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  • Writer's pictureJames Mcgregor

Customer first culture

There is a huge difference between tactics and strategy. In our conversations with retailers across the globe, more often than not, there is a lot of confusion between the two. Most people create a retail strategy that is less about the medium to long term view and more about a shift of operational focus for the next six months to a year.

As retail execution specialists, we have seen some truly wonderful customer strategies described, putting the customer first, creating a customer-centric organisation and listening to the river. Many have been communicated well, charted on board-rooms walls and even on the back of every employee’s badge. The sad fact is that very few are really lived.

Retail change is hard, but cultural change is harder

The change in culture required to deliver a customer first attitude right through an organisation is tough, change is hard but cultural change is even harder. As we have touched upon in other blogs, the challenge is doing this in a retail landscape that is ravaged by over-competition, over-supply, and increasingly promiscuous customers.

It makes sense to truly differentiate yourself with great service when others are average at best, yet the cost and effort to do this is daunting. However……..we see it a little differently.

The cost not being customer first can be fatal

The cost of not doing it can be fatal. Look at the last year with Toys R Us, Maplins, House of Fraser, Debenhams, HMV, all either going bust or having to sell. The common factor among them was they did not have a customer first strategy, despite two of them delivering pretty good front line customer service! The game-changing factor of cultural change, where every aspect of customer first strategy is embraced, was not employed.

Here are the steps they perhaps could have taken:

  • Reviewed customer purchase patterns and established growth and decline categories.

  • Linked ‘searched for’ categories for product groups not stocked.

  • Initiated store and customer discussion groups to listen to current customer shopping habits and how they were changing.

  • Created a strong measurement of true customer satisfaction from range/experience/service and post-purchase.

  • Created a very clear view of what good customer connection means and find a way to discuss it with every employee, from interview to induction, to appraisal.

  • Presume the communication failed and do it again in 3 months.

  • Presume the communication partially failed and analyse why with those unable or unwilling to adopt it and communicate it again.

  • Have a customer first view on every piece of ‘information’ produced for the senior team.

  • Monitor, measure and review best practice customer interaction through management role modeling.

As a checklist for a customer first retail strategy, this is not complete. Not only that, much of the power is in the detail and crucially the execution, where it is most likely to fail.

As you can see from the list, it is about being truly customer-centric from the range you buy to how you inspire teams and all points in-between. We have seen many great orators speak of customer service and motivate retail teams to run through brick walls. The issue is that motivation falls when the pressure comes, commitment is what’s needed, that’s permanent.

The last word should be about phrasing, be wary of well-educated people re-inventing what customer service is, including the name. When all is said and done, it is about human connections.

If you want an objective view of your customer service proposition or help to create a customer first culture, get in touch with the team.

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