Customers come in all shapes and sizes, and they have a million different demands. But ultimately, they all want the same thing: a good shopping experience.

When I was a child, I had a memorable experience with a retailer. I wanted to buy a juice box at a store, but I didn’t know how. The man at the cash register saw how much money I had, explained how much money I needed to buy the item and told me how much change I would get. He took the time to explain every detail to me, and I remember that experience to this day, decades later.

Fast forward to a recent trip I made to a Starbucks.  When the barista called my name and I went up to get my coffee, she told me, “Nathan, this coffee was made with extra love for you.” That might sound cheesy to some, but it made my day. As a customer, it’s moments like these that really stay with you.

Ultimately, when you talk about customer service or customer experience, this is where you want your customers to be. It’s not enough to just satisfy their needs, you need to build a loyal customer.  And you do that by creating personal experiences built on the individual needs of that customer at that moment in time.

But modern-day retailers have a lot of challenges to navigate as they try to deliver this personal experience. They must deal with rapidly increasing competition and continuously evolving technologies, as well as new platforms enabled by these technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and social media. And on top of all that, they still must ensure they’re meeting growing consumer expectations.

When I think about what I want from a retailer, I always default to whatever I use my phone for. For example, I go to Meijer supermarkets, and I pay with Apple Pay every time. It’s so easy to use. Walgreens is taking it one step further by integrating Apple Pay with its rewards program. I use my phone to pay for my purchases, and I also get the reward points automatically because the system recognizes me through my phone. It makes the retail experience so much better. I want that personal experience with the things I use every day.

How to Get There

To achieve this level of customer experience, retailers must take several important steps:

  • Reimagine the customer journey: Retail businesses must build a three-year digital strategy and be prepared to update this plan to deal with constantly changing circumstances. The strategy should unify the customer experience across all channels and rethink customer engagement.
  • Expand reach to the customer: Stores should provide different channels to accommodate different customer preferences, including self-help portals for repetitive advice and answers, online community engagement and one-click capabilities that connect customers via text, voice or video.
  • Modernize platforms: Going forward, successful retailers must make strategic use of data for analytics, as well as important technologies such as IoT and omnichannel customer engagement. A robust infrastructure — delivered via public cloud services, a private data center or a hybrid of public and private — is required to support these capabilities.

Establishing these capabilities gives retailers the ability to address customer concerns in real time. With the right strategy and technology, you can deliver an experience your customers will remember, perhaps for decades — and they may share with those in their network. Now, isn’t that worth it right there?

To learn more about delivering a personalized retail experience, check out The Retailer’s Guide to Enhancing the Customer Experience (PDF).

As always, feel free to leave a comment below with any questions.