Expert panelists: Service trumps product, price and promotion

The Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit wrapped up Wednesday at San Diego's Hard Rock Hotel, featuring a speakers and panelists providing advice on how to run a successful business. During the two-day event, one common theme emerged that is not only applicable to the retail industry, but also the restaurant industry:

Service trumps price, product and promotion — especially now, in a faster-paced, mobile, customer-dominated, global economy.

"The world has become hyper-competitive. The focus is now on the consumer," said closing keynote speaker Lou Carbone, founder and chief experience officer of Experience Engineering Inc. "We need to step back and become much more purposeful."

Carbone, like opening keynote speaker Jim Knight, pointed to Starbucks as a perfect example of how to respond to this shift.

"If you ask (Starbucks founder) Howard Schultz what business he's in, he won't say the coffee business. He'd say the experience business."

Because of this, Knight adds, the chain has "revolutionized" the way we buy coffee.

"You're spending stupid-silly money on coffee, but it's not about the coffee. It's about everything else — the furniture, the art, the music, the recycling program, the barista who writes your name on a cup. The experience warrants the price," Knight said.

Putting customers at the center

These details are important as customers increasingly expect them. Customer service consultant and author Micah Solomon said there are four main elements to focus on when trying to satisfy a customer:

  • The perfect product;
  • Caring delivery of that product;
  • Timeliness; and
  • An effective problem resolution process.

For the "new generation of customers, time urgency," or perceived timeliness, is what matters, according to Solomon. To achieve this, many restaurants are now using "lunch" and "dinner" demarcations as guidelines only.

Solomon added that Domino's MyTracker feature, which allows customers to check on their pizza's status from order to delivery, is a great example of putting the consumer in control.

Brands that don't have quite the technology budget to provide these types of features should focus strongly on hiring the right people.

"You want people who understand purpose rather than function. The hospitality industry is commoditized except for extraordinary service," Solomon said, adding that the right people should be customer-centered, have warmth and sympathy, be team players and conscientious and, lastly, be optimistic.

Employee training

To achieve these expected levels of service, training becomes more of a necessity. Megan Ragsdale, director of Customer Experience at Sony, said once her company amplified its focus on customer service, and trained its employees accordingly, there were immediate, successful results.

"We were being too technical and not personal enough. So we changed our vernacular — from customer to guest — and we created guest experience training from scratch," she said.

Sony deployed various platforms to measure customer data and built its employee training around that data.

"What we found is that people wanted us to host them, excite them and for our people to entertain them," Ragsdale said. "They want us to anticipate their needs and reassure them that they made the right decision."

The program entails four full training days before employees even hit the sales floor. Curriculum is also available on Sony's devices, and face-to-face training occurs occasionally. The training is followed by an onboarding program.

"We try to teach them how to be a great leader, and they have to know when to engage the guest," Ragsdale said. "The guest experience training helped us immediately."

Read more about operations management.

*The Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit is hosted by PizzaMarketplace's sister website, RetailCustomerExperience.com.

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