Web-Store Experiences Fail The Test

In the previous three posts, I examined interactions in a single channel. But we all know that consumers use multiple channels. That’s why our research also examines multichannel interactions. In this post, I’ll look at some recent research on Web-store experiences.

Web-Store Cross Channel Interactions

In a survey of nearly 5,000 US consumers, we found consumers using multiple channels. Here’s some of what they do when they’re shopping online:

  • 37% call a phone number they found on the site
  • 34% print out information to bring into a store

In addition to analyzing the consumer data, we also evaluated Web-Store cross channel experiences for both electronics retailers (Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, and Wal-Mart) and department stores (JC Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Sears).

For each of the 8 firms, we tried to accomplish a user goal along two paths: one that started on the Web and then continued in the store and another that started in the store and then continued online. Our channel transition review evaluates the experience against six criteria that get scored from -2 (severe failure) to +2 (best practice), so total scores can range from -12 to +12. We consider +6 a passing score. Here are some of the findings from those evaluations:

  • None passed: Scores ranged from +3 (Best Buy) to -9 (Macy’s)
  • Electronics firms (average: -1.5) did better than department stores (average: -5.5)
  • The firms struggled with most of the six criteria:
    • 1. Can the user complete her goal in all required channels?
      (5 passed/3 failed)
    • 2. Can the user control how he interacts with the company?
      (3 passed/5 failed)
    • 3. Is information consistent across all channels?
      (only Radio Shack passed)
    • 4. Is language consistent across all channels? 
      (3 passed/5 failed)
    • 5. Is the user presented with a clear transition path across channels?
      (only Best Buy passed)
    • 6. Is the user’s context preserved across channels?
      (only Radio Shack passed)
  • A couple of recommendations: Make it easy to print out product pages (to bring with them to the store) and provide a clear product number on price tags (to find the same product online when they go home). 

The bottom line: Most companies’ Web teams and store/branch operations live in completely separate parts of the organization. But customers will not accept that as a good excuse for broken experiences. To improve these cross-channel experiences, firms need to create a cross-functional team that incorporates key people from the stores and from the Web.

Store/Branch Satisfaction Snapshot: Citizens And Barnes & Nobles Top The List

This is the second post that looks at what US consumers say about their satisfaction with experiences across nine different industries: banks, credit card providers, health plans, insurance firms, Internet service providers, investment firms, retailers, TV service providers, and wireless carriers.

Satisfaction with Store Interactions

Here are some highlights of consumer feedback on store/branch interactions:

  • Retailers (87%) and insurers (85%) had the highest satisfaction rates
  • Wireless providers (73%), credit card issuers (75%), and TV service providers (75%) had the lowest satisfaction rates
  • Citizens Bank (95%), Barnes & Nobles (94%), Credit Unions (93%), and Target (92%) led 11 firms with satisfaction rates of 90% or more
  • Capital One (67%) and Sprint (68%) had the lowest satisfaction rates

The bottom line: What’s in-store for your customers?

Is Dell Cool Enough For Stores?

Dell recently announced that it will start selling computers in Best Buy stores in January. In Dell’s press release, Michael Tatelman, vice president of sales and marketing for Dell’s global consumer business was quoted as saying:

Seeing the latest fashion colors of our Inspiron and XPS notebooks or previewing the ultimate gaming experience on a high-performance system can be an important part of how people shop

This follows-up other announcements from Dell about its plans to deliver through retail outlets. Here’s what Michael Dell said in an October press release about the PC maker’s move into Staples:

Dell pioneered the “easy button” in computing through our direct business model. Now with Staples we’re bringing all the benefits of direct to shoppers across America.

My take: This move is part of a broad shift from PCs as utilitarian tool to PCs as a core consumer electronics device. But does Dell have the right chops to make this strategy work? Here’s my top-of-mind (as opposed to rigorous) analysis of how Dell’s existing differentiators will help them succeed in stores:

  • Made to order: No
  • Supply chain flexibility: No
  • Supply chain efficiency: Moderate (if it can be applied to the indirect model)
  • Easy-to-use online configurator: No
  • Brand recognition: Yes
  • Lowish cost: Moderate (we’ll see if that holds up in stores) 
  • Utilitarian products: No

This is not be a precise analysis, but it does highlight that Dell’s existing strengths are not necessarily lined up well for selling products in the store. In my mind, Dell’s indirect strategy comes down to one question:

Can Dell shift from being efficient to being cool?

When people are playing around with electronics in stores, they’re more attuned to the look and feel of the product — much more so than when they buy it online. And, the “coolness” of the products can be readily compared with others. Fortunately for Dell, it doesn’t need to be as cool as Apple to succeed — only cooler than HP.

