BrainTrust Query: Moments of Connectivity

May 09, 2011

a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current
article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of Dynamic Experiences Group.

customer experience management we often talk about moments of truth to define
those times in which important brand impressions are formed and where there
is significant opportunity for good or bad impressions to be made.

In retail,
moments of truth occur in key interactions:

  • On the phone
  • When a customer enters the store
  • When he/she is engaged by an employee
  • At check-out
  • Leaving the store
  • Follow-up cards, emails, newsletters.

Together, along with store’s products and environment, these moments add up to
the customer’s experience.

At the staff level in specialty stores, we can drill it down further
to what I call “moments of connectivity.” Those happen by taking
advantage of key interactions to connect with the customer in a meaningful
way. Many of these key interactions overlap with the Moments of Truth, but
there are also some additional engagement points that are vital to the moments
of connectivity.

I believe three of the most important moments of connectivity
are as follows:

1. First engagement. Sadly, many stores short-circuit right here by
ignoring customers or opening with a “How may I help you?” Fall short
here and it’s much more difficult to create connectivity later on.

The goal
at this point is to:

  • Demonstrate your priority of customer service/experience.
  • Let your customer know you’re glad he/she came into your store.
  • Create a welcoming environment.

2. The transition from welcoming the customer to developing the relationship. Many
customers want to be left alone, and that’s fine. But more often than not,
the customer wants to be left alone because of the quality of the first engagement.
We control this more than we know.

At this connection we want to learn about
our customer and the reason for his/her visit. There’s a reason a customer
comes into our store. Notice the word “reason,” not “need.” Too
often we disconnect from the customer if they don’t state a need.

Great sales
associates don’t small talk; they establish a relationship through meaningful
conversation. They engage with purpose. They show sincere interest in their
customer without making it about themselves.

3. Showing or recommending the product. The most successful sales associates
establish a very strong connection here. They continue to learn more about
their customer in relation to the products. They aren’t shy with their professional
opinion, but at the same time they never forget that the goal is to help the
customer purchase the right products for them. It doesn’t matter what the sales
associate likes.

I’ve seen a number of people who establish wonderful
connections with the customer and then disconnect when showing/recommending
products. I’d have to guess there are two reasons. They either didn’t learn
enough about the customer before showing/recommending products, or they have
unresolved issues about being in retail sales. Don’t underestimate that second

Discussion Questions: Which of the typical interactions between sales personnel and customers in the store are most critical in establishing a positive customer experience? At which connection point do sales personnel usually fail to deliver?

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19 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Moments of Connectivity"

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Bob Phibbs
11 years 19 days ago

Great article Doug; best line was the last. We need to train employees so they don’t second-guess or feel bad working retail. It can happen–just look at Container Store–but it shouldn’t be a rarity.

Joan Treistman
11 years 19 days ago

We’ve talked before about the robotic approach to relationship building in many stores. “Did you find what you were looking for” at the checkout doesn’t really help the customer. At that point it’s too late.

I agree that there is an opportunity at the beginning of the customer’s journey to make him feel welcome and wanted. Training staff to support the consumer’s trip through the merchandise is the missing link. Pity the customer and employee who are at the point of “Where can I find the ____?” And “I don’t know.”

If the retailer truly wants to enhance the customer experience, training along with merchandise education is a serious but rewarding investment.

This article reminds me of an old adage. “The key to success is sincerity. Once you learn how to fake it, you’ve got it made.”

Max Goldberg
11 years 19 days ago

Where to begin the list? Failure to greet customers when they enter the store; not being knowledgeable about the products; not being readily available on the floor; not knowing quickly if out of stock products are in the back of the store; not being proactive in learning about the customer’s wants and moving quickly and aggressively to satisfy the need….

There are many reasons why some stores provide a much better shopping experience than others. All of these problems are solvable. Better training, better technology and a genuine desire to put the consumer first would go a long way towards creating better shopping experiences.

Ian Percy
11 years 19 days ago
Doug has good insights here particularly his suggestion that if there is a ‘disconnect’ in the process the salesperson may “have unresolved issues about being in retail sales.” He adds that we shouldn’t underestimate that factor. Doug, I want to officially welcome you to the far side! It’s nice to have company. When there’s a ‘disconnect’ in terms of our own internal energetic alignment the world (and especially our customer) knows it. Our energy in this case says “I don’t want to be here” and then we energetically say to the customer “and you don’t either.” It is still all about the alignment of energy. Energy either attracts or repels and that includes energy from the store layout, lighting, displays, selection, etc. But most importantly it includes the energy emitted by the salespeople. Whether attracting or repelling, the energy of the salespeople wafts its way out into that mall and, as science has shown us, extends further than you can imagine. Distance and time are not a limiting factor. I’ll push this further to say… Read more »
Dick Seesel
11 years 19 days ago

I agree with Doug’s points and in particular, the importance of “first contact.” If you don’t acknowledge the customer when she walks in your store (even if she isn’t looking for help), the second and third steps aren’t likely to matter. Simply greeting customers and thanking them for walking into your store can speak volumes.

Marge Laney
11 years 19 days ago

Great article, Doug! You touched on all the critical points. I can only add that for the chain retailer delivering the brand message and creating a consistently great experience across the brand is a daunting task. Most have given it a good start with a scripted greeting and cashwrap interaction, but they leave the rest of the customer interaction to the associates; not good. Most retailers give their associates free reign to script their own version of the brand message delivered to each customer and while some hit the mark most don’t.

