UK customer experience expert Phil Corke strongly believes Australia lags noticeably behind the rest of the developed world in looking after its retail customers.

“This is quite surprising, especially when you consider Australia has a lot going for it,” stated Corke, who is a senior member of the customer experience division of leading independent innovation agency ?What If! 

“Australia is bright, prosperous and sophisticated, yet its nation’s supermarkets, department stores and call centres are dragging behind on the world stage in relation to customer’s experience.”

Australia is not alone however. According to Accenture’s latest report, 47 per cent of globally surveyed respondents said their service expectations were met only ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’.

Corke was in Australia last week to launch ?What If!’s unique approach to solving a company’s customer service and retail challenges.

?What If!’s specialised customer experience (Custex) team will introduce the same approach that was instrumental in the creation of the John Lewis Food hall concept in the UK, which was based around the customer’s need for seasonal freshness. The UK team has also worked with clients such as Shell, Lexus, Schiphol Airport, Boots, Citibank, the UK Government Department of Health, Lego and the large UK supermarkets Waitrose and Sainsburys.

In 2005 Boots (a UK-based Pharmacy) approached the ?What If! Custex team to help them find new, more customer centric avenues for selling medicines in store. This project involved real time testing and revising of solutions in a selected Boots store. Elements of the solutions have been rolled out across Boots who are projecting more than five per cent uplift in healthcare sales as a result.
“To me ?What If! are uniquely able to shift customer behaviour,” commented Simon Potts, commercial director, Boots Consumer Healthcare.

“What I really like is their forensic focus on the real customer issues, not on internal prejudice. The quality of solution you get out depends entirely on how much you commit to co-creation and to opening your mind to radical new solutions… we ended up with some initiatives that were fully road tested and in 300 stores within 12 weeks, and surprise surprise, they are actually delivering.”

“Custex as the name suggests, works on developing great customer experiences for brands, services and retail environments, both off-line and on. It can also flip-flop, where it will actually develop a brand to cater for a customer experience. Both activities help grow profits and customer loyalty, increasing the perception as well as the reality of the full experience including service to the customer.

“Take David Jones’ food hall as an example of an Australian business that is probably out of touch with its customers. When Custex researched the John Lewis concept we found customers wanting ‘real fresh’, from the farm to the fork and this was the main focus of the experience. Connecting people back to food. This insight is missing from David Jones’ food hall experience,” said Corke.

When Corke visited the store he found the experience of its fresh offering was saying anything but fresh. One example noticed was that vacuum packed bags of salad were left out, right next to their display. This erodes any chance of customers believing in the freshness claim. 

According to Corke, retail businesses need to be giving their customers a great experience from the moment they enter to the moment they leave the store. The principal behind the customer experience team is simple: they help achieve business objectives though delivering a great customer experience.

“Everyone has a current customer experience, it’s just a question of whether it is acknowledged and engineered to be the best possible one or not.

“Custex research has shown eight out of 10 consumers say they want to make buying decisions based on fact and reason, but seven of 10 say they actually make those decisions based on emotion. It’s this insight that the ‘Custex’ team taps into with its innovation process,” said Corke.

With its newly acquired knowledge, the Australian arm of ?What if! is set to put its customer service innovation toolkit to use on Australia’s large retail market.