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Why CEOs are Increasingly Taking Ownership of the Consumer Experience


In a relatively short space of time, the retail industry has been turned on its head. Not that long ago, retailers would decide which goods they would stock, how much they would price each item, and which locations would sell which goods. Today, consumers are calling the shots. The smartphone has become like a store in a pocket and consumers use them to quickly find the exact item they want and compare prices to get the best deal. Depending on what is more convenient for them, they can arrange for home delivery or click-and-collect.

Retailers are on the back-foot. They cannot rely on consumer loyalty because they can’t compete with smartphones when it comes to convenience and price comparison. In recognition, many leading chains are building and sustaining their customer base by giving consumers valuable experiences. And a growing number believe that this initiative is too important to be owned by anyone but the CEO. Only the CEO can ensure the entire organization is aligned and making the right end-to-end investments to delight the customer.

But what does this mean in practice? How can CEOs ensure that the experience is consistent throughout the entire journey – from discovery, through selection, purchase and beyond?

To get to grips with the consumer experience, CEOs may find the following four questions a good place to start:

What do customers value most about our brand?

The first priority is to truly understand what the customer notices and what they value when on the customer journey. This combination is key to building and defining relevant customer experience. Consider a discount grocery chain, which carries a wide selection of brands and private-label products. Its value proposition is that it can help customers save money and time. Understanding where time and money is differentiated during the different journeys that individual customers take when buying products, and sets the scene for their entire experience is key.

Who are our most important customers?

CEOs should ask which customers they are trying to attract by creating a strong and consistent experience. This may mean agreeing a set of distinctive – and ideally diverse – customer archetypes. For the CEO of our grocery chain, these archetypes could encompass everyone from a middle-class mother fulfilling a weekly shop, to a young professional picking up high-end ingredients on the way home from work. The two archetypes are both valuable to the chain, but they will appreciate very different experiences.

What is our customer’s mission?

The next step is to think about what each customer archetype is actually intending to buy – and how the experience of buying it can be made as relevant as possible and then aligning this to the customer’s expectation. If the young professional typically visits the store in the evening after work, how can the products she wants become easier to find and purchase? Can the experience be enhanced by using digital technologies and what needs to be put in place to ensure a consistent, differentiated journey that the customer notices and values?

What is our customer’s path to purchase?

For a mother buying a weekly shop, her path to purchase may begin the night before as she plans what to buy and creates a list on her tablet. During the day, she adds other items, and then places the order for in-store pick-up. At the store, she uses her smartphone to discover other products she needs and adds them to the total. When done, she picks up the pre-ordered items and pays automatically. By looking at this one path to purchase, and bearing in mind everything else we know about the archetype, the CEO can ensure that the organization is working together to improve the experience and add value across each channel and at every touch-point with the brand.

The consumer experience has become so important that a growing number of CEOs are becoming directly involved. For the others, a standard objection could be that they are too busy with the “big picture” and the wider strategy to worry about the individual journeys of consumers. Yet, it only takes one small mistake or one minor inconsistency in delivery, for the consumer experience of the brand to be ruined. And it only takes seconds for that disgruntled shopper to share their poor experience with like-minded consumers on social media.

In an industry where consumers hold the balance of power, CEOs cannot afford to ignore the consequences of a poor consumer experience. They need to prioritize and invest in areas across the customer journey that the consumer will notice and value. This includes digital tools which can be used to enhance the experience. And of course, they should not overlook the enormous opportunity in getting the experience right ahead of their rivals.

Chris Donnelly and Oskar Ebbinghaus work in Accenture’s Global Retail Strategy Division.

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