Friday, May 29, 2009

Irrationality: we got it, but can you capitalize on it?

William Cusick, who runs VOX, a customer experience consulting firm, has gained some notoriety for proclaiming that "All customers are irrational" (appropriately used as the title of his forthcoming book) but that marketers can still use behavioral psychology to strategize sales and profitability. Irrational, to Cusick, is mitigated by encouraging consumer loyalty at every step of the branding process.

Cusick does a great job of pointing out all the ridiculous ways that corporations organize their promotions and sales to attract new customers while ignoring the better revenue possibilities that come from more attention to your current clients. Just think of your mobile phone service contract or your internet service and you get the idea: While Cusick emphasizes findings from brain research (which feels like overcompensation -- to dress up good insights with the unassailable imprint of Science) – his real skill is at breaking down the sales experience from the consumer’s perspective and mirroring that back at retailers. I particularly like Cusick’s Twelve Steps to Improve Customer Experience, which, as he points out, are incredibly easy to implement and rely on rather inexpensive methods (such as qualitative observation, adding more trained personnel rather than technology, and mapping customer experiences).

For those who work in digital point-of-sale technology, one key take-away point is that such innovations should not be promoted as replacement for workers, but rather that employees still need to be the primary interface with customers, acting as a guide to both the services and the self-service kiosk. It’s a reminder that technology is a tool to help both sides of the retail aisle. For a great example, look at how Stop and Shop’s excursion into hand-held scanners is facilitated by employees at the entrance, throughout the store, and at the checkout. Eventually, after repeated use, customers will get used to "paying" for their items as they put them in the bag. But for now, they need a lot of hand holding -- and some of that attention never goes away. Even as shoppers more readily cue up at self service supermarket checkouts, the smarter stores continue to have enough personnel deployed near registers to help, look things up, and solve the problem even before the blinking light above can signal real distress!

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