Are customer at the heart of all you do? Lots of retailers have this in their mission statement but only pay lip service to it.

Are you putting your customer at the heart of everything you do? Lots of retailers have this in their mission statement, but in reality, they pay lip service to it.

I’ve asked the following question before, but I think it’s worth raising again as it’s one that many have yet to answer. If you ran a customer service business, which also sold products, what would you do differently?

Retailers who can answer this and begin to structure around the customer, their experience and their lifecycle – not around channels – will stay relevant.

Delivering the desired experience

Most retailers still have siloed channels with very limited integration between the stores, ecommerce, customer service and logistics. Customers can’t always shop how they want to and they definitely don’t get the desired experience.

Retailers often tell me that it’s expensive to get customer service and experience right. It is. But the issue is that they are focused on the cost, and not the cost benefit.

At the same time customer retention often takes second place to customer acquisition. I’m sure we can all think of examples of businesses who give special offers to attract new customers, while overlooking the loyal ones who they actually rely on to be profitable.

“Customers will reward retailers with their loyalty if their personal requirements can be met more effectively”

Martin Newman, Practicology

We are heading towards a future where customer experience will combine online and offline functions and where customers will reward retailers with their loyalty if their personal requirements can be met more effectively.

Roles and teams should be structured to deliver this. The chief customer officer is a role which responds to the changing behaviour of customers who want to seamlessly switch between a retailer’s transactional, marketing, customer service and fulfilment channels.

Innovating new services

House of Fraser has been one of the first to adopt this approach by promoting Andy Harding, previously multichannel director, to this broader customer-owning role.

Agility and innovation are key. Net-a-Porter has created agile, integrated teams of merchandisers, marketers, visual merchandisers and developers who sit together, while Tesco, Argos, M&S and Shop Direct have created digital labs or ‘hubs’ to act as innovation catalysts.

Putting the customer first requires new services to meet customer needs. And you can’t always create a business case for innovations.

Take Asda offering same-day fulfillment of orders at tube stations. If it had to prove the business case for this it would never have been launched. So to coin a phrase, if you have to be 100% sure, you’ll be 100% late.

Personalised experience

Technology plays a vital role in great service. Retailers can offer services such as live chat, style advisors, extended contact hours and social media service.

Research conducted by nVision shows 43% of British adults would like an online shop assistant to talk to for advice, while 42% of UK customers expect a social media response from companies within an hour.

If you were behaving like a customer service business you would treat everyone you spoke to as an individual. Every customer is different, so customisation, segmentation and personalisation should be a focus not just in marketing but across the board with subscriptions, personalised communications and custom fit products and services.

Only once you do all of these things then you truly can say you are putting your customers first.

  • Martin Newman is chief executive of Practicology