Customer Experience, why is it important?

Jamie Orme

We’ve all walked into a shop or restaurant and been confronted by an over enthusiastic member of staff who makes you want to turn around and head straight back towards the door.

It’s a typically English response when trying to enjoy one of the nation’s favourite past-times, no small talk and no time for overzealous shop assistants – we just want to be left alone and shop.

The flip side is when you want or need some help or assistance then a member of staff is often nowhere to be seen or actively trying to avoid any communication.

This is in my opinion, one of the biggest issues facing the retail and leisure industry at the present time, customer experience – it can easily lead to increased sales or quickly result in the customer going elsewhere – a fine balancing act is required, which is why I feel it’s such an important topic, and one which often is overlooked.

Businesses often focus on product or brand or any other element within their control, but for me it’s how the staff can engage with the customer that often sets them apart from the competition.

This is always a key factor that I try to explain to some of my retailer clients, and one example I always use is from a store in Notting Hill.

This particular store is/was one of Notting Hill’s early fashion occupiers, and quickly became a mainstay along Westbourne Grove, particularly with the locals. Something which is hugely important in all ‘high street locations but particularly in a ‘village’ style community like Notting Hill.

The manageress of this particular business, I would say, was probably solely responsible for at least 40% of all business through that particular store, and probably acted as a brand ambassador, long before that was even a thing. She became an influential member of the community, even though she wasn’t necessarily a resident.

It was phenomenal, she knew all her regular customers, names, ages, sizes, styles, favourite colours, probably even children’s names and where they were at school.

Time and time again you would be in the store, and hear her calling a customer saying, we’ve just had a new collection arrive, which I think you’d love – I’ve put a few pieces behind the till with your name on for you to try next time you’re in.

She would greet them with a personal hello and make a point of saying goodbye if she’s been with another customer – you always knew she was in control of everyone in the store – which in turn always improved the other team members around her.

It sounds simple, yet the difference this made to the experience for the customer was incredible and tangible, they felt valued above all others, which time and time again inevitably lead to an increase in sales and positive marketing and PR via the goodwill word of mouth from the customer base.

The resulting factor was the business benefited greatly from her, and eventually as a result of store performance, she was re-positioned, in time, to all of their most prominent stores, to implement her style and techniques on the other retail teams within the business.

Why is this important – because in the current climate all high street businesses are battling against increased amounts of competition, whether it be from another retailer or business, online, economic conditions  and now a worldwide pandemic.

It’s become trench warfare along the high street, and businesses need to provide the customer with a point of different to all their competition, for me this starts with the customer service of the staff. What service can they provide above and beyond what can be offered elsewhere – why choose to make the effort of going to a high street store vs a few clicks on you laptop.

If we reflect on our own personal favourite restaurants, coffee shops or retail stores, somewhere we visit frequently, stop and consider what sets them apart from the competition – almost every time for me it’s having a personal connection and experience, which the staff provide through their actions.

 

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The Rise of Community Spirit and how Independent Retailers have reacted…

Lucy Cope

“A renewed sense of community is welcomed news for independent businesses, with a growing desire to support local stores in life after lockdown.” (Source: Food Manufacture Online)

The world as we know it has come to a halt and each and every one of us has been forced to adapt to a new way of living following the novel Coronavirus outbreak. Overnight, our homes transformed into an office, school, playground, restaurant, bar and gym – all under one roof. Now with more time on our hands and the once frenetic pace of life behind us, a renewed sense of community spirit has arisen from the ashes.

With news of lock down being relaxed, ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ businesses are looking at how they must adapt to the new consumer behaviours and protocols born from the pandemic. In a bid to avoid lengthy supermarket queues and delays from over worked couriers during lock down, a large number of consumers have turned towards smaller, independent retailers on their local high street to purchase their every-day essentials.

In recent years, consumers have recognised the health and environmental benefits of purchasing locally sourced produce,  with a growing trend towards sustainable and seasonal food production. The onset of the pandemic has reinforced this desire to ‘live well’; subsequently bolstering the movement towards supporting local ‘essential’ retailers, such as high-street butchers, bakers and grocers who have offered their fresh products and bespoke services throughout the crisis.

A recent survey from Barclaycard supports the above, with statistics showing an increase of 37.5% in greengrocer and bakery sales in April 2020, with more than half of Britons stating the pandemic as the reason for the upsurge.

Convenience is King

With companies now opting for flexible remote working, the office – as we know it – is unlikely to return anytime soon. The busy shopping hubs once utilised on our lunch break will continue to be replaced with the local amenities of our neighbourhood. Cycling and walking have also become the preferred modes of transport for most, reinforcing convenience as a new key component in purchasing behaviour.

The rising popularity of the hyperlocal social media network ‘Nextdoor’ is another example of the increased desire to connect with one’s local community. The community network and hub for neighbourly services connects households by postcode and currently serves 250 neighbourhoods in the UK. Although the app has existed for a number of years there has been an 80% surge in daily members during February and March this year.

A further example of community support is Grosvenor’s Mayfair and Belgravia Community Fund which was set up to provide support to community projects, while encapsulating Grosvenor’s vision to ensure their communities are active, inclusive and integrated. From guitar lessons held in Mercato Metropolitano to the creation of an urban wood in Mayfair, these community projects promote health and wellbeing, encourage community cohesion and togetherness which is imperative during these challenging times.

During lock down, ‘essential’ independent retailers and restauranteurs have quickly launched home delivery services, embraced social media to generate new customers and restructured their business model to survive the pandemic. A few examples of how businesses have risen to the challenge can be found below:

Wild by Tart, a fully immersive neighbourhood restaurant space in Eccleston Yards, quickly tailored their offering in response to the pandemic by delivering food hampers with recipe cards, allowing local customers to create their dishes from home.

The Thai Grocer, a family run restaurant in Earlsfield, and both Story Coffee and the Eclectic Collection, independent coffee shops in Earlsfield and Clapham have transformed their stores into a hybrid-takeaway-come-grocery-store providing essential deli items to their local communities.

The Notting Hill Fish Shop has converted into a superstore, collaborating with other independent brands such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and Natoora to offer locals a one stop destination for essential items – all under the same roof. To meet the surge in demand, they have taken on furloughed chefs as volunteers; helping them stay connected to the industry they love.

As restrictions lift and more retailers reopen, it will be interesting to see how consumer behaviour continues to develop. Will the loyalty these businesses have amassed translate into longer term rewards in the aftermath of Covid-19? We think so.