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How Multi-Unit Retailers Can Improve Feedback Opportunities for Local Managers

By Dr. Gary Edwards, info@empathica.com

Localization is the name of the game in multi-unit retail. Large retail chains offer consistency, scale and other benefits, but if the brand fails to deliver exceptional experiences to local consumers, it’s unlikely that the retailer will gain any real traction in today’s highly competitive retail marketplace.

The most effective multi-unit retailers give local store managers the ability to mold retail experiences to local shopping preferences. Customer feedback plays an important role in shaping local customer experiences. However, many chains send volumes customer feedback to local managers rather than providing them with the summary information they need to make meaningful improvements to local experiences.

The bottom line? Multi-unit retail isn’t getting any easier, and stores live and die according to the quality of the experiences they offer their customers. Unless multi-unit retailers find new ways to put actionable customer feedback insights into the hands of local managers, their ability to reap the benefits of increased customer loyalty, brand advocacy and other rewards will be extremely limited.

The local retail dilemma
Local managers value customer feedback and see it as a cornerstone of Customer Experience Management (CEM). So the issue isn’t whether or not local managers will use customer feedback if it is offered to them (they will), but whether the feedback they receive will be presented in a manner in a format that can be easily translated into local improvements.

The problem is that local retail managers face practical challenges that complicate the CEM process, underscoring the need for a more streamlined approach to customer feedback analysis. These challenges include:

  • Lack of time. Local retail managers are often asked to do more with less. When chain retailers deliver reams of undifferentiated feedback to store managers, it usually goes untouched – not because local managers don’t think it’s important, but because they lack the time to sift through data for insights that apply to local customers.
  • Lack of analytical skills. Feedback reporting and analysis tools feature a level of sophistication that is beyond the skill set of the typical site manager. By asking local managers to do complex analytical tasks that they haven’t been trained to perform, brands almost guarantee that local stores won’t have the granular feedback insights they need to address the concerns of local customers.
  • Lack of brand-specific experience. Over time, site managers learn how to intuitively shape customer experiences for local customers. But like it or not, most chain retailers experience high turnover rates in local management personnel  – and that means multi-unit retailers need to identify ways to bridge the experience gap until younger managers can accumulate brand-specific expertise.

Simply put, the local retail dilemma is that site managers need visibility to local customer feedback insights in order to create first-rate customer experiences. But in many cases, local managers lack the time, skills and experience to capture those insights in any meaningful way.

Translating customer feedback into local improvements
More and more brands are recognizing that customer experience management is primarily a local retail activity. Consequently, chain retailers are eager to push ownership and responsibility for the customer experience to local store managers. But the brands that are achieving the best results are the ones that provide store managers with tools that leverage local insights as well as global customer experience insights.

For example, rather than being forced to sift through large volumes of feedback data, local managers need streamlined reports that identify local customer experience issues and offer recommendations for local improvements. In fast-paced retail environments, managers should have the ability to identify and target customer experience improvements in a matter of minutes – not hours or even days after customers have informed the brand about the problem. They also need to be given the tools to rescue dissatisfied customers and make sure that their concerns are addressed promptly.

Additionally, local store managers need access to tools and resources that allow them to leverage global insights for local improvements. Social sharing solutions and similar technologies can go a long way toward distributing best practices and creating virtual knowledge centers, giving inexperienced local managers access to learnings that have proved effective across the brand. At the same time, brand executives need to promote opportunities to connect local managers through face-to-face gatherings, technology investments and other strategies.

Customer feedback can (and should) drive local retail performance. By actively supporting local store managers and improving their ability to implement actionable feedback insights, multi-unit retailers can significantly improve both customer experiences and local store outcomes.

Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica, is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. He is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. He can be reached at info@empathica.com.


 

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