Jonathan Wright considers the factors that go to make up great customer experiences
Ask shoppers across Europe what constitutes a memorable customer experience and certain answers will be universal. It’s great when a store has the items we want, better still if it can provide expert advice on these items or alternatives that we might not have known about. Polite and timely service is always welcome too, and, while we hope nothing goes wrong, we’ll be far more forgiving towards a retailer that deals quickly and efficiently with complaints.
Yet even in an increasingly globalised world, where the same international brands seem to dominate the displays in high-end shopping areas, it would be a mistake to assume that customer expectations and behaviour have somehow become uniform. Time and time again, retailers find that, as they expand outside a home territory, there are cultural nuances to deal with that go way beyond language considerations. Even something as apparently simple as deciding which payment options to provide – credit-averse Germans like to pay by bank transfer or cash, preferably after they’ve received the goods; Brits are credit card happy; in Holland, the iDeal inline payment system is near-ubiquitous – requires careful strategic thought before companies get close to the implementation stage.
“It’s theoretically possible but ruinously expensive to provide a perfectly localised service for all EEA member states”
Factor in the other facets of retail practice that go to make up a great customer experience and it soon becomes clear that, while it’s theoretically possible to provide a perfectly localised service for all 31 EEA member states and for Switzerland too, it would be ruinously expensive and wipe out any potential profits from expanding into new territories.
For this reason, most retailers expanding overseas begin with territories close to home, by which we mean close to home culturally rather than just geographically. German retailers often expand first into Scandinavia, for example, and vice-versa. Learning can then be carried into potentially more difficult markets.
As we compile the IREU 500 Customer Performance Dimension, we expect to find an elite group of companies that has done this work across a genuinely cross-border footprint. However, we don’t expect these retailers to provide the same levels of customer service in all territories. For some countries, the potential return may justify employing local teams to monitor and improve the customer experience; for other territories, the returns won’t justify such an investment, but we’d still expect elite retailers to show an awareness of local factors.
That doesn’t mean smaller companies won’t get a look-in here. One of the subtleties around providing a great customer experience in a new territory lies not in slavishly duplicating what local retailers do, but in deciding how to sell a brand as something new, fresh. Think of Ikea’s “chuck out your chintz” adverts in the 1990s, which aimed to inspire Britons resistant to modernity to embrace efficient Scandinavian design. Never mind that the reality was sometimes a weekend spent swearing at flatpack furniture, the company dared to talk about a cultural change and shoppers responded.
Accordingly, as well as looking for evidence of companies deploying local-specific offerings, we’ll be looking for examples of great practice that revolve around exporting fresh ideas. Throughout our research to determine the IREU 500, we’ll also rigorously monitor and measure such customer experience basics as site performance and responsiveness to consumer enquiries across different channels.