How To Design Powerful Customer Experiences

My friend Scott Stratten has a great part in his UnSelling keynote. He talks about how the sale is not the end but the beginning of the customer transaction and relationship. This holiday season I had the opportunity to really see Stratten’s theory in action and it reinforced how companies must change their way of thinking to match Stratten’s. Successful companies today must invest in consumer profiling research if they hope to compete in today’s digitally centric, the competition is just a click away, world. Here’s just one example.

Retailers Fighting Amazon

One of the biggest challenges today’s offline retailers such as Target, Kmart, Sears, etc., face is consumers’ increasing desire to simply order online have items drop shipped directly to their home or to the person for whom they’re buying the product.

What this means is that offline retailers, who hope to compete against online giants like Amazon.com, must invent customer experiences that not only equal but surpass the value that Amazon, armed with its trove of products combined with unlimited free shipping to its Prime Members, can offer me as an offline consumer.

The Offline Retailer Edge

Increasingly offline retailers such as Target, Best Buy and others have discovered the one advantage they have over online units like Amazon.com. That advantage is the ability to provide immediate gratification. Even with Prime Shipping I’m still going to have to wait a day or two to receive the product I purchase. Now in most cases that’s just fine, but in some cases, such as the holiday season, speed is of the essence.

In such a situation offline retailers have a huge advantage over online retailers.

Enter in-store pickup. In-store pickup is the achilles’ heel of the online retailer and it is absolutely positively the biggest opportunity for offline retailers to maintain relevance in a digitally centered world.

However, to maintain the edge, the offline retailer must understand the consumer mindset of the in-store pickup buyer. Further they must not only understand that mindset but design their customer experience to fulfill and reward that buyer. If they do not, they will succeed in winning a single purchase, but likely fail to establish a long-term customer relationship that can result and repeat purchase an increase lifetime value of the customer.

How Target Failed at Designing a Customer Experience

This holiday season I saw a product advertised, yes advertising still works people. I thought it would make a fun inexpensive Christmas gift for myself from Santa. I could have purchased it from Amazon.com and even received it in time for Christmas. However, I noticed the price seemed a little higher than some of the other results that I saw in Google when I originally Googled the product name to find where I could buy the product.

The lowest available price was actually Target.com. And while I could not get the product online and have it shipped in time to arrive before Christmas, I could do in-store pickup. This made perfect sense as it gave me the best price by almost 25% and allowed me to pick it up while I was out running errands. So I purchased the product and waited for the email to arrive telling me my product was ready for pickup . This is where the experience goes awry.

Understanding Your Customers’ Mindset

When I arrived at Target I asked where the guest services desk was located. This is where you go to actually pick up your online purchase. When I arrived the guest experience began to unravel.

First of all, you pick up your online shipment at the same desk where people handle returns, and layaway. Now returns are not usually not extremely quick and therefore the line when I arrived was longer than I would’ve hoped.

Upon reaching the front of the line and explaining I was there to pick up my online product, which I had been told via email was ready for said pickup, I was informed that it would be a few minutes as the product needed to be brought from the holding area. According to the young lady at the customer service desk, the holding areas is where online purchase products are held prior to pick up. She had to radio someone who had to go to the holding area to retrieve the product.

This process took approximately 5 to 10 minutes and resulted in my waiting (impatiently I might add) to get a product that I had been told was ready for pickup.

This is where Target doesn’t understand the customer mindset of the online purchase and pick up customer.

It’s imperative that you properly align the experience and expectation into one seamless moment. In the case of the person who purchases online and then wants to pick up offline, that experience expectation is grounded by two key psychological motivators: speed and convenience. Any experiential clue or activity that impedes convenience or speed reduces the customer experience enjoyment and throws the entire expectation vs experience equation out of balance.

When I arrived at Target I expect my experience to be a very quick in and out. But Target (likely in an effort to reduce labor costs associated with online purchases that are picked up in-store) chose to design a pick-up experience that would most likely not result in that quick in and out I was expecting. Both the pick-up location (customer relations desk) and the hold area process act as speed bumps to a process that is all about speed.

The Risk of Bad Customer Experience Design

While Target surely succeeded in winning the battle for my purchase this holiday season, the larger (and more important in my opinion) is whether they’ll win future battles (yes that was plural for a reason) for my purchase loyalty.

And the answer honestly, is probably no. Now there is one notable exception. For those times where I absolutely positively have to have the product immediately and Target offers it at a price point that is substantially lower than the competition, I very well might opt to purchase from them. But even I, the procrastinator that I am, don’t fall into that category very often.

So that becomes an awfully small and price conscious market. Not exactly a growth oriented strategy if you ask me.

The Customer Experience Design Lesson

I write this today not as a rant on Target. Heck the entire process still took less than 15 minutes, which clearly places it in the “first world problem” arena.

But instead, I hope to use it to show a simple example of how the customer service experience devil is in the details. What would seem to be easy to execute (online order with fast offline pick-up) falls down because the details of the customer experience are not properly mapped to the psychological motivation and expectation of the buyer. Thus, what could have been a great holiday party story that would positively influence others to consider Target becomes a blog post on how not to design a customer experience.

Companies today, all companies not just retail, but companies like yours and mine, must map the psychological motivators of a customer experience if they truly want to leverage customer service experience as the competitive advantage it is today.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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