Many, many years ago I lived not far from the hardware store that used to be here. (My favourite barber was in the same complex. They let you smoke, served espresso, and had a pile of out-of-date Penthouse.) I really liked that hardware store, but abandoned it when one of those big-ass, everything-under-one-roof, meg-gigantic (by Canadian standards) box stores opened up. I remember the excitement and anticipation leading up to the grand opening (actually, I don’t, but this story wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if I didn’t embellish just a wee bit). It mattered not that the monogigantilithic store was a further 8 minutes away. It was worth it! We were going to have every conceivable hardware, lawn care, renovation, major appliance, and home improvement item known to human-kind under one roof. At prices that can’t be beat. Well, bugger that!
It seems that this retailer forgot to include a couple of key items: product knowledge and customer service. Oh sure, you could ask a staff member (in 1 of Canada’s official languages) where an item was and they’d send you off in the right general direction. You could even ask them product oriented questions and if they’d read the correct documentation you’d likely get a reasonable answer. But what you couldn’t get (as a standard practice) was that feeling that you were valued as a customer and, more importantly, as a person. How could this be fixed? you may well ask. Easy ...
I returned to the more expensive, closer to my house hardware store. You see, when I went in wondering about paint choices and application techniques they talked to me. Hell, they even listened to me. When my wife and I bickered about paint or whatever, the staff provided the voice of reason and helped us make the right choice for our situation. When I returned they knew me enough to ask about how my project, whatever it happened to be, turned out. They offered crappy coffee and a human touch. I was even able to chat with other customers.
What does all this have to do with customer experience today, you may ask? Everything. We’re still people who like to connect with other people. There’s a certain humanness and sociability that we look for in our lives. Certainly we sometimes like the convenience of online shopping in our (or our partner’s) underwear from the comforts of our homes, but I like to believe that we still want and need that contact with other people.
I’m not for a second saying that we need to replicate that intimate experience online (except for certain sites of an adult nature); it’s impossible. What we need to do is redefine how excellent customer experience is delivered online. We need to understand that true customer experience involves multiple channels, without the customer having to repeat themselves again and again and again.
I’m going to close with a couple of examples from a big name retailer. They’re two stories about two very different experiences, make of them what you will...
Back in December my wife and I went Christmas shopping for our daughter. Our daughter is a voracious reader, who turned 12 years old earlier this month. We wanted to get her some books that were a bit different from her usual fare. Kerry (the staff member whose name I remember because she was really cute) spent several minutes with us asking about our daughter’s preferences and our thoughts on what we felt were appropriate topics for her to read. Kerry made some recommendations that proved to be spot on. Well done, Kerry!
Same retailer, different channel ... To date I’ve purchased about $300 of ebooks from this retailer. One of the things I like is that they make recommendations about what I may like to try next. What I dislike, vehemently, is that they keep recommending titles that I have previously purchased. Repeatedly.
Do you see my point? Do you feel my pain (uhm, irritation is probably more accurate)?