Here are a few ideas for Dell to keep in mind as it makes the move into stores:

  • Redesign products with more emphasis on colors and lines. Speeds, feeds, and prices are great for comparing PCs online. But when people are in the store, they are heavily influenced by how the products look. This will probably require Dell to use a different set of industrial design skills (maybe from outside firms like Ideo or Design Continuum).
  • Redesign the packaging as well. Dell needs to think of the product packaging as part its the marketing materials. So the outside of the packages should reinforce cool and feature-richness of the products. And the inside of the box should reinforce the decision that customers have made (Take a look at the out-of-box experiences for Apple products). Remember, it’s easy to return a PC to a store.
  • Focus on in-store displays. Don’t underestimate the value of informative and eye-catching in-store displays. The retailers will put some constraints on what can be done in their stores, but Dell should look at what other manufacturers like Bose do with their in-store displays (consider investing in interactive displays). Make sure that you find ways to HELP THE RETAILERS SELL DELL.
  • Leverage online strengths into the stores. We’re about to publish a series of research reports looking at the Web-to-Store-to-Web experiences across a number of retail categories, and they’re not very good. Dell could (and should) standout in this area. Here’s one way: Make it easy to find the products (and get more information) online once they’ve seen a specific product in the store.

The bottom line: Dell can’t just sell in stores, it needs a retail makeover.

Best Buy Wants A Better Buy (ing experience)

In Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2007, Best Buy was ranked #34 out of 112 firms — and 23rd out of 27 retailers on the list. That’s clearly not the best buying experience. But Best Buy is doing something about it.

In a recent press release from Best Buy, the retailer described what it had learned from a phone survey of 1,008 consumers. Here’s an excerpt…

… the factors consumers consider very or somewhat important include the return policy (92 percent) and the ability to speak to someone live when calling the store rather than hearing an automated message (91 percent). Other important elements include: customer assistance to help throughout the store (89 percent) and a helpful, easy-to-use Web site (70 percent).

In response to this insight, Best Buy also announced some new initiatives like:

  • Converting 30% of its floor personnel to a new position called “Customer Assistant” that are cross-trained to help customers across all categories in the store and will work with “BlueShirts” who have deep knowledge in specific categories. 
  • Extended return policy that allows anything purchased after November 4th to be returned by January 31st. Best Buy hopes to remove the stress of holiday gifting by defining a specific date instead of a specific window (e.g., 14 days from purchase).
  • More Spanish language content in its Website (see BestBuy.com/espanol), in its call centers, and multilingual sales associates and signage in some stores. It is also adding Spanish language gift cards.

My take: You can always learn a lot from asking customers what they need, like, and want (which is why I push firms to develop a solid voice of the customer program). I’ll bet that many retailers would find that their customers want the same type of things as Best Buy customers — a clear return policy that works for holiday gift-giving, access to helpful employees, and an easy-to-use Website. Why not give it to them?!?

The bottom line: Your customers deserve the best buying experience.

Improving Retail Dollars And Senses

How can you improve results in retail or branch locations? Think back to your kindergarten days… 

Five Senses From www.pppst.com
(from Pete’s Power Point Station, www.pppst.com)

That’s right, consider all five senses when designing experiences!

I just read an interesting article in US News & Reports called Overspending? Blame Your Nose. It provides a roundup of studies on how the environment can improve retail sales. Here are the items that I found most interesting:

  • Shoppers like scents to match the sounds.
  • Background music increases spending for impulse items like clothes and food.
  • Scents increases spending for high consideration products like cars and computers.
  • Scent and music together can decrease spending.
  • Cool colors (green plants and trees) or warm colors (yellow and red flowers and) can improve consumers’ perception of product quality.

I also ran across another interesting article on MarketingProfs.com (not sure of the date) called Increase Sales with Color, Sound, Taste, Smell and Touch that looked at a number of research studies. Some of the key findings:

  • Warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) generally encourage activity and excitement, whereas cool colors (green, blue, violet) are more soothing and relaxing.
  • Hot, bright colors usually appeal to lower-end markets, which deep, rich colors have historically appealed to higher-end markets.
  • A slow tempo can increase sales as much as 38 percent in retail stores because it encourages leisurely shopping. Alternatively, a fast tempo is more desirable in restaurants because customers will eat faster, thus allowing greater table turnover and higher sales.
  • Likeable and familiar music can induce good moods (and positive attitudes towards products), whereas discordant sounds can create bad moods.
  • The smell of peppermint arouses us; the smell of lily of the valley makes us feel relaxed.
  • Some of our basic emotions are linked to smell. For instance, the smell of the ocean or freshly baked cookies can revive very emotional and key childhood memories.
  • In one study shoppers in a room smelling of flowers evaluated Nike shoes more positively than did consumers in an odor-free room.
  • Research has shown that customers touched by a salesperson are more likely to have positive feelings and are more likely to evaluate the store and the salesperson positively. [Bruce’s note: I’m worried about how this might be implemented ;-)]

The bottom line: Customers have five senses, engage them!

