Understanding and meeting customer needs, however it manifests, is a challenge that every company aims to overcome although in the retail sector, knowing what the customer wants will not only help drive business growth but will also ensure the customer has the experience they expect. But we need to recognise that everybody is different and not everyone wants the same thing, especially when we look at and consider customer-centricity, customer loyalty and customer 360 programmes.

This reminds me of when the line-up for the Reading & Leeds music festival, which takes place in August, was released in February and I listened in to conversations between my daughter and her friends: “Best line-up ever”, “Utter garbage”, “Not bad” plus numerous variations on those themes. But irrespective of their thoughts, they will all attend because they always do; much in the same way that customers will turn up at your stores because they always have.

Lots of time and effort is taken in gaining permission from our customers so that we can obtain data from them. Then, once we know all about them, we treat them all the same way! Sure, we may tailor some product offers and discounts based upon what they buy but is that enough? Spending time in some stores in recent weeks, I have had conversations with customers that also had similar themes: “Vouchers are ok, but I wonder what else they could do?”, “I spend so much here, and they know it, but I’m not made to feel special”. Interesting feedback which got me thinking – are customers beginning to ask: “What’s really in it for me?”.

Steve Ingram

Retail Industry Director

We know more than ever before

The phenomenal growth of online shopping, individual user accounts, one to one interactions through Clienteling apps such as KIT and loyalty schemes, means that there is more data being collected day by day, and our likes and dislikes, family unit (status, number of children) are known to many. Cloud companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft go to great lengths to illustrate how much data is being created, including the rate of growth, building up detailed pictures of our customers. Yet we lack originality in what is offered in return for customers giving access to all that rich data. Think about it – most of the creativity in ‘giving back’ to the customer is around giving discounts on goods or services that they either buy, or are similar to what they buy, but these are ultimately just discounts.

It’s the experience economy, isn’t it?

You cannot read anything these days without being told that we are living in the time of the ‘experience economy’ and that retailing today is all about delivering an experience, not just transactions. What makes it all the more interesting is that ‘rewards’ for giving up volumes of data tend to be transactional – discounts on items, full basket discounts for a period or buy this product and get this other one free or reduced. In summary, you haven’t done much with the data that you’ve been given. If we have converted our store associates’ ‘little black books’ into Clienteling apps, or if we have collected data about things our customers enjoy doing, then we have a good insight into what our customers like to do outside of shopping (which, I’m sorry to drop in, is probably seen more as a need than a pleasure).

Is this an opportunity to then blend transactional and experiential rewards for our customers? Absolutely, yes it is and how much more loyal could those customers be? Imagining this through, the data can be used to offer experiences that are tiered – similar to airline schemes that aim to improve your flight experience the more you spend with them. But it doesn’t need to be as grand as these. Events in local stores for local customers can make customers feel valued and build community, and if you want to recognise your best customers then exclusive national events will hit the mark. I’m purposely playing devil’s advocate here, but the thinking is real, as were the conversations with customers that I alluded to earlier.

What’s the point, then?

The point is we absorb swathes of data from customers throughout all the interactions that we have with them, and then in most cases have not checked what they would like in return for this. Discounts are a good thing for customers but are not (by any stretch) the only option. Some may only want deep discounts in return for giving up their data, but experiences drive emotions, and good emotions drive loyalty and may even develop advocates.

Clienteling, with a tool such as KIT, makes asking these questions and obtaining feedback very straightforward but can your business be creative with what you offer? And can you manage this across your, inevitably broad, customer base? Can you afford not to? Thinking back to the music festival example, they establish several stages so that music genres and eras are represented and keep a huge audience satisfied, feeling that they have all been catered for. What is your plan to both understand what your customers want, and then to give it to them? What’s really in it for them?