Do you ever have decision fatigue? Have you ever gone through your day tired of answering pointless questions? And always answering them the same? Room for cream? Paper or plastic? Would you like a receipt? Do you want cash back with that? Yes, Paper, No, No. Yes, Paper, No, No. Yes, Paper, No, No. I’ve been to Starbucks thousands of times. Guess what? I always take cream in my coffee. Always. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Starbucks counter person knew that about me?
In fact, you know what would be really great? Customer interaction with meaning. That’s right. Think of a bygone era when shopkeepers knew their customers. Now, of course, with thousands of customers going through your doors each day at multiple retail locations, it’s simply not practical to think that your customer service people could know each customer. Or is it?
What if the technology was such that I could choose to let a brand know things about me? What if there were specific details about transactions that I would love to let the retailer know? Instead of repeatedly asking me the same question time after time, day after day, the customer service person could smile at me and engage me about something non-trivial, something meaningful. They could even make a relevant statement that would raise my appreciation for them and for the brand. What if we could bring back an eagerness to really know and develop relationships with our customers?
Well, I think we can. Here’s how it would work. Each customer wanting to take advantage of this new system (let’s call it “Agent” ) would need some type of identifying technology (let’s call it “ID”). For me that would be my Apple Watch because that’s always on me. But for others it might be their Fitbit, their Samsung Gear, or their smart phone. There would be a way for me to opt into Agent and a separate path to opt into various brands whether that be Starbucks, Home Depot, Kate Spade or Nordstrom.
Each brand could present simple choices. For Starbucks they might be:
- Regular order: Tall Drip Pike
- Room for cream: Yes
- Wants a receipt: No
Other brands could present other choices for users who join Agent.
Every Starbucks could then have an appropriately placed beacon that senses my presence (actually, the presence of my ID). A heads-up display at the counter would give store personnel the information I’ve opted to provide them. Now when I walk into Starbucks, that operational minutia can be dispensed with.
Starbucks Person: “Good Morning Jeff. Tall Drip Pike today?”
Me: “Yes please.”
And from there the conversation could flow naturally.
Of course, it’s not just Starbucks that could play this game. It’s every major brand that has a customer service component. And it’s not just about the small things like the operational minutia. It could encompass more impactful data points like Kate Spade knowing that I bought both of my daughters purses there for Christmas or Nordstrom knowing that I like Ted Baker shirts and Hugo Boss jackets and that I always need help on Valentine’s day getting the right gift for my wife.
This really brings into view the essential challenge with customer experience. How can we really demonstrate that we care about our customers? How can we show them that we’re not just out for profit but we’re there to meet them at their point of need?
There are four primary areas on which we should focus our gaze if we want an increasing base of customers that are happy, engaged and wanting more.
- Who are they? <identity>
- What do they want? <empathy>
- What will they want? <forecast>
- What should they want? <innovation>
This is really what a system like Agent could represent to the brand.
Who are they? Well, they’re in the system and they’re recognized when they walk in the door so we can address them respectfully by their name and we have access to what they’ve shared with us should the need arise. We can also make reasonable (and careful, thoughtful) assumptions based on their identity, their demographic and their past history. This of course is all with their permission and is completely revocable by them.
What do they want? We also know what they want in the moment (and maybe more importantly, what they don’t want). For Starbucks, Jeff usually wants a tall drip Pike with room for cream and doesn’t want to be asked if he wants a receipt. We know he doesn’t want a receipt. For Nordstrom, he likes to know about new Ted Baker shirt designs when they come in and when Seven jeans go on sale but he doesn’t want to be asked to open a Nordstrom account. You get the idea. If we really care about our customer, we’ll listen to them and we’ll treat them accordingly.
What will they want? Here’s where it starts to get artistic. Here’s where our customer service can shine — or utterly fail if we’re not careful. How can we provide our customers with products and services they like and appreciate even if they haven’t given us those exact insights? If we do this wrong, we could annoy them and be perceived as pushy and salesy which isn’t our intent. But if we do it right we could gain goodwill and brand loyalty. At Starbucks, would Jeff like to know about our new Salted Caramel Mocha since we know he loves Caramel Macchiatos? Yes. But let’s make sure not to repeatedly ask him this. At Nordstrom, Jeff doesn’t mind being told about new brands that are similar to his past purchases. In fact he appreciates it.
What should they want? The word “should” here means, what products or services could we innovate that customers might enjoy? That they might crave or “die for” that don’t yet exist? As Seth Godin would say, “You don’t find customers for your products. You find products for your customers.”  How can we use the information freely given to us by our customers to discover products and services that would truly benefit them, that would truly excite and delight them, that would positively enrich their lives or give them back some of that most valuable commodity, time? How can we use our newly gathered customer insights to drive innovation in a virtuous product development cycle?
Now that’s a really great question isn’t it? We started with the question, how can we empower brands to truly deepen relationships with their customers. Well, let’s ask them. What are we doing that annoys them? How are we getting in their way? But also, what could we do better? In fact, what products and services could we bring them that they’d love? And if that’s discoverable, if we create that level of relationship with our customers, now how can we go further? How can we develop an innovation culture in our company to really discover, develop and deliver new, exciting, delightful and meaningful products and services that position our brand as customer-driven and relationship focused? How indeed.
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