My son the college student returned home for spring break the other day, a large duffle bag of laundry in tow. He seemed taller to me and a bit broader. He confirmed that he’d been working out. While unpacking, he tossed me a black tee I’d sent him to wear at his new job. The tags were still attached. “I really need a large, Mom.”
Later that night, I headed to Nordstrom to exchange the shirt for a larger size, but it wasn’t in stock. I regretfully told the gentleman at the register that I needed to make a return. He scanned the shirt and my receipt, and told me the large-sized shirt actually was available and could be shipped to me…at no cost. My disappointment waned. He swiveled his screen toward me and asked which address he should ship to. Numerous addresses I’d used over the years appeared on the screen. I confirmed the proper destination and walked away delighted.
Batching tasks, I trekked further into the mall to buy some new décor for my daughter’s room. This store resembled a showroom more than a shop. I appreciated the ability to touch and see catalog items in person, and was pleased to learn my shipping charges would be waived thanks to my in-store purchase. I confirmed my selections. While checking out, the clerk asked me to dictate my address to her while she typed…and re-typed. I grew annoyed. With my Nordstrom experience flashing in my mind I asked, “Don’t you have me in your database? I’ve shopped with you in person, over the phone, and online before.” She didn’t. They didn’t. The transaction took only a minute more. The gal was very pleasant, and I got what I wanted. Still, I did not leave delighted.
What was the big deal? It was only a minute longer. For Retailer #2, the bar had been raised, my expectations framed by an adjacent retailer, one that would not naturally be viewed as a threat or competitor at all…except that they were. Nordstrom had wrestled omni-channel to the ground, while Retailer #2 still treated me like a multi-channel shopper. (Too bad there is no such thing as a multi-channel shopper.)
Keeping up with the Joneses has taken on a new meaning and challenge, in what many call, the Age of the Customer. New apps, tools and experiences across a variety of categories increase that complexity by continually reframing the consumer context. Tinkering with your experience may not be enough. You may need more radical transformation. To get started:
Gain a deep understanding of your customers’ journey and experiences with your direct competitors as well as those in adjacent categories.
Brainstorm ways to innovate your experience, pushing beyond the obvious by looking to other unrelated industries to explore concepts that will help you leap frog competitors.
Post brainstorming, focus only on the innovations that help you fulfill your brand promise and core strategic goals. Leave others behind.
Customer experience design and innovation must be part of your strategy. Understand your customer needs and identify what you need to do to fulfill them in a manner consistent with your brand. You must keep up with the Joneses, all of them.
-Co-authored with Joan Cassidy