Woman at touchscreen

It’s All About the (Customer) Experience

By Jeff LeBlanc

“The Times They Are a Changin’” – Bob Dylan, 1964

How many of you have noticed a change in the buying behavior of consumers today?

As Bob Dylan so aptly stated more than 50 years ago when major disruptive social change was occurring, change comes with a force that shakes the walls and windows. The times, they are indeed changing. And for everyone in retail today, times they are a changin’ yet again.

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Technology has changed everything, including consumers’ expectations of how and when they buy. This affects everyone. Commodities, products and services are external and each of these leave less impression than the personal experience someone has while buying your products or services. The personal experience will command a premium. Let me explain.

If you were to walk into any popular retail store these days, some surprising sights might greet you. From McDonalds to Prada, retailers around the world are changing the experience one has while visiting its stores. Above the counters at a small Dunkin’ Donuts in rural New Hampshire, a customer’s eyes are quickly drawn to digital signs with product videos and daily specials. You notice smaller signs noting free Wi-Fi and USB power spigots. Starbucks patrons will, at this time, note they have enjoyed these extra benefits for years. Starbucks has established its brand as eco-friendly from its buildings to enjoying java in a cup made from recycled materials. These seemingly small changes make for a great experience, and that’s good business.

Those that have grown up in the world of touch-enabled devices, mainly tablets and smartphones, inspire many of these changes. Commonly referred to as “millennials,” this generation is used to having instant access to information and real-time communications in the palms of their hands. Glass screens with high-definition pixels are expected to be touched and interacted with. Failing this expectation often leads to a negative impression. The digital signage industry has already begun the movement from static signs to dynamic screens and will need to be prepared for the next leap forward: to interactivity.

An interactive digital sign responds to the person using it. If the information being shown isn’t relevant, the user can change it. If the background noise is too loud, the sign can adjust its volume. When the user walks away, the sign could detect it and show different information once again. These interactions can take place on small screens, suitable for entering personal information if desired, all the way up to wall-sized screens that can impress and amaze customers.

A side effect of having grown up with smartphones is that this generation communicates. A lot. From Twitter to Facebook to Instagram, people are telling the world about their experiences as they happen, and others are listening. Celebrity Kevin Smith wrote on his Twitter feed about his negative experience on Southwest Airlines back in 2010 and the airline saw a noticeable drop in their Customer Satisfaction Index that year. The voice of the customer is a powerful one.

To the perceptive retailer, this connectedness can provide great opportunity. Providing a great customer experience, while supporting expectations of interactivity and digital connectedness, can go much further toward bringing in new customers than many traditional marketing programs. A recent J.D. Power and Associates study noted that 27 percent of customers visit automotive dealerships because of recommendations from friends and family.

Welcome to the experience economy, where interactive digital signage is the expectation. The future is here. For retailers, it is not enough to recognize that the times are a-changin’, but must change with the times. Designing a physical space with digital signage utilizing touch technology will enable amazing customer experiences that ensure long-term loyalty and repeat business. After all, customers are the most important part of any business, and giving them what they expect is good business.

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