Retail Customer Experience

A Game of Snakes & Ladders

In a world of gaming, VR and AI, could it be that an old-fashioned board game is the answer to delivering better retail sales results?

While working with retailers to improve their Sales through Service over the past 18 months, we have witnessed a significant shift in customer buying behaviours and the way customers want to be engaged and interacted with.

Retailers have reflected these changes through a renewed focus on retail technologies and store layouts, hoping to support and improve the customer journey. However, these changes have not always had the desired effect.

Let’s take Starbucks as an example. In 2015, they launched their Mobile Order and Pay function, which allows customers to order and pay for their lattes and frappuccinos on a smartphone before entering a store. Instead of its predicted benefits, such as zero waiting times, a seamless customer experience and no chance of a barista getting your name wrong, customers have taken to social media to complain. In some cases, people actually complained of increased waiting times.

I have tried the app, and for me the real issue was the lack of customer interaction. Early one morning in my local Starbucks, with no other customers at the till, I had to wait while the barista printed five labels off and put them on cups without even acknowledging me. Before mobile ordering, I would have been first in the queue. Being ignored while the barista prints labels is not the customer experience I think Starbucks set out to achieve – or one that I want to receive.

The principle of training people to understand the customer’s buying journey and mindset is being missed by internal L&D, marketing and merchandising teams. There is a myriad of internal processes and messages that the store manager is having to manage and coach their teams to deliver – but they are still creating poor experiences, and customers are leaving shops without purchasing.

Getting a customer into the shop is the hardest thing to do. Once they are inside, we need to be able to deliver an experience that helps them buy. We believe that a great sales through service approach is simply about knowing how to take a customer through their buying journey.

We like to think of this as a snakes and ladders board where retail sales advisers take the customer through the board (the customer buying journey) with key touchpoints along the way. Ensuring that you have a good conversation with the customer, helping them during the selection phase and supporting the buying decision all move the customer towards making a purchase. In this journey around the board there will be opportunities to advance the customer more quickly through the interaction (or up the ladders) to the till. Also, there will be opportunities where we get it wrong (the snakes) and the customer turns and leaves the shop without purchasing.

As a store manager, understanding where your team’s snakes are is crucial for identifying key opportunities for coaching and enhancing the customer experience. Potential snakes include:

  1. Not welcoming and acknowledging the customer in the right way, which makes it very difficult to engage them in conversation and understand their needs,
  2. Not asking the right questions to understand what the customer is really looking for, and
  3. Not supporting the customer through the product selection phase.

Research has shown that these different stages of the customer journey really impact on business results. If you can’t engage the customer in a conversation, it is very unlikely you will convert the sale. If you don’t understand the customer’s needs, helping them to identify further purchases and increasing basket size will be very challenging.

We know the job of a store manager is a difficult one, but if you evaluate where your customers are slithering away, then you can take steps to train and coach your teams to enhance the retail experience and have a real impact on business results – getting the customers up those ladders towards the purchase.

So think old school – determine where your snakes and ladders are. By analysing what is happening at these points, you can drive the results you need.