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CLIENT NEWS: Hamilton needs help: customer experience more important than brand or price

Hamilton needs help: customer experience more important than brand or price

Hamilton retailers need to focus on the quality and consistency of their customer experience if they want to compete in today's market, according to Waikato customer experience expert Chris Bell.

Bell, who moved his 12 year old business consultancy from Christchurch to Taupo a year ago, spent six months looking for a Hamilton business he could use as a shining example of a great customer experience but had difficulty finding one that stood out from the crowd.

In one visit to a Hamilton department store Bell, managing director of Customer Experiences Ltd, had to bang on the door 10 minutes after the advertised opening time because staff ignored the queue of customers outside as they were in a meeting.

"The sign on the door clearly showed the opening time as 9am. I could see they were having a staff meeting and no one seemed to be interested in opening the store. I listened to the negative conversations from customers outside, but no one was going to do anything about it, so I banged on the door. Reluctantly a staff member got up to open the door with no apology just a very grumpy look."

In a visit to a city photographic business Bell felt he was less important than the computer screen the shop assistant was glued to.

"The chap behind the counter looking at a computer screen asked if he could help. I asked my question, he gave me the information and I thanked him. During that interaction his eyes never left the screen," Bell said.

"Up to 50 per cent of a customer experience is emotional – guess how important I felt as I left the store. Nowhere near as important as a computer screen. Guess where I'm not going to get my passport photos taken. Guess how many times I have told that story during my recent speaking engagements."

Customer satisfaction, rather than exceeding expectations, was the goal of many businesses.

"There have been Hamilton businesses that satisfied me. But satisfaction is no longer going to stand you out from the crowd. There is plenty of research showing customers rarely recommend a business that has only satisfied them.

"The customer experience is more important than the price point and the product brand," Bell said.

By 2020, international research suggests, the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

"Those who think that slashing prices will ensure they survive the economic rigours of the next two years should think again," Bell said.

In a recent global survey carried out by US management consultancy Accenture, 47 per cent of respondents said their service expectations were met only sometimes, rarely or never.

Bell said he has also observed very little overall improvement in customer service during the last year, which was surprising in a highly competitive market.

"While chief executives understand the need for a cohesive customer service package, many do not know how to go about making changes," he said. "Time after time organisations readily tout 'going the extra mile' to 'total customer commitment' they detail their intentions in brochures and advertising but customers have heard it all before.

"New Zealand businesses wanting to implement a customer centric culture into their organisations will need to look closely at their leadership style and the resulting culture, if they are going to achieve their goal of a better experience for both their people and customers," Bell said.

Chris Bell is speaking at the Waikato Chamber of Commerce seminar at Novotel Tainui Hotel, Alma Street Hamilton, on May 27. The seminar is open to members and non-members. For more information visit http://www.waikatochamber.co.nz/Events?eventID=252 or www.customerexperiences.co.nz

The seminar will cover what the customer experience is all about, why it is rapidly becoming a key brand differentiator and how businesses can develop an experience that will exceed customer expectations.