I hate to use the worn out analogy ‘retail is theater’ but it’s true. Retailers spend millions on store design–the stage, and product, the props–but leave the customer interactions and brand messaging–the performance, unscripted and up to interpretation by each associate! That wouldn’t happen in a grade school play–it definitely shouldn’t happen in retail.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 19 days ago

Doug has done an excellent job of identifying the three primary touch points. The keys to success are captured first in the notion of “sincere” as in truly interested and motivated in helping the customer satisfy their individual “reason as opposed to need” that prompted them to come into the store. Secondly is the idea of associate “knowledge” of the various products offered and their relative merits specific to the customer’s individual preferences. While these are excellent techniques, the real issue is that, in most stores, the associates are primarily involved in stock and house-keeping activities. Actual selling is still relatively rare. Interestingly, the stores that still do have dedicated “selling” associates are the ones that are typically doing well. Go figure.

David Zahn
11 years 19 days ago

All excellent points but I would start the dialogue even sooner, BEFORE the shopper arrives. What is the store communicating PRE-shopping trip? What is the store’s mission or purpose? How does it differ from others? What does it do better than competition? Why shop here? Etc.

Working from expectations that have been established through pre-store visit communication is critical (what is the identity of this store? What can I expect? What is the experience I seek? etc.).

Warren Thayer
11 years 19 days ago

I’m one of the many who doesn’t enjoy shopping, and sees it as a chore. I don’t care if I’m greeted, and don’t want any new friends at the moment, thank you. I just want to know where things are, whether they fill my need, and what they cost. Then I want out quickly.

I’d love to see more computer kiosks (hard to believe, coming from me, I know) where I could key in what I’m looking for, get some product info, and info on where it is in the store. Borders’ little computers come close to this, by telling you whether or not something is in in stock in the store, but to my experience it never tells you where to find it.

Sadly, in most stores, the people working there often don’t know where things are, or even basic product info. Give me that, in whatever form, and I’m happy. My biggest problem, generally, is finding someone who actually works in the store.

Tim Hood
Tim Hood
11 years 19 days ago

Without discounting the moments described in the article, I would add the interaction during a return or exchange as critical.

Too often, associates communicate a negative attitude (e.g. suspicion, inconvenience) instead of taking the opportunity to understand why the product didn’t satisfy the customers needs. Connecting positively with the customer at this point can lead to sales either immediately or in the future.

Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 19 days ago

I am a strong believer that the critical moment in establishing a positive customer experience is when entering the establishment and the reaction gotten from those first few seconds. I recall only too recently when my mother was being sent to a rehab facility close to where she lived. My brother and I went for a surprise visit Easter Sunday when they were not expecting anyone. It was a horrible initial visit and did not get better from there. Needless to say, we found a more suitable accommodation for her and are comfortable with the decision. By the way, the initial reaction to the accepted location was extremely positive and professional. Far from what we received at the first place.

Matthew Keylock
Matthew Keylock
11 years 19 days ago

Maybe it’s not so surprising that Amazon is seen to have such good customer service. At least they can be consistent and then increasingly personalized as they build up an institutional knowledge of the customer.

At the scale of their operation, the technology-led approach overcomes many of the challenges of managing people-based interactions. I’m not suggesting this is the right solution for many businesses, but even boutique businesses could learn a lot by understanding how some of the good online retailers deliver at these key interactions.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
11 years 19 days ago

Moments of truth in a retail store do not always occur between the employees and consumer. If the consumer is looking for something in particular, does not request help, finds what they want, pays, and leaves that could well be a positive moment of truth and any other interaction with employees would take time, detract from the trip, and be a negative experience. Determining which consumers will respond to conversation and in what circumstances is also important. When do consumers want interaction, what type of interaction, what kind of interaction is helpful, and what type of interaction results in a positive experience? There is no one size fits all.

Mel Kleiman
11 years 19 days ago

First impressions are lasting impressions. There are lots of different first impressions–on the phone, walking in the door, and when leaving. Each of these is a touch point but that very first impression is the one that last the longest and what most customers remember. So if the first contact with a real person is on the phone or at the cash register that has to be the one with the most importance.

David Biernbaum
11 years 19 days ago

First contact is critical to every customer experience.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 19 days ago

ALL of the interactions are key! Greet them as soon as you see them…at the door, in the aisle, even at the POS. It’s never too late in the shopping trip to make the experience more enjoyable. People are the retailer’s competitive advantage. Too few operationalize that.

Alyson Anderson
Alyson Anderson
11 years 19 days ago
Doug brings up some good points in regards to that initial moment when a store helps put a customer in contact with the product they want. As Retail Concepts brought up last week in what turned into a passionate discussion of selling, there are many places for that key interaction to occur, not all of which are through an employee. Many of those “moments of truth” or touchpoints, occur in the places Doug listed (upon entering the store, at checkout, leaving the store, in follow up marketing) yet not through interaction with an employee but instead with signage, technology or other visual materials that may greet the customer well before an employee has the chance. Not all customers want their experience “managed.” A growing percent, particularly alpha moms want to be the one in control and a store should serve her with the same enthusiasm as it does those that want that verbal interaction with an employee. In store where associates are required to continually attempt to interact and sell to these customers, sales are… Read more »
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 19 days ago

Great article Doug. Nice to see someone recognize sales as a profession and a key point of contact for customers. I agree, the first point of contact, the welcome, is key and sets the stage for each step after that. Once you have the connection, focusing on the customer, their situation and possible fits for that situation are key. Being more of a tour guide to help a customer make the most of their time is valuable. I love when I walk in a store, share my situation “reason” and then a professional sales person helps me focus in on some possible options that fit. During this process the best sales people are asking questions and getting to know me. Like any sale, the process usually starts with a wall between the customer and sales person. A great sales person finds ways to lower that wall over time by listening and building trust.

Doug Fleener
11 years 15 days ago

Thank you to everyone who contributed their thoughts and ideas. I agree with those of you who said there isn’t one size fits all, but that’s the key to making a strong personal connection.


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