There is a fundamental difference among customer service, customer engagement and customer experience. This blog will focus on how to use all three strategies to differentiate your shopping center as a place that turns customers into advocates.
Before we begin, we’ll need to get real. No matter how refined your customer strategies, they will still be using ecommerce to do their browsing and shopping. In fact, even when customers are in your shopping mall, they may still be shopping online, on their devices. That’s called shopping in “multiple channels.” It’s just a hard reality, but you can make it work to benefit you.
Your defense is to never feel you are in competition with Amazon and the rest of the ecommerce universe. Instead, you will use what you got to get what you want: the power of personalized customer engagement to increase sales and customer loyalty.
Benefits to you and/or your center’s tenants:
- Gain new customer/shoppers
- Improve average sales price
- Increase customer visit frequency
- Increase customer engagement
First, let’s differentiate among three very similar-sounding terms:
1. Customer service
This is the support you provide for your mall's shoppers, and how you care for and respond to their questions and concerns. This experience should always be seamless, pleasant, and above all, helpful.
Customer service goes a long way toward retaining customers and building customer loyalty. Unlike the old days, it’s not just about giving help over the telephone; today it could mean emails, texts, and social media responses.
You can also provide a “FAQ” (frequently asked questions) sheet, which is a list of previously asked questions and answers that may have already been often asked by customers; this could save time and be considered convenient by many.
Remember that customer service goes far beyond just providing answers to questions, it’s part of how your customers will judge you and remember your shopping mall in the long run.
2. Customer experience
With Amazon becoming more and more a part of shopper’s lives, in-store customer experiences are the one secret weapon that brick-and-mortar retail operators have left. In fact, the good news is that customer experience is becoming more important to customers than even product and price. Your ability to make the customer’s experience pleasantly memorable is no small thing.
In order to provide the best customer experience, you have to first know who your customers are, and what they want. Once you nail this down, you will be able to more successfully anticipate their needs and wants. Collect the answers in a database, along with a customer contact list, and you’re then on your way to specific target marketing.
It seems like a difficult thing to measure, but you can actually measure customer experience in concrete terms.
Here are some strategies:
Ask for feedback, constantly
Customers actually do want to tell you how they’re feeling and what their experience with you was like -- that’s half the battle right there. How to do this if you can’t perform in-person interviews with every customer? Try automated email surveys.
Encourage suggestions for improvement
In the old days, this was known as a “suggestion box,” but today you can solicit this kind of response online. A forum, perhaps on your social media page or through online surveys, gives your customers a chance to share with you how they think their experience can be better. It would be your job to filter out the most meaningful suggestions, especially if a certain complaint or concern appears more than once.
If you provide rich fulfilling customer experiences, it will lead to customer engagement:
3. The icing on the cake: customer engagement
This is the “feeling” the customer gets from interacting with you. It’s the connection a customer gets from visiting you, shopping with you. Engagement can include more than just in-store interaction -- it could mean online shopping and purchasing, texting, tweeting and emailing. It could also be a reaction to other products and services you may recommend. Customer engagement can be considered a value, a sum of all of their experiences with you.
Ways to stir customer engagement through experience:
Let your customers actually use the products in your center.
Create a space where customers can interact, try, taste, and feel. They should be able to buy the products right at that location, or via their smartphones. They can also be directed to the stores selling the merchandise.
Constantly appeal to your customers’ five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
As mentioned above, customers can use their senses to engage with products and services that online retailing cannot match. If it’s food, offer free samples. If it’s art supplies, allow them to sit down and create. If it’s linens, let them feel how soft they are.
Create added value.
If your center contains an electronics retailer, make sure you offer a service that allows customers to ask questions, request troubleshooting or receive any kind of related help. If one of your tenants sells furniture, offer a service that can install or assemble the furniture. Have a doctor or dentist practicing in your center? Ask them if they would want to offer free health screenings or short seminars on better health.
Let customers buy online but pick up at your center.
We’ve already established that buying online is all the rage, but you can benefit from its popularity by offering the convenience of delivering merchandise faster than any online retailer -- for free. In the age of Covid, this is a service your shopping mall tenants will embrace. In fact, giving customers the option to pick up their merchandise in person at your center (avoiding shipping charges) could lead them to browse and make more purchases while they’re there (this will also increase foot traffic in your center). You may consider giving customers additional discounts or perks for ordering online and picking up their merchandise in person by offering curbside pickup. Remember to offer free coffee and snacks as well.
Make the most of social media.
Create areas where customers can take pictures of themselves. They can share these photos on their social media pages (as well as yours). Encourage your tenants to do the same in their stores; for instance an “Instagram Wall” that allows customers to snap photos of themselves interacting with products and services. This type of engagement is infectious; it may lure people who have not yet been to your center. It feels like a party is happening, and more often than not, people want to be a part of it.
Engagement can lead customers to recommend you to others, and to grow more loyal to you. Ultimately, they will become advocates for you, your center and your overall brand.
Your biggest weapon as a center owner/operator is the ability to engage customers. A personalized experience will make a difference when competing against online retailing like Amazon -- you’re giving customers the ability to feel, see, hear and try out products.
What ties together all three customer concepts: reaching out, staying in touch, communicating, and inviting customers to your center. Ecommerce simply can’t match what you can provide in person.