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Getting Back to Customer Service

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In 1985, Huey Lewis and the News scored a big hit with “Back in Time.”

Almost 30 years later, technology is around that will enable us to do just that.

There was a time when the butcher knew your preferred cut of beef, the salesperson knew your favorite color and the hardware store associate was familiar with your latest home project. Although the vision isn’t a new one, the enabling technologies are.

The question is: Are these new technologies by themselves enough? Not without a solid foundation of operational excellence.

Operational excellence
Consider a simplified model, with customer loyalty at the pinnacle of a pyramid. Customer loyalty finds its foundations in customer experience and satisfaction — defined here as the ability to meet a consumer’s need when the propensity to buy exists. A simple concept, yet critical when you consider almost half of all shoppers who don’t find what they want go to another store to buy, while another third go online.

A positive customer experience is doing all of this in such a way that the customers’ propensity to return to you is increased. Customer loyalty in this context would be a relationship that when “all things are not equal,” a customer would still prefer to give you her business.

Underlying all of this is operational excellence. With a market capitalization of over $400 billion, Apple is worth considering. Having doubled its number of stores over the last five years while increasing the number of store employees six-fold, Apple has achieved revenues per sq. ft. that are 17 times greater than those of the average retailer.

During this same period Apple has been Gartner’s top-ranked supply chain company. Coincidence? I don’t believe so. Great branding, certainly. Great technology, sure. Marketing and merchandising excellence, you bet. But underlying all of this is a rock-solid operational foundation.

Exceeding expectations
If you know that an intermittent problem exists with a product, and an associate in a store can identify potentially defective products, they can interact with customers in a different way. When you combine this knowledge with the ability to schedule production to meet this “increase” in demand, you’ve enabled associates to interact in a different way with customers.

What results from this sort of operational excellence is the ability to satisfy customers, enhance their experience and build loyalty. With this sort of capability you can alter the customer experience by enabling the following dialogue: “The product doesn’t seem to be exhibiting the problem now, but if you’d like I can replace it.” In this single action you clearly enhanced the customer experience and avoided a brand liability. In addition, you’ve taken a step toward creating a loyal customer through an interaction that appears to be based on a sense of trust and a commitment to “make things right.”

In a recent edition of STORES, ARTS provided insight into its preliminary business process management models. The models begin to define integrated business processes for a retailer, its internal organizations and external suppliers. This is one of the first steps in defining processes that enable the type of operational excellence alluded to above. The evolution of Big Data, complex event processing and predictive analytics promise to help us “better know” our customers. The ability to meet and exceed their expectations will depend on whether operational capability exists to deliver on those needs.

If you’re interested in practical tips and resources on what retailers are doing to boost operational excellence, I encourage you to visit