What is the ultimate currency in retail? 


Many of you, like me, probably remember when retail was still called retail. At that time, we all agreed “retail is detail.” But with the rise of ecommerce and mobile, we became convinced that omnichannel or omni-commerce is the ultimate goal.

We got sidetracked, and we lost sight of the truth that customers don't actually care about channels. We overfocused on “omni” and tried to have a presence in every channel.

Fast forward to today. 

Talk Is Cheap

Now we assume retail (and yes, we call it "retail" again) is all about customer experience. Software and hardware companies alike are selling technological promises to deliver the ultimate customer experience. All retailers have started to implement those technologies with the aim of differentiation.

Let's pause and reflect for a moment. Do we really think this uniqueness and differentiation alone is a winning and sustainable strategy? Or are we pursuing tactics to impress or surprise the market and competitors, instead of focusing on the customers’ happiness?                                

It's pretty easy to say the customer is the center of everything we do — yet achieving this is difficult, both from an IT and organizational perspective. It requires a change of mindset by learning to include a “happiness” measure in each quantification of success. The first question retailers should ask themselves is, "Does my investment contribute to making customers happy?"

Loyal to Great Experiences

Consumers in today's digital age are much more demanding. Since consumers have experienced positive encounters due to technology, their expectations are higher than ever. Their experiences from Amazon, Apple, Google and others have raised the bar. They now expect the same level of happiness from their retail experiences.

To complicate things further, it's not just that consumers don't care about channels, they also don't care about industries. They give their love and loyalty to companies, in whatever sector, make them happy.

As a consequence, old industry lines are blurring. Customers will encourage, if not force, companies in different industries to collaborate to create the quintessential "happy" experience.

For example, at this year’s Mobile World Congress, Hertz, Nokia and Concur designed a perfect rental car experience. 

The showcase provided a holistic experience. It started with the rental but it didn't stop there. They asked questions like: How did we continue to delight the customer during the rental? As the customer drove the car? As he parked it? As he filled the rental with gas? As he paid? How he navigated from place to place? 

What the showcase highlighted was the profound inter-connectiveness of a rental experience. Each moment was an opportunity to delight the customer, and any positive or negative experience along the way colored the overall perception.

Once a customer experiences a series of micro-moments coming together so seamlessly, it "reprograms" their expectations from then on. The customer expects more, every single time.

The best becomes the benchmark. And every other experience compares to the optimal.

Why can't I safely pre-book? Why do I need to get out of my rental? Why can't I directly pay for my purchases with my car, like I already can for gas and parking with my Hertz rental car?

Learning Opportunities

In the short term, when promises are only sporadically achieved, happiness falters.

It Takes a Village to Delight a Customer

More and more, individual companies alone will not be able to make customers happy. Just as some people say it "takes a village" [to raise a child] so too will it "take a village" to delight a customer. 

Hertz understood it needed to partner with oil companies and parking operators to help achieve that ultimate goal of customer happiness throughout the entire experience.

Let's look at another example. Telecommunication companies are exploring new business models as growth options due to the huge capital expenditures required to make 5G a reality. They have underutilized assets — networks and customer information. These can be put to use within cognitive intelligence platforms. The platforms could, in turn, provide high-quality personalization services, and as we know, personalized experiences are happier ones.

Personalized technology alone doesn't make your customers happy, nor does the cloud, or mobile, or 5G. Even "sexy" technologies like augmented reality aren't the sources of happiness. They are prerequisites and enablers, necessary, but not sufficient.

Amazon's Alexa makes my four-year-old daughter Lilly happy. Alexa tells Lilly jokes and plays her favorite music. Still, imagine what happens 10 to 15 years from now when Lilly is a teenager. 

Alexa and her counterparts from Apple and Google redefined retail as we know it. Alexa knows Lilly and what she likes. Alexa is able to apply machine learning to predict Lilly's mood and needs before Lilly even realizes them. 

You Can't Own the Customer Experience

Businesses are seeking the wrong thing. They are trying to own the customer experience, but that’s not truly possible. 

You can, however, seek to delight the customer. Companies can strive to measure not speeds and feeds, but rather happiness.

Making your customers happy requires a vision of collaboration. The collaboration must cross companies, industries and networks. Retailers who want to build the most delightful experience need agility, networked integration to their business partners, to be open and have connections (APIs) built in, and to be able to have fluid onboarding of business and ecosystem partners.

Determine the experiences you want to design for your customers, then collaborate to achieve happiness. Not sporadic micro-moments, but consistent and meaningful interactions that build a brand legacy for your business — a legacy of happy customers.