Leaders From Ashley HomeStore, Mark's Work Wearhouse Talk Key CX Challenges, Trends

A new year is approaching, and the customer contact community is naturally establishing its key priorities and objectives.

How will customer demands change this coming year?  What operational challenges will prevent organizations from meeting those demands?  Which technologies and strategic best practices will most markedly help businesses overcome those challenges?

Featuring a faculty of speakers who are immensely accomplished yet determined to achieve even more, Customer Contact Week New Orleans will help organizations navigate those questions.

Ahead of the event, we asked two faculty members to share their thoughts on the key trends and challenges in the world of customer contact.

Our CCW New Orleans theme this year is focused on delivering world-class service with speed and efficiency.  In the context of your work, what does speed and efficiency for the customer mean to you?

Johnny Russo, Mark's Work Wearhouse: For me, it’s about speed and agility in servicing the customer’s needs. That could come in the form of how quickly we respond to an issue; how efficient we are at solving it at first touch - while remaining consistent with our brand tone, yet still with a personal human touch, independent of channel (stores, online, social, call center, etc); it’s also the speed of shipping out an order as quickly as possible.

On the Digital Marketing side, we like to try new things. We don’t love mass communication (who does?) we like relevant communication. From the digital media we buy, to the preference center we launched (enabling newsletter subscribers to opt down in frequency of email received), we don’t want to inundate our customers with our shopping messages. We’re also trying to be better at communicating non-sale messages, and focusing more on pairing up looks, new site features that make the browsing experience better, or our Click & Collect solutions.

Gene Lunger, Ashley HomeStore: I am responsible for comprehensive retail operations so let’s cover the in-store experience, order fulfillment and service after the sale:

1-       The shopping experience needs to be relationship based and consultative, with points of inspiration designed to stimulate the shopper. The checkout process has to be smooth and fast …. Everything they need and nothing they don’t. The team the guest interacts with sees their role as ambassadors of the brand, and consultants for each guest.

2-       Fulfillment/distribution means giving the guest what they want, in the time frame that they expect, with zero defects. This represents a win-win best case scenario for both us (clean efficient deliveries) and for the guest with no wasted time or additional follow up needed.

3-       If service is required after the delivery, the guest should have options – whatever is in their best interest and respectful of their time. Clear communication and follow through to the point of completion. 

What CX milestone at your current organization would you say you are most proud of?  Why?

Russo: Implementing Scrum sessions. We started doing this in June 2017. How does this impact our customers? Well, each Scrum session we undertake involves a technology, service, or strategy that improves the user experience for customers, be it live chat, testing chat bots, getting ready for Black Friday, launching a referral marketing program, etc. We needed a better way to launch more customer programs with better agility and efficiency, with way better communication. Scrum has helped us achieve that.

Lunger: Our Innovation Lab in Tampa is a test-bed for all of our emerging technology. Our in-store testing of Virtual Reality 360 degree shopping experiences in our Tampa Ashley HomeStore has shown us how impactful VR and AR will be to our future.  A new distribution initiative in 2017 is Local Customer Care (LCC) At our Retail Distribution Centers this is a team and process that scrutinizes any order requiring a re-delivery or exchange to ensure that we have clarity on the issue and can assure a solution the second time out. 

In your view, what is the biggest challenge when it comes to customer contact and customer experience?

Russo: We all talk about personalization. And we all stress the fact that we need it. But are companies and brands going about it in the right away? Or at all? If you don’t have the right content and the right contact strategy (from content to media to timing to roadmap, etc) and you don’t have the right, agile technology powering your personalization and growing with you, personalization will fail. So the greatest challenge over the next few years is not the need for personalization. It’s getting it right!

Lunger: The greatest challenge we face is rapidly evolving guest expectations. A persons last “great service experience” becomes tomorrows minimum expectation. Due to the size and fragile nature of furniture, it is more challenging to distribute and service specifically in the “final mile”. Blending technology platforms to ensure we have inventory managed across the globe to ensure a seamless delivery process is complicated due to our size (30M pcs of furniture delivered annually) 

There are so many technological advancements spurring transformation in both customer contact and customer experience.  Which technology currently excites you the most?  Why?

Russo: For me and my line of work, I think Chatbots, if done well, and virtual reality, are the ones that excite me.

VR in particular (which can also stand for Virtual Retailing) can be the next evolution of making online shopping easier and more fun. We lose that sometimes. Online shopping shouldn’t be stressful. The checkout process shouldn’t scare you. And items not fitting properly shouldn’t impede a purchase, especially if you can be up front and state your amazing and easy returns process (you do have a good one, right?)

So imagine if we can work on a solution that allows you to be 99% sure that the clothes you are about to buy will look good on you and fit just right? Not that’s something to be excited about. Coming from someone who loves to shop online, I know any doubt can alter confidence in the purchase decision (i.e. lead to an exit rather than a conversion).

Another thing I see happening as it related to physical retail stores, is less product in stores, and more unique experiences in them. Brick and Mortar stores will start caring less about sales per sq. feet (a main metric in retail), and start caring more about store experiences. For example: if you sell hiking shoes, imagine being about to test those shoes on different hiking surfaces, maybe even test it out on a climbing wall? Wouldn’t it be cool for the retailers to also provide you maps and paths to wherever you’ll be going on your hike? That’s putting the customer experience first and foremost.

Lunger: Augmented and Virtual Reality are incredibly exciting for both the online channels and the in-store shopping experience, visually enhancing a guest’s design understanding and options. As we implement iPads for mPOS, Salesforce and Microsoft D365 we will sunset existing legacy systems and bring speed and relevance into the guests sales interaction and checkout process

Tell us a little more about your speaking role at CCW New Orleans and how it relates back to your current focus areas.  What makes you passionate about this topic?

Russo: This session might be a bit different, since my title or position is not necessarily Customer Service or Customer Experience. However, leading the Digital Marketing and Ecommerce team for one of the largest apparel retailers in Canada, we obsess about customer needs. So I believe my session will touch not only how to do things for the buying customer, but also your internal team members (think about it, they are your customers as well), not to mention our external vendors or agencies; they are an extension of our team, and so we refer to them as our partners (again, they are customers as well in the broader sense).

Being in the retail industry, I’m passionate about change. I hope I’m one of the leaders working to bring change to older legacy thinking (we’ve always done it this way) and technology by acting fast, thinking faster, and being iterative in our approach (small mistakes will be made, and fixed even faster). Retail leaders of today need to not fear change, but embrace it. And I am passionate about solving retail’s issues, or at least playing a small part to do so. I sit on a few boards and associations – I like to collaborate with like-minded people who share a passion for disrupting and bettering processes and technology to create a more fruitful customer experience.  

Lunger: Disruption is a dominant business concept and trend in light of the de-materialization and de-monitization of innovative software based companies. Retail disruption is heavy this year, with 30+ brands closing over 7,000 stores (more than in 2008 Great Recession!) At Ashley, we are eyes wide open to the home furnishings industry, evolving technologies, and are set on disrupting ourselves in the quest for continuous improvement within our space. The importance of the Guest Experience in brick and mortar retail is more important than ever. Innovate, or be commoditized.