ahead of the curve.
It’s never been more important to bring your customers and partners close to you. The good news is that a change in mindset costs nothing, but could be just what you need.
By Cate Trotter, Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency that helps global brands create world-leading and profitable retail spaces. It does this by clarifying what’s coming next in the world of retail, and what clients can do to get ahead of their competitors.