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The Evolution of Technology in Retail Customer Experiences

By Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer, Mindshare Technologies

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Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer, Mindshare Technologies

I like to tell retailers that despite the proliferation of technology, they still need to do something old-fashioned – understand the customer. Customers continue to be king and queen, and the need to engage and retain them is as important as ever. One of the greatest ways to gain a deep understanding of the customer today is through the use of Voice of the Customer (VoC) technology. This technology is rapidly evolving and offers several ways that retailers can use it to their advantage. Let’s take a look at how.

Mystery Shoppers vs. VoC Technology
VoC technology initially gained traction as a real-time replacement for the delayed results of mystery shoppers. Whereas a mystery shopper is a hired gun with no skin in the game, VoC insights come from real customers who leave feedback via simple phone or Internet surveys.

In a VoC program, customers provide real-time, honest input that objectively rates various aspects of their experience, which helps location managers focus on the areas that matter most to creating an emotional connection with their customers. Customers also comment on employee performance, which provides invaluable information for location managers to tailor specific training to meet individual employee needs.

When a mystery shopper has a subpar experience at a location , that is a single experience that only reflects the location’s performance on that specific day at that specific moment with that specific point of contact. It does not encapsulate the overall experience accumulated from having numerous customers serve as auditors. By generating a high volume of reviews (typically 30-50 responses per month per location), VoC programs help retailers obtain rich insights into a location’s overall performance.

In essence, VoC programs provide 30-50 times the “shops” as a single mystery shopper. By using real shoppers and real customer data, companies can show the experience that actual customers have with their brands.

A Deeper Understanding of the Customer Experience
As VoC technology has progressed, it has allowed companies to acquire a deeper understanding of the customer experience. I find it is helpful for my clients to engage in “journey mapping” – observing and monitoring every touchpoint of the customer experience.

Journey mapping helps you think through a typical customer’s entire experience with your locations: Is signage visible from the parking lot? Does somebody greet them when they enter the location? Do they have easy access to help and assistance? Is the checkout process quick and efficient? Is there post-purchase support?

From there, you can identify the areas that need improvement and the areas that stand out and should be reinforced. Using VoC technology, brands can measure and manage those elements through the comprehensive insights and data collected to make sure they are happening every day and in every store to keep customers coming back.

As a retailer, you have to leverage your VoC data to develop pathways to loyalty. Just knowing the key drivers isn’t enough – you have to know the drivers of the drivers of customer loyalty. In my experience, there are three elements to the customer experience:


1. Product path – Product selection, pricing, etc.
2. Service path – Availability, behavior of staff, etc.
3. Environment path – Appearance/atmosphere of the location (e.g., well-lit, shelves well organized)

These paths contain the individual moments of truth that lead to a solid experience and ultimately result in loyal customers. By using VoC technology that converts customer insights into actionable information, companies can respond to performance issues when they arrive in real-time and immediately improve the customer experience. For example, every time a customer mentions the phrase “out of stock” in a review, management at a retail location is instantly sent an alert to ensure the depleted stock is replenished.

Owning the Social Dialogue Between Brands and Customers
Beyond VoC surveys, more and more customers, especially ones that had a great experience or a poor experience, are turning to social media to talk about it. While VoC surveys invite customers to leave feedback, it is also important to remember that technology like text analytics can help you listen to your customers online that do not volunteer this feedback.

Retailers have to aggressively find ways to capitalize on happy customers and provide them with the tools to tell their positive brand story on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and more. While you tend to hear more about negative experiences, those are simply a vocal minority. The reality is that most customers (more than 80 percent) have a positive experience with the brands they frequent. You are missing a massive opportunity to build an army of advocates on social media if you do not leverage those happy customers by unlocking your VoC data and using it to your advantage.

Increasingly, brands are realizing that transparency is the expectation, not the exception, among consumers. But many of those same brands have been burned by fake or unrepresentative reviews on sites like Yelp or Google Reviews. While VoC programs tend to collect a lot of data, it is housed internally. If you are a customer, you want to have access to a high volume of accurate and timely reviews. The insights gained from VoC programs become even more powerful when transported outside the walls into customers’ hands.

To get the full picture of what customers are saying about your company, bring VoC data and social streams together with other touch points across the company, from call center data to website feedback forms. By listening everywhere, you gain a holistic view of the conversations taking place about your brand.

Taking Action
The focus for retailers has to be on the customer experience. The key is to identify the small but important things that will keep customers coming back and make you stand out, creating an emotional memory as it were. All retailers have location experience areas that are driving customers away, so be sure you have the infrastructure in place to be able to respond and resolve customer issues in real-time. In the end, customers vote with their wallets – they will spend their hard-earned money in the places that matter to them and the places that treat them like they matter.