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Leveraging Feedback in Multi-Unit Retail
Use this valuable resource to achieve traction with local customers.
Posted Sep 28, 2012
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Multi-unit retailers understand that retail success and great customer experiences go hand-in-hand. The greater a brand's ability to deliver experiences that wow consumers, the more likely that customers will reward the brand with a greater number of visits, larger basket size, positive recommendations, and other highly sought-after prizes in the retail marketplace.

Large chain retailers also realize that the brand's local stores play a critical role in shaping and defining customer experiences. More than ever, consumers expect retailers (chain and independent) to deliver experiences that have been tailored to the preferences of local shoppers.

Customer feedback drives local customer experience improvements, especially when local managers are equipped with feedback insights relevant to their consumers. Yet many multi-unit retailers fail to provide managers with the resources they need to translate feedback into meaningful customer experience improvements.

Unless brand retailers find ways to bridge the gap between customer feedback and local customer experience management, it's unrealistic to expect local stores to achieve real traction with consumers.

Too little time, too few resources

In many multi-site retail operations, local retail managers want to improve the customer experience at their location, but lack the input and resources it takes to successfully adapt shopping experiences to customer needs.

For starters, most local retail managers don't have the time to sift through large quantities of customer feedback for the insights applicable to their location. The issue isn't that site managers don't recognize the importance of customer feedback; it's that they simply lack the time to convert reams of undifferentiated data into relevant local insights.

At the same time, many local retail managers don't have the training or skills to translate customer feedback into targeted action plans. Large retail chains typically have sophisticated customer feedback solutions. The upside is that these solutions have the potential to deliver granular feedback insight, but the downside is that technological complexity can make it difficult (if not impossible) for site managers to interpret feedback and translate it into the kinds of frontline actions that improve customer experiences.

High turnover rates also limit site managers' ability to leverage customer feedback, with many retail brands experiencing staff turnover of 100 percent or more every year. When local managers lack brand-specific experience, they lack the knowledge to intuitively mold experiences to feedback. Over time, managers develop these skills—but in the interim, it's necessary for multisite retailers to explore ways to bridge the experience gap and source local managers with expertise from across the brand.

Tips for improving local customer experiences

Brands benefit when retail site managers exert greater influence over the shaping (and reshaping!) of local customer experiences. But before local managers can wield more ownership and control over customer experiences, they need to be equipped with the following resources, which are necessary to achieve actionable insights and access the brand's best practices.

Quick visibility into what matters most. Since many local managers don't have the time to sort through volumes of raw, undifferentiated feedback, multi-unit retailers need to implement strategies and solutions that give managers quick visibility into the feedback most relevant to their locations. Brands need to provide managers with concise snapshots of the issues that are important to their customers.

Actionable insights. Multi-unit retailers need to have a more realistic perspective about managers' abilities and the complexity of feedback reporting tools. The focus of the location manager shouldn't be on analysis, so brands need to leverage solutions and strategies that offload analysis and deliver clear, actionable insights to frontline management personnel. Even better, chain retailers can provide local managers with feedback-based plans for store improvements.

A shared knowledge base. Although multi-unit retailers' ability to combat high management turnover rates may be limited, the delivery of exceptional customer experiences hinges on whether or not brands can identify ways to bring inexperienced managers up to speed quickly. Web-based virtual knowledge centers offer a solution to the experience deficit, providing the chain's managers with easy access to brand best practices and detailed information about how other managers have used feedback to improve customer experiences.

Some multi-unit retailers are discovering that effective CEM doesn't require managers to have access to detailed customer experience data at all. Instead, these retailers leverage technology to supply local managers with feedback highlights and executable action plans. By streamlining the connection between customer feedback and customer experience improvements, brand retailers free up local managers to do what they do best—work with employees and customers to deliver first-rate in-store shopping opportunities.


Gary Edwards, Ph.D., is chief customer officer at Empathica, where he is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science, and retail insights. Previously, he led worldwide and domestic research projects in customer and employee research for more than 15 years.

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