23 Sep 2019

“Liquid expectations” and the quest for customer obsession

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It is no longer enough for retailers to be “customer focused”. To be successful, modern retailers need to be “customer obsessed”, and this demands a more holistic understanding of customer aspirations beyond metrics around buying behaviour.

This was one of the key points to come out of an industry panel discussion on the subject of “The Connected Customer Experience” hosted by the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce in Sydney recently.

Scentre Group Chief Executive Officer Peter Allen was one of the panellists and told the audience today’s customers had “liquid expectations” and made choices which were much more selective and driven by a desire for experiences than in the past.

The customer desire for experience, he said, was part of a hierarchy where there was a clear step-up from expectation to experience.

“Beyond the delivery of what the customer needs, it’s about craving that emotional connection. People are inherently social animals and they want that engagement, that feeling of belonging.

“And we’re creating that connection by the way we’re making them feel when they’re in our living centres.

“We have transformed our centres to become that third place for our customers that is as integral to their lives as their homes, workplaces or places of study. We are really becoming people’s backyards, living rooms and dining rooms,” Allen said.

As much as 42 percent of the stores across Scentre Group’s platform of 41 Westfield Living Centres across Australia and New Zealand was now “experiential” and consumed on-site, and more than 14,000 events – from community celebrations to cultural performances in addition to brand-related activations – were held within its centres during 2018.

In listening to the voice of its customers, Allen said Scentre Group was using technology which delivered customer feedback in “real time.”

“This has really changed the mindset, and we are monitoring and using social media to start having that dialogue with what customers are thinking,” he said.

To help drive that that change, Allen said Scentre Group had gone beyond understanding customers by traditional demographic segmentations.

“We look at customer aspirational groups, and look at those to really understand the market,” he said.

“The opportunity we have is to be able to curate that mix, and our business is to drive customer traffic to our centres and part of that is to be ‘always on.’”

Customers did not think about channels as separate experiences but were demonstrating they wanted to interact with brands in multiple ways. This has seen a convergence between physical and online channels, and the two were working together.

There were many examples of brands which had started as pure online plays moving into physical retailing and having success, to grow their business and customer advocacy.

Also on the panel was Daniel Agostinelli, the chief executive of Accent Group, a leading footwear retailer which operates the Athlete’s Foot, Hype DC and Platypus Shoes among other brands.

Agostinelli agreed that experience was critical for customers, and it began with creating the optimal environment in stores, but also in reaching out and connecting on a cultural level.

“Three weeks ago, we had a music artist play and she launched a new single in a Platypus store,” he said.

“I know its not new to have a band in a store, but it is new to have the launch of a new single in a store, and you can imagine what happens online after you do that.

“You may not get any sales from it today, but you do get customer loyalty because they understand that we are on point, and that we understand the music they love.”

The panel also discussed the world of data, and how retailers could effectively use the explosion in the volume of data to create a better customer experience.

“The days of just sending an email to every single customer are gone, and just having a nice photo on Instagram, that is old,” said Agostinelli.

“You need videographers to get better content to keep them involved.

“If someone buys a yellow shoe it doesn’t mean the other 4.5 million customers are also going to want a yellow shoe, so you need to personalise emails.”

Personalisation, he said, was a “very different space but it is moving very quickly, and that is exciting.”

“But you have to invest in the curve early and grow into it, because without it we would be left behind.”

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The third panelist, Erica Berchtold, the chief executive of online marketplace, The Iconic, said that it was critical for her business to help customers “navigate a way through” a site which carried over 1000 brands.

“It is like having signposts in a physical Westfield centre or in a store,” she said.

“We have developed features that enable a customer to navigate, so for example we have follow the brand, which is like having an Instagram feed of just the brands you want to know about.

“And you can look at new products, new range, and sales on those items and create a wish list board and share it with family and friends, so there’s a lot we can do to develop that emotional engagement online, but also help them have a better experience.”

Berchtold said her idea of being obsessed with the customer was to over deliver.

“I have never been satisfied with just giving a customer what they want,” she said.

“I want to be focused on giving them what they don’t know they want yet, and that is the challenge.

“It is saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know yet but actually you are going to want that yellow shoe or that product or service.’”

The panel also discussed the idea of value, and if customers were prepared to pay more for better services, such as home delivery at the hour of their choice.

Peter Allen gave another example of consumers no longer comparing apples with apples when it comes to experience.

“If I use the valet car park at Westfield, my expectations are not based on Westfield Valet, my expectations are based on the best hotel valet experience I’ve had globally.

“That’s what we’re competing with now and we need to not only meet but exceed those expectations.”
 

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