How to Win Big by Adopting a Customer Experience Mindset

July 9, 2019 Lia Parisyan

Today's customers have much higher expectations. With more than 2.5 billion¹ smartphone users worldwide and counting - customers are armed with knowledge previously unavailable to them and have more power to make their own purchasing decisions. 

Smartphones are changing the ways people interact with brands. 
Customer reviews, price comparison tools, word of mouth recommendations on social media, and more ways to pay in-store and online have radically shifted customer expectations, requiring retailers to rethink their business models and adopt a customer experience-centric mindset, which starts with customer experience research. 

What is a customer experience mindset? 

  • It’s people-focused
  • Motivates employees to deliver amazing customer service
  • Goes beyond rote how-to instructions and situational preparedness 
  • Builds a culture that instills a desire to serve and continuously improve 
  • Aligns IT systems and culture 

In a (CX) customer experience-focused mindset, strategy drives technology. Technology enables, but it’s people (your employees) who deliver - not the other way around.³  

Think of a business and ask yourself: 
Why do I keep going back over and over again? 

A bohemian woman shopping for jewelry at a bazaar to try a different customer experience

Customer experience. Businesses that are doing (CX) customer experience right, know they have to give customers what they need when they need it, and where they need it.

Why? Because customers want (and expect) relevant and meaningful experiences at every touchpoint. An IT platform gives you the capabilities to meet those expectations, but it’s employees that deliver them.

Connecting your technology and your culture. 
You can have the most efficient technology systems in the world, but if the culture of your organization doesn’t support them, you’re missing key opportunities to deliver amazing CX customer experiences that build brand loyalty. 

3 Brands Owning the Customer Experience 

By now, most businesses know they have to deliver amazing customer experiences, but they’re not sure always sure how to, or what even qualifies as an amazing customer experience. 

To help clear up the confusion, we're sharing our hand-picked list of retailers who are conquering the shifts in customer experience and are preparing now for the next era of retail technology and people-focused innovation. 

Brand #1: SEPHORA

Pink background and a woman's pink lips to represent the beauty customer experience 

Sephora is a beauty retailer that was founded in France by Dominique Mandonnaud in 1970. The brand is known for its carefully curated classic and emerging brands as well as its own flagship cosmetics collection.

The first U.S. Sephora store opened its doors in 1998 in New York’s trendiest neighborhood, SoHo. In 1999, the Sephora went digital; today it continues to create groundbreaking content on desktop, mobile, and social. 

What Sephora is doing right:

Making digital a priority - from integrating in-store technologies to creating a user-friendly mobile app, Sephora is using technology to enable better experiences. But ultimately, it’s Sephora’s culture that delivers the relevant, meaningful, and consistent experiences customers expect. 

Improving its brick and mortar locations - Sephora recognizes the importance of offline experiences and technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) to solve customer pain points.

For example... customers can use AR to preview what a certain eyeshadow, lipstick, or foundation will look like on them without having to test them on their skin. They can skip the makeup remover, cotton balls, and the time-consuming skin cleaning ritual outside their homes. 

Personalize. Personalize. Personalize. Sephora browsers and shoppers will get personalized product and service recommendations based on their customer profiles and browsing histories. Customers instantly see relevant results and other items that fall under their umbrella of interests, increasing the likelihood of a related purchase. 

Customer loyalty programs - This beauty juggernaut knows the importance of having a rewards programs. Sephora’s Beauty Insiders get points for shopping and get VIP access to beauty classes, services, and an online community. 

Sephora is bridging the divide between its physical and online stores by bringing digital experiences in-store and creating relevant, meaningful, and visionary content online. Sephora gets it… technology enables their amazing capabilities, but it's their culture that delivers. 

Brand #2: Nordstrom

Female model wearing sunglasses in a tropical setting to represent the high fashion customer experience

Nordstrom was the brainchild of Swedish immigrant John W. Nordstrom and Seattle shoemaker, Carl F. Wallin. The first Nordstrom (then Wallin & Nordstrom) opened its doors on Fourth and Pike in Seattle in 1901. The business grew and the partners opened their second store in Seattle's University district. 

What differentiated Nordstrom? A clear mission: to provide the best service and value to customers. This philosophy paid off big, by 1960, Nordstrom had become the largest shoe store in the U.S. 

Inspired by its success, the company decided to enter the women's fashion market when it acquired Best's Apparel in 1963. When the company went public in 1971, it had expanded to the Men’s and Kids fashion markets and was renamed, Nordstrom.

From 1973 onward, Nordstrom expanded across the US, and in 1998, the company launched its website. 

