Demos Parneros | Fortune 500 CEO | Advisor and Board Member | Retail & E-Commerce Leader | Startup Investor

Customer Experience that a Bot Can Never Provide

In my last article, I made a case to dispel the “rumors” that customer service is dead.  As long as people are interacting with other people, it will never die.  It is ready for a rebirth, though, thanks to the emergence of artificial intelligence to help optimize the retail business.  But to me, customer experience is even bigger than that, and what’s at its core is something that a robot can never replicate.  

When you boil it down to its essence, customer experience is about awareness and intentionality.  Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, making them feel seen, giving them a voice, helping to solve a problem.  

Source: Freepik

That’s why I’ve loved shopping at Nordstrom – they are so tuned in. When I go to Nordstrom, I’m greeted by name (yes, I am admittedly a very frequent shopper there). They adapt the experience to my needs, whether I’m trying to get in and out quickly on the way home from work or I need a personalized consultation on the perfect gift.  Employees are empowered to take care of their customers, no questions asked.

Trader Joe’s is another great example – the majority of employees there have a genuine enthusiasm for their jobs, they are encouraged to be themselves at work, they can sample any product and offer the same to their customers.  It’s no wonder people are fanatical about shopping at Trader Joe’s – they’ve created an atmosphere of fun in the store around a shared appreciation of their unique product.

So how do you empower your employees to deliver a great experience for their customers, like Nordstrom or Trader Joe’s?  You deliver a great experience for your employees.  They are your customers too.  Ask questions.  Listen carefully.  Care about their experience.  Genuinely understand their perspectives and you can expect genuine results.

Source: Freepik

This is the premise of Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human.  According to Pink, we are all selling all the time, in the sense that we are always trying to persuade or move others to act – whether it’s networking to find your next job opportunity or getting your kid to do her homework.  Based on the social science that Pink details in his book, the way to “sell” someone is by being attuned with their experience.  As leaders, attunement is much more effective than asserting power; it’s the difference between (hoping) to get compliance versus inspiring action towards results.

How many times have you been in this meeting?  The most senior executive in the room feels the need to assert himself and does all the talking, while the most junior person in the room, the one who is closest to the work being presented, doesn’t even get a chance to speak.  In my experience, the most effective leaders are comfortable with taking a back seat and letting their reports take the lead.  Not only does this provide development opportunities and more diverse perspectives for your organization, it’s motivating. We all want to do more for someone who we feel genuinely cares about us and our experience.

Taking it back to the traditional understanding of customer experience, we all know the feeling when a company is going through the motions of customer service (a robotic greeting, inauthentic pleasantries) versus an experience that really feels good – that anticipates your needs and makes you feel appreciated (like shopping at Nordstrom or Trader Joe’s).  The experience feels human – and that is timeless.

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