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The customer dimension (IRM55)

The customer has InternetRetailing’s full attention in the latest IRUK 500 Performance Dimension Report. In this, we’re in tune with the retail zeitgeist as we consider whether there’s a gap between retailers’ good intentions and what’s actually being achieved here. Customers, after all, don’t judge retailers on what companies are trying to do, customers just want great service.

The Customer Dimension report is largely focused on measuring retailers by what they do. We’ve assessed whether site speed meets customers’ expectations. We’ve measured how efficiently customer service operatives respond to shoppers’ questions and concerns. Our findings so far are largely encouraging. We’ve found some remarkable individual performances and, on the whole, we’ve found the performance of IRUK 500 retailers meets or exceeds expectations. However, it’s worth noting that some retailers are even now performing well below the standard required.

This is crucial because the new emphasis within the industry on customer-centred retail isn’t going to go away. Instead, as digitally driven cross-channel retail becomes embedded, the new normal, customers will expect to be served in ways that suit them. Retailers that fail to meet the required standards will not survive in a world where customers have almost infinite choice.

When retailers build businesses around their customers’ wants and needs, traders find that new priorities begin to emerge. It becomes important to find out both what customers expect, and how customers behave when they shop. Thinking about consumers in this way means that traders start to meet expectations of speed and efficiency, delivering response times across all areas of customer service that not only keep existing consumers loyal but impress new and potential shoppers.

In this IRUK 500 Dimension Report about The Customer, we’ve kept our focus sharply on the customer, mapping how leading retailers currently understand and serve shoppers, as well as how service is adapting and changing in response to buyers’ behaviour. The influences of new technologies, new kinds of retail services and wider social changes all play in here.

The idea that putting the customer at the centre of retail shouldn’t be revolutionary. Leading retailers have long done this. Your local corner shop owner, who takes careful note of which of his regulars buys what, has long done this. So why has this simple and apparently long-established idea proved to be such a recurring theme in this Dimension Report?

One reason is that, in an era of instant digital communication and social media, customers have become less patient. To a customer who has grown up with the world wide web as a part of day-to-day life, 24 hours waiting for a reply to an enquiry seems like an eternity. Despite the best intentions, some retailers have failed to catch up with this new reality.

Retailers really can’t afford to get left behind here. Mike Petrook of The Customer Service Institute’s ideas, as shared in the report, about retail models where there’s much more of a flow of information between businesses and customers is compelling. If companies can’t even reply to a tweet in a timely fashion, how can they expect to compete in an omnichannel future where companies make use of data in more and more sophisticated ways?

If that seems negative, let’s end on a positive note. As the Dimension Report notes, the IRUK 500 is made up of retailers operating desktop websites that are faster, slicker and more responsive than 10 years ago. Looking a decade down the road again, who’s to say the 2025 IRUK 500 won’t be filled with retailers that put the customer at the heart of what they do, and which do this in ways that are only just beginning to emerge now? Will today’s ‘Elite’ retailers – Burberry and Schuh – still be in the same class and what of Amazon UK, Ebuyer, Majestic Wine, Morrisons and Moss Bross who are 2015’s ‘Leaders’?

Going forward, we will continue to monitor and assess the customer service offered by top retailers, adding new measurements as customer behaviour changes, and as new technologies and channels emerge. Integral to our research will be to see whether retailers effectively scale customer service and customer experience initiatives. These assessments will be objective, based on original work and hard data, but we will also seek to present our research in the context of wider developments within the retail sector.

We would particularly welcome the input of industry professionals here. What are the measures that you most value in assessing customer experience and customer service? What new developments will be important here? Are there interlopers ready to shake up the established order here? Please do get in touch with your ideas and thoughts as we turn our attention towards 2016.

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