The first half of 2020 has been nothing short of pandemonium for both individuals and businesses. We’ve been battered and bruised by a raging pandemic that is fast forwarding everyone and almost every business into the “next” normal. As we contemplate our new landing points, we should spare a thought for how this pandemic has allowed us a “rare, but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world” (Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chair of the World Economic Forum).
I’ve been marvelling at how the world has embraced more widely, telemedicine, teleconferencing, online training, working from home, home schooling and massive business retooling. I’ve marvelled, as well, at how technophobes who became technophiles overnight, now amazingly, have begun to turn up their noses at friends who have been slower to migrate to digital usage.
I believe that three types of businesses are emerging and will continue to show up in our everyday lives. There will be the Generation S (Stale) business, the Generation I (Insightful) business and the Generation R (Renewed) business.
The Generation S business will be fully and completely unmoved by its pandemic experience. It is that business that has shifted to survival mode and will only do what is necessary to remain afloat. The Generation I business will have gained some knowledge and gotten excited about the prospects of change. Some changes will occur in the business, but these will be largely cosmetic and superficial. No lasting, brand defining transformation will emerge. This is the talking head business, lots of grand plans being “talked about” by the leadership, but few, if any, being converted into real beneficial change. There will be some evidence of improvement, but not so much to cause employees and customers to swoon with delight.
Then there’s the Generation R business that will be setting an aggressive agenda for building customer relationships over the rest of 2020 and will emerge as a hero to its employees and, moreso, to its customers. Brings to mind the storied history of Nordstrom, the well-known clothing retailer, famous for its legendary customer experience. One of the many stories includes that of a motivational speaker, needing a suit in a hurry and walking in to one of the Nordstrom outlets, with a plan to make a quick and convenient purchase. Instead, he gets treated to a memorable shopping experience by a Nordstrom sales associate.
Well, the story unfolds with the associate starting with a barrage of questions about the nature of the occasion, the customer’s lifestyle, favourite colour and existing wardrobe accessories. The customer becomes a bit irritated at first, but then begins to appreciate the interrogation that ultimately culminates with the purchase of several suits, matching accessories and a decision to never shop for a business suit on the run, ever again. Such was the Nordstrom magic of customer engagement at work.
So here at home, whilst I don’t have a story that is as remarkable, my mind has been stirred into thinking that the pandemic may have prompted some businesses to start doing something about the pursuit of customer service excellence.
I visited my favourite shoe store recently and was pleased to experience the newly-minted, engagement style of the sales associates. This has become my go-to store because it stocks my favourite brand of footwear and because the senior sales associate takes a personal interest in my finding just the right shoe for the occasion. During a recent visit, the difference in the warmth of the welcome greeting, the level of attentiveness and the sense of sincere concern being shown by all sales associates towards all customers, was remarkable and hard to miss. Typically, only the senior sales associate is super engaging, whilst her colleagues are only lukewarm when they reach out to customers.
With my curiousity piqued, I asked my usual point person about the noticeable uplift in attitude and customer engagement levels of the staff. Her response was that the owner has started to pay a little more attention to the touch and feel experience from the point of entry to the point of exit. Further, all of the sales associates are being exposed to pep talks that emphasize customer solutions and not just sales. Of course, my favourite sales associate is the star of the show and sometimes leads the discussions.
My favourite shoe store is not Nordstrom, but it is beginning to understand that going beyond the dryness of “may I help you?” and connecting more deeply with its customers, creates a more effective pipeline to repeat business. I suspect that my favourite shoe store, which has begun to acknowledge that “at the heart of service is people” and that investing in customer love leads to customer success, will continue its journey to becoming a Generation R business.
So, in the midst of the brave new world that is emerging and with the second half of 2020 upon us, an important question is, “what’s your game plan for building customer love into your business?”