A lot of money is chasing the term of disruption in retail and examining radical disruptive trends.
From innovative AI chatbots to new payment solutions, everyone is hoping to disrupt – or more accurately steal – market share from established companies the way Uber disrupted the taxi as we knew it.
Yet the more profound disruption in most businesses is the everyday kind.
It's the kind of daily disturbances that interrupt a business' ability to provide customer service, build a relationship with their customer, and entice that customer to return.
It can show up in the way your existing technologies handicap you, in the training, or lack thereof, you give your employees and extends all the way to the standard you hold everyone accountable to in your organization.
It’s easy to have a customer gush about a great experience they had in a store once.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
But in order to succeed, you need to be able to execute flawlessly time and time again with every customer... every time.
It’s what I call being brilliant on the basics.
Customer service disruptions eat away at a brand’s promise to its customers.
Sloppy operation disruptions handicap many businesses, the inability to execute brilliantly, again and again, takes its toll.
It's the laziness that spills out into other departments.
It's the goal of getting someone out of your face rather than trying to fix the problem.
It's the lack of checks and balances.
What is disruptive retail really about? The customer.
It can’t be all about you -- It has to be all about the customer.
Here’s an example of my own experience with customer-centric retailing.
I bought a very exclusive Roberto Cavalli bomber jacket from browsing a store in the Crystals Mall in Las Vegas.
I had come in to check out a jacket I saw in the window. I didn’t like it, but I did end up purchasing that Cavalli bomber jacket and a shirt … all because of the radical disruption of the young woman who approached me right away and found a way to get me to trust her.
After we agreed the first jacket wasn’t right for me, she held out that bold print jacket. I put it on, looked in the mirror, and fell in love. Two other employees watched and joined in at times to add their two cents even though they were waiting on other customers.
When I showed a bit of skepticism and asked, “Can a 58-year-old guy like me pull this off?” she answered without flinching, “Hey, you’re wearing AG jeans; you know style.”
She was right. She showed me three plain shirts I could wear with it and then the pièce de résistance, a busy floral shirt that made the jacket - and me - look even better.
We co-created a new look for me. The near-hour I spent in the shop passed quickly.
That young woman crafted a social experience for me. She skillfully set the table and presented me with each dish.
Compare that with the new focus of getting shoppers in and out of stores as quickly as possible. Not enticing them into the store and delivering the item to the curb.
I get it. The new stay-at-home economy is turning retail upside down. But when they do go out eventually ...
Will customers find the human element in your store?
How are you making a human connection that focuses on the customer first?
Another story of cutting-edge retail ...
Sam Mallikarjunan was buying flowers for his wife at a popular florist. The woman had come over and simply asked, “Who are you buying flowers for?”
“My wife,” he said. “It’s her birthday tomorrow.”
Rather than thrust a generic bouquet upon him, she took interest in him and led him through some questions about his wife’s favorite colors and things she liked. In the end, she made a great suggestion for an arrangement.
After she rang them up, she asked him, “Do you want me to remind you next year when your wife’s birthday is coming up and suggest something different?”
Sam answered, “Hell yes!”
“Is there anyone else you buy flowers for?” she asked.
“Well, I’d like to buy some for my mom on Mother’s day.”
“Would you like me to remind you then? I can send you some questions to ask her on the down-low that will help us pick something perfect.”
“Are you freaking kidding me? Please do.”
So ends the perfect story of radical human disruption.
No robot, no app, no algorithm touches the heart as much as another human being who seeks to do so.
If you want to thrive, you need to stop being antisocial and encourage connection with every human being who walks into your store.
The true retail disruption these days is the human element. Why do you think online retailers like Bonobos, Warby Parker, Fabletics, and Birchbox are opening stores? They know the limits of selling online. By carefully crafting their experience in their boutiques, they are finding great success and adding more stores.
Do you too define your business by a customer-centric, friendly, and individualized approach?
Smaller retailers are the speedboats and navigate more quickly than a Macy’s or hedge-fund-owned chains.
The danger is when you maintain their bad habits in your stores.
Amazon’s disruptive retail won't be the death of Main Street
Neither will ApplePay.
It's going to be your indifference to making a human connection. Allowing your staff to be anti-social and me-focused.
Cold. Uncaring. A warehouse.
It isn’t about your new chatbot, robot, or shopbot. It’s not about your innovative new BOPIS strategy or your social media likes. And it’s certainly not about your free shipping both ways.
Heck, Amazon lost $7 billion in one year with free shipping.
And you think your small group of stores, probably without Wall Street money, can approach the scale they can?
Yes, I know you used to be able to get away by hiring someone who had a real passion for your product or was knowledgeable about your industry, and somehow, they would be able to engage your customers.
But that was long ago when people were buying home equity credit cards. That was when there was no online shopping and there were fewer choices of stores. If you had an in-demand product, shoppers had to go to you -- no matter what the customer service was.
So, how do you deal with falling traffic and grow your business to thrive in the face of retail disruption? You do the hard work of creating a human connection with your shoppers.
Where are your disruptions?
Is your technology reliable?
If I order online or your staff checks the computer, is your inventory accurate? And if not, do you have systems in place to remedy this?
Is your staff quick to answer and slow to listen?
Who follows up on who if something does go wrong?
Is someone held accountable on both ends for causing a disruption in your organization and held accountable at the other end to fix it?
These should be the topics of your next team meeting.
Join the retail disruption
Are you the A-person who understands training is the key to creating a human exceptional experience?
You may have corporate experience or look back at how setting standards or measuring them means nothing if you don’t have a training program for your own employees to succeed.
I can help you with that.
Or are you someone who doesn’t think much about training? You feel you are doing it all well. But just reading a blog post like this, while it might make you feel smarter because you understand what I’m saying, oftentimes doesn't pan out.
You have to take action.
I can help you with that.
If you’re serious about changing and thriving in this era, acknowledge that the ultimate retail disruption strategy is human connection.
Failure starts as a fundamental breakdown of humans and grows when those responsible are not held accountable.
An ICSC survey found a majority (73 percent) of respondents said that receiving good customer service from a retailer increases the likelihood that they will spend more money than they had planned.
You can’t deliver that with Set and Forget operations standards.
If you’re not looking at your internal disruptions to a customer’s service level in your store, you’re ripe for a competitor to steal them away.
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