August 25, 2016

NCR Synergy: Customer experience leads trends



For retailers, customer experience (CX) is no longer just a presentation slide with futuristic visions of merchandising, service and selling. It’s tangible, repeatable and can be extremely profitable when done well.

That was my big takeaway as I departed the NCR Synergy 2016 show last week in Dallas.

Several hundred of the world’s largest grocery, c-store and restaurant operators came together to learn about new technologies and discuss the latest trends in their respective segments. CX was front and center in most of the presentations and for good reason.

Great CX can be worth millions and analyst research powerhouse Forrester has even quantified the impact of doing CX well with its CX Index. The CX Index tracks tastes, preferences, behaviors and expectations, and it helps retailers better understand how they’re matching up with customers.

When CX is consistently good, customers buy more, and with greater frequency. They also tend to be more forgiving when inevitable slip ups occur. When CX is bad, the penalties are severe —customer spending drops on average by 65 percent in the following year, Ginger Conlon told us in her presentation.

What is good CX?

One of the hottest drivers of good CX, especially in c-stores, is the rise of the “foodvenience” design. This is the blending of grocery, convenience and quick service restaurants all under one roof.  You’ve probably seen foodvenience in action in your neighborhood. These are the c-stores with tables, chairs and umbrellas outside. They also have larger parking lots so you can actually find a space to park that’s not at a gas pump.

Inside, these stores have higher-end fixtures and cases made of materials like wood and stone.  Countertops are quartz, lights and signage are better, and the overall setting is more inviting for a breakfast or lunch that is prepared to order. You won’t find many roller-grills of hot dogs and taquitos at these locations.

Will this get a social share? 

Another litmus test of good CX is social media share worthiness. Many customers, especially millennials, want to eat food and experience places worth sharing on social media.

A little bit of delight in a store can go a long way on social media. Fresh food with a story is a big driver, and customization allows one-of-a-kind creations that are perfect for showing off online. Sandwiches and salads made in front of the customer feature premium ingredients and healthier combinations they are proud to promote.

Soft skills never go out of style

New store designs, mobile apps, and clever marketing campaigns can do wonders for store traffic, but, as we saw at NCR Synergy, the best performing retailers are also putting renewed emphasis on soft skills training for their people.

Soft skills include common courtesies like greetings and offers to assist. Retailers are investing in programs that teach employees how to connect with a customer, solve problems, and make lives better or easier.

A little friendly encouragement to come back is always appreciated and is proven to drive repeat visits, basket size increases and word-of-mouth advertising.

The CX checklist for high-performance retailers

  1. Attracting, hiring and keeping the right people is the foundation of great CX. People make all the difference since they have the frontline responsibilities for service delivery and operational excellence. What are your people goals, what is your people strategy and how are you making sure you’re getting the best people for your stores?
  2. Fresh, premium selections are driving food purchases. Customized, made-to-order meals are more shareworthy with friends and family on social media. Do you have products and merchandising plans that cause smiles, social media shares and sales?
  3. From the front of the store to the back, automating as much as possible should be a priority. Automation frees up your people and improves their attitudes. It allows them to put more focus on customers and the customer experience. Have you automated the easiest tasks such as currency management, loss prevention, and time and attendance?

Focusing on CX makes business sense in a number of ways, and it doesn’t require a complete organization overhaul. Small changes in select areas can make a big difference in customer experience – and bottom line results.