Jeremy Midmer, Partner at Rider Levett Bucknall, an independent construction, property and management consultancy gives us his thoughts on what forward thinking innovators are doing to provide the ultimate customer experience.
‘How can we give our customers more?’
This is continuous question that many retail and leisure industry leaders ask as they drive their brand forward into the future. The race for space is over, so for many brands with large store portfolios, the questions they face is how they give their customers more at every touchpoint, as well as maximising the use of their physical portfolio.
Convenience is key
We know that the customer of today and tomorrow are able to shop in a multi-functional way. Their use of the technology in conjunction with the old fashioned, but essential, physical experience provides them with an array of possibilities. The Millennials expect their needs and preferences to be known in advance, and provided on the spot or an alternative solution provided for them. Convenience is the key. Changes being made by retail and leisure companies to provide convenience, personalisation, whilst also being eco aware is setting them apart from their competitors.
The increased use of technology in all aspects of how the customer sees, understands and is engaged in the brand has been the largest factor to improve customer experience. Digitalisation of the leisure industry means that convenience is expected and now must be provided. When was the last time you booked a ticket for a concert or show by calling the box office? Digitalisation for convenience is also the backbone for all on-demand services such as take-away apps, touch screen vending, smart ordering and contactless payments. All these allow customers to save time and energy but not necessarily money. The Hyper-Convenience trend is being driven by innovators such as Deliveroo and Supper and Orderella. Convenience has changed the way we eat, dine and enjoy our leisure time.
What they want, when they want it
Those digital born natives have grown up with cookies reading their algorithms and second guessing their decisions, expecting and accepting personalised offers and Amazon style “if you liked that, you might like this” messaging. Taken out of their virtual world into the physical one often has resulted in lower levels of satisfaction with “one size fits all” offerings falling short of their online customer experience. However, increased digitalisation within the leisure industry is changing the mass-market approach and allowing customers choice and personalisation. Leisure stalwarts McDonald’s has already begun to offer table service and specific seating zones in their restaurants. Five Guys has mastered the “made how you want” bespoke burger and Starbucks long ago advocated coffee “made the way you like it” approach that now seems just a normal daily routine. The challenge for the leisure and retail providers is to mould and improve their offering, add technology, a big helping of convenience and a sprinkle of PR and sell it again to even more customers to create increased brand loyalty.
So if getting it right at the point of purchase has become more and more important, so has the importance of what the brand stands for behind the scenes. Living in a 360-degree world where the Internet has brought transparency to the way companies function, treat their employees and their supply chain means that leisure providers need to be robust in their ethics and their ways of working. Are you a brand your customer wants to be associated with for your ethics as well as your product? Recycling in store continues to be rolled out and through all public spaces and airports. Independent groundbreakers such as Silo in Brighton have an ethos to Reuse, Reduce, Share and Repeat. Putting a bin out is one thing but following through with your promise is another. The brands that have their ethical credentials sorted will be the ones where customers want to work, eat and shop.
Integrated leisure offering
So where might this lead us? If more customer experience is the key to driving sales and technology is the driving innovation, how do we manage the estates many large leisure outlets have? And how do we put customers’ choice and desires first?
We are already seeing supermarkets in the retail space solve their unused space dilemma by attracting complementary and specialist brands, such as Vision Express, Holland and Barratt and Starbucks. What if the leisure industry took the initiative one step further and supported local food and drink start ups, not just on their menu but as regular partners? Can they benefit from the inclusion of local micro businesses such as butchers, gin distilleries and bakers in their space? With craft and artisan suppliers much in demand and provenance of food and drink so important to customer choice, this seems a win win situation and provides great choice and convenience.
The future is about customer experience and choice. Technology is enabling this choice to be better and better and the leisure and retail operators who succeed will be those who personalise their experience for their customers at every touchpoint, sooner rather than later.