In 2009, Nordstrom launched an inventory management and fulfillment system to provide frictionless experiences in-store and online - and live up to their reputation of legendary customer service. 

What Nordstrom is doing right:

Empowering employees to take creative action - Nordstrom enables their employees to be creative problem-solvers, but in ways that are aligned with their brand and values. Instead of preparing employees for every ‘what if’ scenario, they encourage them to act on their brand promise. 

Why? They skipped the micro-management because Nordstrom has built (and continues to build) a strong workplace culture that embodies its brand promise: a desire to serve and provide value to customers.

High-tech response to hyper-competition - the digital customer experience (website and mobile) is on part with the Nordstrom in-store shopping experience which includes one-to-one assistance, being able to touch and try on products, and bask in the high-end ambiance. 

When all these factors come together, they create a synchronous experience where customers feel more connected to and involved in the brand - whether they're physically in a brick and mortar store or shopping the on the website, social media, or mobile app. 

Self-service innovation - Nordstrom newest Manhattan store has self-service return bins - even for stuff bought online. Customers can even see how clothes look a real-life-sized avatar. One example of how Nordstrom connects technology and culture - is that allows customers to reserve clothes they're interested in trying on and have a fitting room ready at the Nordstrom of their choice. The customer doesn't have to search through the racks for products and scan labels for their size.² 

All they have to do is, show up. 

Brand #3: Trader Joe’s 

Tomatoes, colorful vegetables, and a salad with yogurt topping to represent a successful grocery store customer experience

Trader Joe's was launched in 1958 as Pronto Markets. The name change happened in 1967 to match the company's new brand promise and updated visual identity: great value - or in other words - great products, great pricing, and great savings. 

How do they do it? Trader Joe's buys directly from most of its suppliers in volume and cuts out the middleman whenever possible, resulting in lower prices for customers. 

What Trader Joe’s is doing right:

In an age when most grocery retailers are accelerating their journey to e-commerce, Trader Joe’s is taking a different approach: the company has embraced digital but uses email marketing and social media to support (and extend) their amazing in-store experience - not the other way around. 

Curated content and smart in-store retail merchandising - Trader Joe’s sends out an email (about once a week) that features one to two products usually around a specific theme. Customers will get excited about those products and when they go to the store - they’ll see them front and center and employees will share their infectious enthusiasm about trying and buying them. 

A different (and individualized) sales approach - Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a mobile app; they rely on direct mail and email marketing. Their direct mail marketing efforts  (Fearless Flyer) connect to their email marketing efforts. Trader Joe’s is low on in-store tech, especially when compared to Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, and other big grocery retailers. However, they offer something different: exceptional customer service. 

Personalized customer service - Trader Joe’s employees are well-versed in the company’s brand promise and are able to go above and beyond. They take creative action and strive to make every shopper’s experience customized and filled with value. At Trader Joe’s, their customer service echoes the flow of their marketing funnel and brand story. 

Breaking ‘the rules’ - Customers can’t shop on the Trader Joe’s website, some apps like InstaCart and Postmates enable shoppers to order products from Trader Joe’s and have them delivered to their doorstep. However, customers can go to Trader Joe’s site to discover recipes, explore Fearlessly Featured products, and more. The website’s copy, voice, and branding is an extension of Trader Joe’s individualized in-store experience. 

Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a comprehensive social media presence. Local stores often create their own Facebook pages. Additionally, there are numerous Trader Joe’s fan pages on Facebook and Instagram.

Why a CX Customer Experience Strategy Matters

A young woman wearing black shopping in a gourmet supermarket aisle getting the full in-store customer experience

According, Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal of thinkJar, a customer strategy consulting firm, 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience.

Creating a customer experience strategy has never been more important. Thanks to the advent of smartphones, social media, and access to brands of all sizes around the world, consumers are in charge. Businesses that want to survive and keep customers coming back have to adapt their business models, technologies, and employee mindset to provide experiences that are aligned with their brand promises wherever customers are - in-store, online, or mobile. 

To create consistent customer experiences and stand out, marketers need to embrace emerging channels like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp Business. Additionally, they'll need to explore strategies and tools to extend their reach in moments that matter with web push notifications and automated emails.

Discover more CX Customer Experience insights… 
Want deeper insights into how to align your technology and your employees to create exceptional customer experiences? Explore the Appirio Retail Hub to learn more or get in touch with a retail technology and culture expert to discuss your goals towards becoming customer-focused. 




About the Author

Lia Parisyan

Lia Parisyan is a Data Storyteller at Appirio. She has created high-performing content for leading technology brands.

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