08 Feb 2019

What we can learn from Amazon

Amazon’s dominance of the retail market is underlined by its $1trillion market valuation. Last year it was listed by The Reputation Institute as the most reputable retailer in the UK with 50,000 ratings by consumers. In addition to offering a huge range of products, Amazon’s reputation is based on a quick, easy, and consistent experience that customers have grown to trust (and love). Think what you will about its policies on working conditions and corporation tax, Amazon sets the standard for customer service. It’s a benchmark for us all.

Customer experience powers growth
Decisions to buy are based on a mix of quality, service, price and perceptions, but customer experience is the secret sauce that propels Amazon into a different league. Many companies think their customer experience is good because they get some nice comments from customers and they don’t get many complaints. But customer experience is much broader than customer service, covering every customer touchpoint, from website browsing, what people say about them, how long it takes to answer an email, and how you answer it or the phone. Plus, how you present in their home, how long it takes before you install, how polite and considerate the fitters are, the experience of product in practice, and how you respond if things go wrong. It’s a long, complicated customer journey where you can collect a series of wow experiences that build trust, or unthinkingly destroy it.

Amazon doesn’t have a customer service telephone line. Nor does it spend money on a team of people to address customer complaints. Instead, the company invests in making sure there aren’t any complaints. Placing, managing, or returning an order is so quick, so convenient and so pain-free as to be pleasurable. Amazon has raised the bar so high that like Pavlov’s dogs, we’re trained to expect our orders very quickly and fret when a few days go by without a text informing us that they’re being processed, on the way, nearly there, and delivered, followed by a ‘how did we do?’ sign off. Speed, simplicity, reliability and brilliantly reassuring communications are what today’s customers value – and they’re what most companies fail to deliver. It’s hard to do because you have to examine every part of the business and ask: ‘is this making things easier for customers?’ But it’s worth the effort.

A survey of 47,000 consumers in America by McKinsey & Co suggests that focusing on customer experience can increase customer satisfaction by 20%, while increasing revenue by 15% and lowering the cost-to-serve by 20%.

Lifetime customers and ambassadors
Customers want a quick, easy, consistent experience, but mostly they expect the opposite. It’s why your heart sinks when you need to ring a utility company, local authority or HMRC. Low expectations are opportunities because when companies get it right, they create an emotional connection that makes customers more likely to buy again and tell their friends. If customers consistently have this experience, they’ll turn into lifetime customers, coming back to you for the rest of the house, an upgrade or a conservatory, even if it means they pay more.

The customer journey
While many younger homeowners are in Mrs May’s words ‘just about managing’, a growing number of older homeowners – the core of the Bank of Mum and Dad – have the money to pay more. But they need help buying. They expect knowledgeable sales people to answer their questions and guide them to the beautiful products they want and demonstrate in the showroom and home what can’t be shown online. So, look objectively at your showroom and your presentation from the point of view of the customer. If you were in their shoes, would you be blown away? Would you say yes? Does everything lead to a yes? No loose, scratched or pitted hardware? If they’re thinking of beautiful flush sash windows, have you got the doors to go with them, and since almost all flush is foiled, can you show them the colours they can have in sensibly sized swatches. And can they have them soon, while they’re excited? With upper end premium products, when homeowners come visiting their order is to lose not scrap over.

Your customers are buying from Amazon right now. And they’re comparing the experience they get from Amazon with the experience they get from you. The lessons are clear. Invest in the customer experience, make it easy, quick, and reliable. Get it right and you’ll stand out from all your competitors, get more add-ons and repeat customers, and grow your business profitably.


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