Stepping up Customer Service through Tech

Image courtesy of Xteener

You know a good retail experience when you see it, when you feel it, and it usually relies on really good customer service. And we’re not talking about persistent service or complicated service. Usually, great retail experiences result from going to a store you know and love, interacting with someone who knows about you and then benefiting from their knowledge. Sometimes this experience is highly local and the associate asks about your recent vacation. Other times, it’s going to a retail chain and having them understand your past purchase history in order to make a really good recommendation for an upcoming wedding. Both experiences are founded on a comprehensive understanding of your needs, motivations and desires at an individual level which are seamlessly used to provide better service.

Lucky for me, I know there’s one store where I can find this experience, and that’s Lou & Grey. Side note, I wrote about Lou & Grey on this blog before…I’m a little obsessed to say the least.

While I’m head over heals for the style of the clothes, the price point and the innovative retail experience—see my other blog post— a huge reason I come back is because of Kathy. While I live in Nashville, my family is in Connecticut and I shop regularly at Lou & Grey in Westport. There, Lou & Grey’s amazing employee, Kathy, has developed a strong relationship with my mother, my sister and me. We head to Lou & Grey hoping to catch a glimpse of her laugh and strong sense of humor. And also because she knows us really well. She knows that we tend to mostly buy clothes on sale but that we’ll splurge for something full price if we love it. She knows which clothes fit our sense of style and our body types. She provides suggestions, tells us when something doesn’t look great and gives recommendations for something that will work well with a piece we purchased last time. She’s amazing. And because she is amazing and the store is amazing, we return often and spend a lot more than we would otherwise.

Image courtesy of Xteener

What’s neat is that Kathy’s amazing customer service can be replicated through technology. Here’s why…

First, I like Lou & Grey enough to have their credit card—it gives me special offers when I spend a certain amount. That means that Lou & Grey can collect information about me right off the bat: the credit card is connected to my spending history. If linked to a CRM system, Lou & Grey employees like Kathy could also add in information about me to my “loyalty number” such as color preferences, size and taste.

Second, Lou & Grey can connect the knowledge about me to my experience in store. This way, if I visit a new store, or if Kathy has the day off, other associates can offer an experience that rivals Kathy’s. They can tap into my information to provide better recommendations and thus better service, offering new things for me to try that match my existing wardrobe and fall in line with my spending preferences.

Because I’ve developed a sense of confidence in the chain, I feel like my information is protected. I don’t worry about how my loyalty information is being used and I’m not freaked out by a new associate understanding my spending history because I’ve developed trust with Lou & Grey through their great customer service. In an ideal world, I would know how the retailer was using my information, how they protected it and what value I received in return.

If these simple changes were made to their loyalty program, and they implemented employee training to support the changes, I would shop at Lou & Grey way more often. Remember, the experience I shared with Kathy is in Connecticut. I live in Nashville. As a result, I’m limiting my shopping visits to a few times a year instead of once a month. If the retailer connected my patterns to my loyalty information and supplemented that technology enhancement with good associate training, I’d get just as good service here in Nashville, and I’d visit the store a lot more often.

In the meantime, I’ll keep talking up Lou & Grey and visiting Kathy whenever I can. And I’ll look forward to a future in which I get to learn the name of my favorite associate in Nashville.

What the Shift in Store Experiences Means for PR

The Apartment by the Line in Los Angeles. Credit Courtesy of Apartment by the Line/Hanna Tveite

I was reading T Magazine the other day and fell head over heals for an article by Michael Rock, “When the Shop Looks a Lot Like Home.”

I’m a woman for whom space and tangible experiences are of the utmost importance. So after reading Rock’s article, that discusses the trend of stores offering an experience that simulates your actual life, I was ready to book a trip to New York.

If you’ve been reading about the trend for stores to offer experiences, you’ll be familiar with Rock’s examples. Want to buy a new shower? Try it out before you purchase at the Pirch showroom in SoHo. Want to cuddle up on a cozy couch while you lust over clothes with a Basquiat hanging out behind you? Go visit The Row’s Upper East Side townhouse.

The Pirch Showroom. Photo courtesy of Pirch
The Pirch Showroom. Photo courtesy of Pirch

Rock provides a deep dive into the history of this trend. Starting with the Sears catalogue and extending to the Internet as the ultimate big box store, we have at our fingertips everything and anything we may need. It is only a click away. So what then, is our need for stores? Rock answers, “What the shop can offer, however, are things difficult to achieve online: an intimate relationship with things, a haptic appreciation of materiality, a personal interaction with a sympathetic helper, an experience that contextualizes objects, a place to socialize with like-minded connoisseurs and, most importantly, a respite from the avalanche of too much stuff.”

He continues, to my jubilation, “A visit to the store may revert back to John Wanamaker’s original dream: shopping as a form of education and cultural edification. Maybe we learn best in the places that we feel most comfortable in: places that feel like our own living room, only nicer.”

So this got me thinking, if stores are evolving to feel like our own living rooms, does this mean anything for PR?

As a B2B technology provider for retailers, your strategy ultimately aligns with your clients’ strategies. If you’re not offering a solution to their problems and you’re not talking their language then you’re not gaining new clients and you’re not staying in business. The press has a similar model for business, if they can’t speak to the retail community’s experiences, their stories don’t resonate.

So what’s resonating?

To me, the trend of stores offering unique experiences aligns with the more general trend of authenticity. Everyone from marketers to your younger sister is talking about a desire to hear real stories, for honesty and uniqueness. We’re seeing this play out in fashion, as designers reflect street wear in recent collections, and in the trend for more personalization in products like Netflix.

To offer an authentic story for PR, consider first what makes your brand unique. What is different about you? What do you value? Ideally, your company has an accessible mission, vision and core values available for you to use as a starting point, but if they don’t, think about your own experience with your company. When crafting a campaign, make sure your language and your story align with these authentic qualities. So, if one of your company’s values is “innovation,” it makes sense to have a quote from your CEO in a press release incorporate the word “innovation.”

Next, think about how you can authentically engage with press who are reporting on ongoing stories. Recently, Ketner Group facilitated some replies for our clients in a RIS News story on Amazon’s “Project X.” The reason we were successful in having our clients’ opinions picked up is that each client uniquely responded to the story, in a way that was authentic to their experience and their brand.

As convenience continues to become a top priority for mass-market brands like Amazon or Wal-Mart, smaller retailers and the community in general will desire more authentic experiences to balance it out. By placing authenticity front and center to your PR campaign, you’ll be able to better appeal to prospective clients and the media.