Customer Experience

Why customer experience is the new frontier

Angela Allan
Technology Journalist

Angela Allan is a music and lifestyle journalist with a special interest in technology and startup culture. Angela writes for Rolling Stone and the Star Weekly

Angela Allan
Technology Journalist

Angela Allan is a music and lifestyle journalist with a special interest in technology and startup culture. Angela writes for Rolling Stone and the Star Weekly

Finding – and keeping – your competitive edge as a business is a tricky affair. If you build a business solely on price, you’re lending yourself to diminished customer loyalty. Ensure your business stands out by including customer experience as one of your top business priorities – and there is more than one way to do it.

When it comes to building your business, often the first thing you consult is the bottom line. While most business experts agree that this is important, Forbes lists “customer experience” as the fifth marketing “P” – an important key to unlocking the success of your business in the future. Large corporations are beginning to see the value in creating an individual customer experience, but you don’t need to have the budget of the big players – you can do this on a modest budget with the array of tech gadgets and software available, or by offering superior customer care in a client-orientated field.

There are many great examples of businesses going the extra mile – Virgin America is one of those brands. By creating social media-worthy flight experiences, such as purple lighting, leather seats, cute and catchy dance-based safety videos, many TV options, comfy waiting rooms and their own “Here on Biz” app that lets you meet other passengers with shared interests. The airline encourages you to flout your time with them on Twitter and Facebook because of the distinctive culture they’ve created.

There are ways you can adopt this thinking to give a customer experience unlike any other, and Smarter has selected some of the best in the business to show you how.

Urban Escape owner Craig Withers

Make it about the customer

Urban Escape owner and Telstra Business Awards winner Craig Withers – who runs a hair salon in East Prahran – is all about creating the customer experience with a twist. While the hair industry may be known for its pomp and splendour when it comes to trimming and colouring clients’ tresses, experiences in the chair are very rarely focused on the client themselves. When creating the high-end, holistically focused hair salon and wellness retreat, Withers’ aim was to flip this notion on its head.

“A core value at Urban Escape is that the superstar is the person in the chair not behind it,” he says. “I could do amazing technical haircuts, but it’s not about people high-fiving me every day; it’s about people complimenting [the client] every day. It’s about making them feel and look beautiful every day.”

The layout and design of the salon is focused solely on customer experience – from using naturally derived Aveda hair products, to the use of recycled materials, including reclaimed railway sleepers to make a bench that contain power points so customers can charge their laptop and their phone, and mood lighting and an atrium which can be seen from each work station at least twice to make clients feel relaxed in the space. There are also long mirrors so clients can watch what’s happening in the salon rather than just seeing themselves in the mirror.

Withers says that loving what you do will set you apart, but that passion has to extend to your clientele as well.

“A lot of it begins with yourself: good skills and good training programs, but then treating customers like guests, not that they’re lucky to be here. That’s not how it works – we are lucky to have them. And you should treat them like that. You need to care for them.”

Even though social media and marketing are important contributors to creating a healthy bottom line, word of mouth from an exceptional experience is the driving factor, adds Withers.

“Creating that warmth and care generally makes people feel special. Showing that genuine care makes a difference. We welcome every single person and we all say goodbye and wish them well.

“It’s like someone coming into your house, you welcome them. We work in a very intimate space and to touch people and make them feel comfortable, you have to show them that care and that follows through with listening because people want to be listened to.”

It’s not about people high-fiving me every day; it’s about people complimenting [the client] every day. It’s about making them feel and look beautiful every day.

- Craig Withers, Urban Escape

Create a passionate community

Harvest Box is in the unusual service industry that provides a customer experience without having to engage with them face to face, but has still managed to create a loyal community that furthers their growth. Offering subscription-based healthy snack packs, Harvest Box began life in 2010 when three friends – William, James and George – were fed up with chips and chocolate and thought that healthy snacks would be the way to go.

Sourcing the freshest ingredients from producers all around Australia, with a large number of mixes of nuts, dried fruit and seeds, Harvest Box allows its customers to rate their box, meaning about 50 to 60 combinations are created based solely on customer responses.

Co-founder William Cook says the more the business invests in the customer experience – by communication via email and streamlining the order process, as well as allowing customers to customise their mix and provide feedback – it creates a community that people want to be part of.

“We felt that having a weekly or fortnightly interaction with our customers with the delivery of the box and email communication and online, creates an almost membership-style reaction with our customers. So it’s a community rather than a one-off purchase that may or may not happen. I say it’s like crowdfunding - you sort of ‘crowd’ select what mixes work and what don’t. If it’s badly rated, it will be removed. Customers do have an impact.”

From listening to customers and creating highest-rated mixes based on reviews, Harvest Box procured retailers, including Coles, to stock their boxes. The data collected from their customer interaction had influenced the company’s growth. A positive customer experience that became a community helped Harvest Box expand their bottom line.

Infuse innovation

Another great way to provide a customer experience is to think outside the box and do something innovative in your field. In the case of Seattle-based Hointer – founded by former head of Supply Chain and Fulfillment Technologies for Amazon, Nadia Shouraboura – it had to think outside the fitting room.

Hointer’s point of difference is reimaging the traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping experience and bringing in some online-shopping devices. For tactile experiences, like clothes shopping for men, Shouraboura banked on the old theory that “men don’t like shopping” but that the feel and touch of the fabric mixed with the ease and speed of the online check out could work in a physical environment.

“Customers told me that they don’t like digging through piles, searching for sizes, lugging clothes to the fitting room, or waiting inline to check out,” explains Shouraboura. “When they come to the store looking for a beautiful outfit, they’d like to effortlessly try on many outfits, get advice from the stylist and find the perfect fit. So we use technology to make shopping a lot more efficient for customers and also freeing up our associates to be able to focus on styling and advice.”

 This has paid off – Hointer has doubled their sales, lowered their inventory, and reduced their footprint times three. But Shouraboura knows the delicate tightrope act of marrying customer experience with the bottom line and says business owners should look at one thing at a time.“

We retailers have to be frugal, so I would not advise investing a lot of money in all stores at the same time. I’d pick one store, invest a bit, ensure that customers are happy and sales are up, and then roll it out. Hointer is a frugal company and we ensure that our solutions are cheap and scalable.

”Since launch of the store and its technology, which is led by an app, Hointer has also added custom-tailoring of purchases with free, next-day alterations. To help customers quickly find their category of clothes (such as big and tall, relaxed, etc), there is a colour-coded system. The platform also projects real-time data so they have instant feedback on which styles are selling, and clothing tags are NFC-enabled so smartphones with NFC technology can swipe to view the selected style. Plus, clothing picks arrive in a dressing room within 30 seconds directed by the app. Best of all, this technology is available to other retailers.

Customer experience 101

Harvest Box’s William Cook gives his top tips on creating a positive customer experience, beginning to end.

1. Put yourself in the position of the customer. “Often a business will make a decision on what’s best for them, rather than what’s best for the customer. But you have to step back and see what’s worthwhile to the customer and what is rewarding for them.

2. ”Get customers involved. “With Harvest Box, customers are able to select their mixes better or rate their mixes so what arrives in their boxes is what they like. It’s more important than giving them all of our mixes and variety that we think they’ll like.

3. ”Ask questions. “We often ask our customers and our peers what they think before we go live.

4. ”Customers can dictate your profit. “To make it cost-effective, we made all our communication online. It’s the most effective but it’s the most wasted communication tool. It’s very easy for someone to delete an email. Our customers told us we were communicating with them too much, so we cut it down to once a week.”

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