The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Rethinking The Customer Experience – Let’s Face It, It’s Not Getting Any Better Out There

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Being a retail analyst can be challenging.  In fact, being an analyst in any industry where you can also find yourself as someone in need of real customer service is hard.  How can you be objective when hours or days of your life have been wasted due to outdated and/or inadequate processes, poorly trained staff and dated technologies? Data often tells the tale, and our most recent research, “What Makes An Excellent Customer Experience? Customers And Retailers Weigh In” helps tell the tale and show the disconnects between what retailers really want to believe, and what customers actually think.

But customers don’t just deal with retailers selling products. They also must work with banks, airlines, credit card companies, cable TV and internet service providers among others…we (customers) have a lot of interactions with all kinds of people, processes and technologies.

So, let’s just call it what it is. When Southwest airlines can strand customers for weeks over a holiday period and just say “oops, outdated systems,” when someone like me has to spend three full days unsuccessfully trying to transfer a small amount of stock through a bank (Bank of America if you’re wondering), when we seriously say with a straight face that having no cashiers or grocery packers at all in a supermarket is a “frictionless experience” and consumers will be delighted to select, pack, and “just walk out” of the store, when we spend hours trying to get a human to help fix an internet problem and just keep getting a bot saying, “You must reboot your modem first.  Shall we start that now?” it’s time to face it.

Industry is failing in what we so glibly call CX, the Customer Experience. And it’s failing so badly, that it scarcely knows it. Southwest Air can say, “Well, the problem was our IT systems.” and think that’s okay.  It’s not. Bank of America can say, “Well, we can’t really take the risk, and our systems won’t let us override” after wasting 3 days of my time at ever-scarcer branches all it wants. It’s not okay. And finally, anyone who thinks that giving shoppers the job of baggers and checkout clerks is “frictionless” is taking way better drugs than I do.

Eyes wide shut, companies continue expense reductions and, I guess, really believe that they’re making things better. Having just really spent three days trying to take my four-year-deceased mother’s name off of a very small amount of stock and being checkmated three different times for three different reasons (they could have at least told me all three reasons from the jump) it’s hard for me to remain calm.

The simple fact is, as consumers, our suppliers simply don’t value our time. Someone developed some software that allows companies with a shortage of CSRs (customer service representatives) to invite you to hang up and let them call you back when someone is free.  That sounds like great customer service. My wife tried it during a busy period at American Airlines.  Her original call was made at 5 PM.  Her call-back came at 3 am.

This is the long way round saying something very serious. Consumers have choices. We notice when customer service is bad. You may be a leader today and a loser tomorrow.  And, if you realize the error of your ways, you might be a laggard today and a Winner tomorrow.  Winners make it easy. Losers make it hard. Go shopping, try to transfer some stock when the co-owner is 1,100 miles away. Call for assistance with your internet connection.  THEN come back and tell me you’re creating a great CX.

You know, today I read an article about one of my favorite bizarre technology names “Headless Commerce.”  This article predicted that in 3 years, a large percentage of software will be headless. Right now I’m wondering if the people running some of our service businesses are headless already.

Seriously, it’s time to really, really change. The pandemic is over. People have choices. You want to be in, not out.

Newsletter Articles March 16, 2023