Amid the daily deluge of stories about the application of technology in almost every aspect of the Customer Experience, it is interesting to read that McDonald’s is trialling table service, using technology to enable customers to place their order which is then brought to them at their seat. This is a logical response to the growing strength of the more upmarket burger chains, with the use of technology no doubt likely to appeal to a large slice of McDonald’s customer base.
It is also good to read that John Lewis has successfully used technology (via Google) to improve internal communication and thereby efficiency, and customer service.
Both of these are examples of what Tom Peters has called the “high-tech, high-touch” approach: technology that facilitates human experiences rather than replaces them. Too many technological applications – particularly in retail – seem to focus solely on increasing the amount of data stores have on their customers, whilst overlooking the opportunity to engage them on a human/emotional level.
The supermarket sector is, as everybody knows, facing an identity crisis (in fact, that’s probably one of several types of crisis it faces): other than discounting, the majority of players seem to have little to offer their customers, particularly when it comes to attracting them to the increasingly anachronistic-looking, out-of-town sheds so enthusiastically built just a few years ago, Customers’ shopping habits have changed, yes – driven in part by economic factors and partly by the supermarkets’ own proliferation of convenience stores. Yet the sector’s response is exemplified by Sainsbury’s partnership with Argos. Forgive me if I yawn! And although Tesco’s efforts to improve its in-store catering offer via its acquisition of Giraffe are to be welcomed, the overall prospect of sitting in a Giraffe restaurant, in a supermarket, in a car park, etc, does not exactly set the pulses racing.
Surely the supermarkets need to look beyond technological innovation and partnerships with other brands, and explore ways to create genuinely exciting, life-enhancing experiences for their customers? The current dairy farmers’ protest over milk prices could offer a clue to a more enlightened – and sustainable – approach. A new partnership with farmers and other food producers could transform supermarkets, re-engage consumers and give our farming and artisan food industries a welcome boost.
To quote Peters again: “Hard (numbers, plans) is Soft. Soft (people, relationships) is Hard.” It is time the retail sector, which was built on human relationships, rediscovered this. Technology can do many things – but it can’t replace the power of emotional engagement, driven by all the senses, created by humans, for humans.
Find out more about creating innovative and sustainable Customer Experiences here.