Apple’s Truly Genius Service

This past Sunday, our house was faced with a crisis — my son’s MacBook died. We tried everything we could, but were unable to get it to even reboot. That’s a big problem when there’s a ton of homework that needs to get done.

So, after our initial panic, we went online, scheduled a session at an Apple Retail Store Genius Bar nearby, went there, and got it fixed. It was really that easy.

Apple Genius Bar

 So
 here’s
 a
 shout
 out
 to
 Apple’s
 Genius
 Bar
 

This was the best technical service experience that I’ve ever personally had with a computer manufacturer. The Genius Bar is a great concept; people will always run into problems with technology, so why not make it easy for them to get help and advice! Here’s what I thought was great about my family’s experience:

  • We could schedule time online. With an easy visit to the Apple site (http://www.apple.com/retail/geniusbar/), we were able to find an Apple store nearby that was open on Sunday — and schedule some time at the Genius Bar.
  • Appointments were clearly posted. When we arrived at the Apple Store, we found a couple of screens behind the Genius Bar that listed all of the people in queue for help. We were able to easily track our progression from the 4th  spot to the front of the line.
  • The “genius” really was. The Apple employee who helped us (Ron in Burlington, MA) knew his stuff. He was extremely efficient and quickly diagnosed our MacBook’s problem — the hard drive was dead. He then clearly outlined our options.
  • The problem was fixed on-the-spot. We chose to replace the hard drive, which Ron did right there. The computer was still under warranty, so all we had to do was sign a piece of paper and we were on our way — with a repaired MacBook.

While we were there, many people came and went from “the bar” — all of them getting repairs and/or advice about their computers or iPods.

Nothing’s perfect, so here’s a recommendation to Apple: allow users to search for the nearest Genius Bar by zip-code — and look for availability of appointments across locations.

The bottom line: It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate Apple’s great service.

Welcome To Our Store — Now Get Lost

We’ve been doing research on Web-to-store and store-to-Web experiences — evaluating what it’s like for cross-channel shoppers. The scenario: After printing out some information on a retailer’s Web site, a customer goes into a store to examine the digital cameras that she’s selected online. This type of customer is coming to the store to find a specific camera, so she really wants to locate it quickly. Sounds like a reasonable expectation — doesn’t it?!?

Well, most stores run into problems right from the beginning — at the front door. Take a look at the following entrance-way to a Wal-Mart….

Wal-Mart initial experience

Where do you go for digital cameras? There’s no way to tell. The customer needs to walk aimlessly and hope to spot the digital camera area. But this isn’t just a problem with Wal-Mart, other large stores have the same problem. I noted this issue in my post Why Don’t Stores Support Shoppers? when I discussed “confusing first impressions.”

Given the growing number of cross-channel shoppers, firms should relook at these first impressions.  Our upcoming research will shed more light on this area (the first report should go live on the Forrester Research site in December). In the meantime, any organization with a physical location (banks, hospitals, schools, retailers, etc.) should think about applying the 4 elements of a welcome experience that I outlined in my post Don’t Neglect Your “Welcome Experience:”

  1. Assume customers don’t know as much as you think.
  2. Make sure that customer know exactly how to start.
  3. Set the tone right away.
  4. Provide feedback along the way.

The bottom line: Online consumers shouldn’t dread what’s in store for them.

Let’s Learn From Delta’s [Continuing] Customer Experience Miscues

Let me start this post with a clear disclaimer — I never consider my personal experiences when evaluating customer experience in my research. Every large company periodically delivers subpar experiences, so anecdotes aren’t necessarily indicative of a company’s overall customer experience efforts. 

Having said that, I feel the need to share my experience with Delta Airlines over the last 2 days, because there’s something to learn (or maybe unlearn) — and, to be completely honest, I feel the need to vent.

The summary: It took me 13 hours to get from the airport in Richmond, Virginia to Boston’s Logan Airport. Along the way, Delta found many ways to make the experience miserable.

