Empower employees to deliver exemplary experiences

Retailers need to empower their people

Retail is gradually moving towards being about delivering a great customer experience above all else. This view was recently expounded by Debenhams’ chairman Sir Ian Cheshire at the World Retail Congress in Dubai when he suggested the role of the retailer was no longer about selling goods but was instead about selling an experience.

My own recent retail activities have highlighted the very extremes of customer experience – from the exemplary end of the spectrum to the absolutely diabolical end of things. The latter came from BT when I was looking to connect up a new phone line having just moved into a new house. It was a catalogue of errors and missteps by the telecoms business that took place over a long and painful number of weeks.

My initial order was messed up and there was a failure to connect the new line. Then they ported the wrong number, and then accidentally cancelled the order, which was then followed by a faulty line. These are all annoying mistakes, but from a customer service perspective the factor that compounded the issue was the poor problem resolving experience I endured.

This is a very serious error because, according to most recent JDA Customer Pulse Survey, 81% of people would switch to an alternative retailer if they suffered from poor problem resolution when shopping online.

The problem with my own experience was the scripted response each person I dealt with seemed to have to deliver to me. This involved promising to absolutely resolve my issue but without them having the power to actually do so. Each failure resulted in my problem being pushed upstairs to someone more senior until it finally landed in the big chief’s office in Northern Ireland where it thankfully was all swiftly sorted. Not before time.

I’d encountered the all-too-common problem of employees being insufficiently empowered to resolve issues and also failing to communicate what they are actually doing to sort your problem. This combined with over-promising and under delivering is a toxic mess that can only lead to dire customer experiences.

Things were so very different with my experience when dealing with the employees at Center Parcs. En route to a family break at one of its complex’s I’d bought some logs for the burners in their lodges but on arrival I found our burner was not working. Feeling a little disappointed I approached a member of staff who offered to reimburse for Center Parcs logs. Even when I told them I’d bought them elsewhere they still offered me a 10-pin bowling session for four people.

They’d immediately dealt with, and actioned, a situation without the need to go to any other more senior member of the team. There was another quibble with an activity I’d booked during our stay and again – with no need to show any proofs of purchase – it was resolved swiftly to the delight of this particular customer. All Center Parcs’ employees seem to be sufficiently empowered to actually make decisions without needing to defer to their line managers. The end result is that they ultimately deliver a top-notch customer experience.

The reality is that in the future retail will be increasingly about these sorts of interactions and engagements rather than being about simply selling stuff (at the cheapest price). If retailers are to successfully compete in such an environment then they need to set themselves up as experience-driven, user-friendly business.

In particular when things go wrong, their employees need to be able to act and to not have any unnecessary obstacles placed in their way that could negatively impact on their ability to deliver an exemplary customer experience. This is the future and it is genuinely deliverable now.

Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@Webloyalty_Guy)