Think back to your last interaction with a retail brand that you love.  Now consider the end result of that interaction; did you feel valued, respected and happy with your interaction?  Did you leave feeling like your money was well spent, even with dozens or hundreds of other alternatives?  Or did you feel jaded and disrespected, like another number pushed through the revolving door?

This is something that I constantly wonder when visiting a retail establishment, as it has a major impact on my buying decisions. I pay attention to how I am greeted, IF I am even greeted, if the service representative asks me how I am doing or whether they offer me a promotion or discount I am not familiar with.  Do they try to upsell me or engage with me in any meaningful way, other than asking me to stick my card into the machine?

As a marketer, I ask these questions because I consistently experience so many missed opportunities to bridge the gap in the relationship between the product/service and the brand.

So, what or who is this bridge?

No, it’s not an app, it’s not a loyalty card. . . It’s not even the product.

It’s the service representative.  It’s the individual you must interact with to complete your transaction.

Another question to think about – what is a brand?  Is it the logo and the design businesses have on their products and in their stores?  Sure, these are some aspects of the brand identity, however, a brand encompasses much more within the entire experience.  This includes the service, which is a large factor many businesses simply pass by the way-side. The service component, when intertwined with the logo, design, and “feel” of the business, become the brand and identity of the business.

Here is a quick example…

Over the past few months, I stopped going to Starbucks altogether.  At a minimum, I used to visit Starbucks three times per week; the same one on the corner of my block.  The same exact staff were there daily.  Not once did any of the staff ask my name, even when I asked theirs and referred to them by their names when visiting.  It was kind of a test – but after a while I realized they couldn’t care less.  Not once did any of them take two seconds to ask how to spell my name (Demetri).  Not once did any of the staff ask if I wanted a Gold Card (still don’t know what it does, I’ve just seen them) or if I know about their app so I can pre-order.  Not once. So for me, a poor customer experience equals a poor brand, meaning: never again.

One would think that a company like Starbucks would have a bit more sense to train their staff on the proper way to interact with customers.  They have a massive opportunity to collect SO MUCH data, but they don’t.  How cool would it be if, when visiting a Starbucks, they asked for your ‘Starbucks Card’ or phone number and BOOM! there is your name.  Now, no matter what store you visit, they can 1) easily refer to the most personal thing you own, your name, 2) they can finally spell your name correctly, and 3) they can even ask you if you want your usual, since they can track everything you buy.  They would even be able to up-sell or cross-sell you by offering a related item that goes well with your order.

Forgive my rant, but it simply makes no sense that, with the technology currently available – especially for a large multi-national corporation like Starbucks – that they would fumble so hard on creating a friendly and inviting customer experience, or better position their staff to do so.  No wonder they are adding more menu items such as wine and beer, to balance out on the customers they lose.  Literally, adding everything except the simple things that matter.

Here are three things you can do today, even if you are not Starbucks, to create a memorable brand experience.

  • Create a system to recall your customers’ names. This will help ‘bridge’ the relationship between your product/service and your brand identity as a company that cares.  There are hundreds of systems that can do this at the POS level or if you are not brick and mortar, you can do it by tracking phone numbers or asking for some simple info over the phone.  This can guide the conversation and make it more personal.

Remember, people love to hear their names.

  • Go above and beyond – train your staff to ask the right questions. Your business can increase sales by 10%-50%, or more, simply by asking the customer if they ‘would like to consider’ XYZ product.  Think Amazon ‘related products’ or ‘customer who bought ABC product also bought XYZ’.
  • Keep an up-to date database. This is a critical component of any business.  You can learn so much, not just about individual behavior, but also trends at the local level.  It can help optimize product offerings and even allow you to keep in touch with your customers by sending customized SMS or email communications.  Don’t be afraid of communicating.  It’s something businesses think they don’t need to do anymore for some reason…

As you think about how to apply these to your business, keep in mind that your business is personal.  Why? Because your business deals with people.  Be selective in hiring the best and spend time to properly train your staff.  Your staff is the bridge between your product/service and your brand, and they must represent it accordingly.