The painful details:

  • Yesterday, a colleague of mine and I boarded our plane to New York (JFK) in Richmond, Virginia and the plane pulled away from the gate at 6:15 PM — right on time.
  • Minutes after pulling away from the gate, the pilot said that we were on a ground hold and would need to wait there for a while. No real details. 75 minutes later we were brought back to the terminal and allowed to get off the plane.
  • By the time we got off the plane, there were no more options for us at the airport — either on Delta or on any other airlines. (Note: JetBlue flight #1076 for JFK left ON TIME for JFK while we were sitting on the tarmac)
  • The agent at the counter in Richmond was completely unhelpful. All she said was that we were now booked on a flight out of JFK for the following day. She was completely unwilling to explore any alternatives — even those that I suggested. She didn’t seem to care — even a tiny bit — that our 4 hour trip was now going to span a couple of days.
  • Well, we finally got to the JFK terminal shortly after 10:00 PM. It turns out that our connecting flight left about 9:49 PM (Delta didn’t think we were “important enough” to wait for us to make the connection). Now, on to the Delta customer service agent in JFK.
  • The agent told us we had no options to get home that night (although I have since found out that there was a JetBlue flight #1028 that left later that evening). We were booked on a 10:15 AM flight. Luckily I know about the Delta Shuttle — and was able to push him to book us on the 6:30 AM flight.
  • I asked him which hotel Delta was going to put us at. He then informed us that Delta was not going to provide a hotel because it was not responsible for the problem. He used some technical terms that (in his mind) absolved Delta from all responsibility for our situtation. Then I mentioned that it was, of course, Delta’s fault — the JetBlue flight that left after we pushed from the gate seemed to get to JFK without a problem. His response was precious — “How do you know that?!” (As if I must be either mistaken or lying — neither of which was true). It reminded me of a Seinfeld episode. He was obviously well trained in the techniques of avoiding responsibility.
  • Well, the agent did give us a phone number of a service that helps Delta’s stranded customers find hotels in the area. So we called the number. The guy on the phone gave us the phone number for one hotel. We called the hotel and they had no vacancies. Thanks for the help Delta!
  • Well, we found a hotel in the area (on our own) and actually made it to LaGuardia the next day a bit early. So we tried to get on an earlier flight (6:00 instead of 6:30). You’ll never guess what the agents told us — “that will cost an additional $150.” That’s right, she wanted to charge us more money to get us home a day later! When we told the agent about the terrible experience that we had been through, she did a little research on her system and then said — it looks like your plane from Richmond left on time. The implication: Delta doesn’t need to go out of its way for us because it pushed the plane away from the gate at the scheduled time.
  • We finally “convinced” the agents at the desk to let us on the earlier flight (which was completely empty) without any additional charges.
  • Then, finally, we landed at Logan Airport at 7:00 AM today. 12 hours, 45 minutes later.

The analysis: Delta’s records probably show that we were on 2 flights that left on time — and therefore had a successful trip. Obviously, though, our experience doesn’t match that assessment. Hopefully Delta (and other firms) can learn to avoid the following customer experience miscues that we ran into:

  • Poor communications. I understand that delays happen. But the situation gets much worse when customers are left in the dark. We did not get a lot of accurate information about the status of our flight as we were waiting — raising our anxiety level and making it difficult for us to formulate potential solutions to the problem.
  • No accountability. Along the way, every Delta employee seemed to be trained in mechanisms for denying responsibility. The tone of our interactions may have been different if Delta trained its empoyees to recognize that stranding customers at an airport is ALWAYS its problem.  
  • No empathy. Along the entire ordeal, we did not run into a single Delta employee who said “I’m sorry” or even acknowledged our inconvenience. Maybe Delta can just teach agents to start interactions with stranded customers like this: “I know this is really inconvenient, let me see what we can do…”
  • No advocacy. All of the agents that we met were just trying to get rid of us. Not one of them asked what we wanted to do — and they certainly didn’t go out of their way to explore alternatives. A good lesson to learn: the most important time for helping customers is when they are in need. These moments of truth can build or break loyalty. In this case, Delta clearly achieved the latter.

The bottom line: You need to look at interactions from the standpoint of your customers (note to Delta and other airlines: “on-time departure” is not a good customer experience metric). It can provide a dramatically different view!

Epilogue: I sent Delta’s customer service group a link to this blog in their complaint form. But rather than reading it, they sent me an email that said:

“…We appreciate the e-mail you sent. However, please send us your experience in a text form or letter.” 

Looks like Delta doesn’t really care what happened to me — but it is finding every possible way to avoid taking responsibility.

