“Serendipity.” Not only does that word invoke thoughts of happy, unexpected circumstances (and in some cases John Cusack), but it’s just plain fun to say. In the past couple of weeks, that term has been used in both my personal and professional lives several times – it’s funny how that happens: you hear or see one seemingly obscure thing and then it’s repeated quite soon after the first occurrence. (some call this the “plate of shrimp” theory, from the 1984 movie Repo Man).

It seems almost…serendipitous.

As I think, read and have discussions with others about how retailers are striving to create these wonderful, personalized “omnichannel” customer experiences, I believe a key factor on which to focus is to create serendipitous moments. By this I mean the “surprise and delight” element of the customer experience that’s completely not expected, but happily embraced, remembered and relayed in your customers’ social circles.

How can a retailer create such serendipitous moments? There are several ways:

  • Product Selection, Availability and Information. This is not only in assortments and in-stock position, but in understanding what products are relevant to a particular customer, pointing that customer to those products and providing detailed information, including quantities available, fulfillment options and reviews. Today’s customer has an increasing appetite for more information about products they purchase – either due to lifestyle, value-orientation (“I need to make sure what I’m purchasing is of expected quality at a good price.”) or other reasons – providing this information is key. Yet obtaining this information must also be simple for the customer – whether this means equipping sales associates with training and/or mobile devices (and making those employees available to customers for questions) or providing customers with the means to scan a bar code or QR code to easily get the information they want. Make it easy for the customer – and let them know how they can get it. Product availability is another critical element. Parker Avery has blogged about this previously (see “Inventory Accuracy Strikes Back”), and the point is to ensure your inventory management systems and business processes support inventory accuracy. Yes, it takes effort and oversight – and usually some rethinking on how processes are handled and measured – to ensure proper execution, but it will pay back in spades when your customers have the expectation that you will have the product in stock at a specific location. Serendipitous moment: “The app said there were two left – and there were actually two on the shelf.” The alternative is that the customer simply hopes the system is right (or wrong), when they go into your store to buy the product. Later this month, Parker Avery will be publishing a Point of View on inventory accuracy, where we explore these concepts in greater detail.

  • Store Staff Engagement. This is an area we’ve explored a great deal lately – in fact, we’re pulling together the findings from our latest research study, “New Roles for Retail” (to be published later this summer) – and a critical factor for creating serendipitous customer moments is ensuring the store staff understand their role in the company’s customer experience value proposition and how to effectively execute that role. Whether the associate’s primary responsibility is stocking shelves or bagging groceries, this acute attention on the customer should be ingrained in every action the employee takes while on the job. Here again is where training and scripting is important. Not all retail employees come equipped with the innate understanding of how to correctly engage with customers, and providing them with tools and techniques to correctly deliver an exceptional customer experience is critical. Who does this well? Coscto, Chick-Fil-A, Nordstrom and White House | Black Market are a few excellent examples. During routine staff meetings, challenge store staff should be challenged to collaborate and devise ways to create serendipitous customer moments. Also ensure the store staff understands that they have the opportunity to make a customer’s day – often in very simplistic ways – this can create loyalty beyond measure.
  • “True” Channel Integration of Customer Information. Well, you knew it had to be mentioned – the oft-mentioned (and sometimes overused) word “omnichannel.” But when we’re talking about customer serendipity, this means transparently enabling customer information and transactional history to be made available in any channel, at any time – and easily. Customers – or sales associates, for that matter – shouldn’t have to make much of an effort to pull up customer information to aid them in their shopping journeys. While privacy and security are obvious critical considerations, if getting to the mobile app while in the store or trying to find the balance of an e-gift card is difficult, this creates customer frustration and possibly abandonment – especially in this age of instant-gratification. It’s also key to ensure all the information is consolidated and accurate. As retailers have morphed their loyalty programs, introduced new programs, combined digital and store-based programs, grown and changed through mergers and acquisitions, customer information can become disheveled. Make an effort to ensure the integrity of your customer information across all channels – and enable your customers to manage their information easily. Who does this well? Starbucks, Macy’s and Lowe’s come to mind. Serendipitous moment: “I lost that receipt, but wow – I can so easily pull it up on my mobile app.”

Create serendipity for your customers. Engrain this sentiment into your brand and product strategies, staff engagement and customer data initiatives. Regardless of the shopping objective – whether it is buying eggs or an outfit for a black tie event – your customers want to be surprised and delighted. They want serendipity.

Shop on.

– Tricia

Published On: May 22, 2014Categories: Customer Experience, Omnichannel, Retail Strategy, Tricia Chismer Gustin