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Customer experience the new retail battleground say Retail Design Expo speakers

Retailers and brands need to be competing fiercely on customer experience standards, according to a panel at Retail Design Expo. 

But the rise of the customer experience role in organisations demonstrates that companies are already taking it more seriously than before, according to Neil Lobo, principal for customer experience at Vodafone Global. 

“It’s good to see customer experience become more important in organisations. Looking forward, retail is going to have to become a more enjoyable place to be,” says Lobo. “The demise of retail is not happening as predicted as a few years ago, but it’s changing,” he told a packed audience of retailers and designers.  

In 2016, 89% of companies expected to be competing on customer experience, said Linda Mitchell, project lead in retail delivery at property consultant GVA Second London Wall. Citing a recent retail report by Forrester, she explained this means that: "Shopping is now a lifestyle experience, it’s about the experiential engagement, whether that’s an airport, train station or shopping centre.”

But she argued that retailers are often lazy in their interpretation of enhancing customer experience and believe technology is the answer, when in fact human interactions are key. “The new concept at McDonald's is touch screens. You order on screens and you go and pick it up. But do you want to live like robots?” she asked the audience. 

“For McDonald's it makes fast food even faster. But what about other experiences in-store, where you want to speak to someone. We’re social animals - we want to get out. It’s all about the environment you’re creating and how you’re interacting with customers,” she argued. 

Panel moderator Jeremy Michael, managing director at customer and employee experience insight specialist SMG, asked how retailers create genuine personal experiences.

Success comes down to the way retailers can use data, agreed both panellists. However, most businesses are "swimming in data” and are unable to use it to enhance the customer experience, according to Lobo. “At Vodafone, we’re grappling with the big data piece. Most of you would’ve heard of NPS (Net Promoter Score) - I’ve come across people who obsess with that number. [In order to create better customer experiences] you need to know your five detractor reasons [that show where you’re going wrong]. I’m fascinated that lots of those companies don’t know that. Using the most basic insight you’ve got can make a massive difference.”

Ultimately, however, retailers will only deliver successful customer experiences if they think about every step from the top to the bottom argues Mitchell, because the consumer will only remember the last interaction - and that is always with staff on the ground.