Epilogue #2: I finally got a response from a representative who seemed to have glanced at the feedback that I had to cut and paste into an email. So the airline decided that I qualified for a $75 credit which it promissed to send via another email. But 2 weeks later — there’s still no credit. The ineptitude of Delta’s customer experience efforts is truly comical. Where’s Ashton Kutcher? I must be getting Punk’D.

Why Don’t Stores Support Shoppers?

Believe it or not, many stores don’t help customers buy products. Earlier this year I did some research on the in-store experience for buying a digital camera. The analysis looked at the experience of four leading electronics retailers: Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, and Wal-Mart. Our target user was a 50 year-old male, who didn’t know too much about technology, who wanted to buy a digital camera for his son. Looking at the experience through the eyes of that target user, we evaluated the following elements of the experience:

In Store Experience Evaluation

Here’s what we found:

  • Confusing first impressions. While two retailers received good grades for wayfinding, all of the retailers had at least minor flaws when it came to providing legible signage to the digital camera area. At one retailer, there was no signage for digital cameras and no directory explaining that digital cameras were on a lower floor. And at another, the user needed to guess at a direction from the door before spotting a sign to the photo area.
  • Poor browsing experiences. This was the lowest-graded section in our evaluation. What was so bad? For one retailer, the digital camera display spanned three sides of a stand – without any logical grouping to help the user examine them. And the retailer that had the most useful content for selecting digital cameras, rendered it nearly useless by making it illegible or hiding it behind the cameras.
  • Limited product information. When it came to studying the individual products, we found a surprising lack of product information. We were unable to find information about shutter speeds and battery life in most of the stores. One retailer provided a book with rich details about its lineup of digital cameras, but it was virtually hidden in a nearby section of printer supplies.
  • Not much help. Employees were easily accessible at all four retailers, but  employees at only 2 of the retailers were able to make a recommendation based on the user’s requirements. And while all of these retailers have rich functionality and content for picking a digital camera on their Web sites, none of the retailers provided users with access to those online resources in their digital camera areas.

The four retailers ended up with overall grades between B- and C+ for these in-store experiences. Is that good enough? You tell me.

Banks Prepare For Customer Experience Wars

Greetings from day 2 at Forrester’s Finance Forum 2007 in New York. There was a lot going on today. Bill Doyle, one of Forrester’s top analysts, kicked off today’s session by announcing the results from Forrester’s 2007 Customer Advocacy rankings. USAA, once again, topped our list (see my earlier post about USAA). These rankings are based on feedback by consumers about whether or not they think their financial insitutions act in their (the consumer’s) best interest. There’s too much to say about customer advocacy to squeeze it into this post, so I’ll be spending more time on this concept in future posts.

As I mentioned yesterday, we published the results from a joint survey on customer experience in banking that we did with the American Banker. My report that analyzed the data is called “Banks Prepare For Customer Experience Wars” (full report is only available to Forrester clients) just went live on the Forrester Website. The research looked at some of Forrester’s consumer data alongside the survey of 190 North American banking executives that we did with American Banker. When we look at the overall responses from banks, we find that they:

  • Know that customer experience is important — 97% said that it was either very important or critical.
  • Are focusing on organic growth — outpacing the focus on customer acquisition.
  • Recognize that they aren’t meeting customers’ needs — especially online, where less than one-third of respondents gave their interactions a vote of confidence.
  • Lack a solid customer experience strategy — nearly half of the banks point to a lack of a clear customer experience strategy as a major problem.

Then we looked at the difference in responses between large banks (>$30 billion in assets) and smaller banks (<$30 billion in assets). Here’s some of what we found:

  • Customer acquisition is more important to smaller banks.
  • Online experiences plague all banks — especially smaller ones.
  • Branch experiences are better at smaller banks.
  • The lack of cooperation causes major problems for large banks.
  • There are more customer experience activities underway at large banks.

If banks know that customer experience is important, why do they deliver such poor experiences? Often times the issue comes down to one word: “Silos.” Banks have created stovepiped organizations; each group focuses on its own channel (e.g., Web, call center, agent, branch), its own product (e.g., deposit, mortgage, credit card, brokerage, insurance), or its own functional area (e.g., marketing, IT, retail delivery). As a result, most banks lack enough of a coordinated effort to meet their customers’ needs.

But times are changing. The convergence of three factors – consumers, competition, and capabilities – will put enormous pressure on financial services firms to break down their rigid silos and improve their customer experiences.

What do banks need to do? If you’ve been reading my blog posts, then I think you can guess what I’m about to say. They need to head towards Experience-Based Differentiation.