appleBrick and Mortar stores and Hospitality businesses are beginning to see through the fog of customer experience innovation. At the same time, the digital signage industry, digital agencies, and design firms are creating a new marine layer of complexity around what brands should do about in-location customer experiences.
The result? Many brands are either unable to justify investment in true customer experience transformation or they fall back to investing in traditional or more simply proven investments for the future (i.e. POS, merchandising, supply chain, and e-commerce systems). Digital signage projects are beginning to attract and consume brand capital, but these are tactical investments that do not truly represent innovation or transformation to change the customer experience.

The call to action is coming through researchers and surveys:

1. Less retail space is being leased.
2. Lease lines are blurring.
3. Amazon and brand e-commerce sales are continuing to accelerate.
4. While most retailers and hospitality brands believe they must improve their customer experience, few are actually changing the experience.
5. Few (if any) retail brands are making bold investments in truly great and innovative Brick and Mortar customer experiences like Apple, Starbucks and Disney stores.
6. 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior customer experience, yet only 8 percent of their customers agree. -Daryl Travis, author, “How Does It Make You Feel?” and CEO, Brandtrust.

There is hope! A few best in class companies who are doing a great job innovating the customer experience are namely Nike, Apple, Disney, and Starbucks. These companies all demonstrate a deep understanding of their customers and what builds brand equity through technology and great customer service.

Nike was awarded the Number #1 Innovative Company for 2013 by Fast Company magazine. Their stores are changing, their products and how their customers engage with Nike is leaping ahead. Holistic innovation is a key guiding principle. Therefore, the more touch points you can connect with the customer, the more powerful the emotional connection.

Apple was ranked Number #1 on Forbes.com list of the World’s Most Powerful Brands in 2012. Apple realized long ago that the most important factor for innovation is the customer. Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. …A vision for Apple is: what incredible benefits can we give to the customer?” Apple addressed the issue of time-consuming lines by having mobile staff members readily available to assist customers throughout their stores. This is just one of many examples of Apple’s dedication to eliminate customer frustration.

Disney was ranked Number #13 on Forbes.com list of the World’s Most Powerful Brands in 2012. Disney has three tactics to improve communications and the customer service experience at Disney’s Parks and Stores. A contributor to Forbes.com defines them as, “Be Show Ready…Make every customer feel important…Provide communications training. [Other businesses] are trained to take your money and that’s it – the exact opposite of the Disney customer service experience.” Disney’s outstanding customer service techniques tear them apart from any competition. MyMagic+ is now in full launch at Walt Disney World and is already getting high marks from guests. Stay tuned for more to come …

Starbucks is now using new innovative techniques that directly involve the customer by expanding their loyalty and rewards program. The Starbucks mobile application and easy-to-use payment wallet is second to none. In an article on USAtoday.com, Starbucks is producing more than 3 million mobile payments per week. “‘We’ll take customers on a journey,’ Schultz [CEO of Starbucks] says.”

By acknowledging the customers’ needs, these preeminent companies are demonstrating how innovation has become an integral part of customer service. Great brand equity and customer fulfillment are extremely possible for companies who fully integrate the customer into their innovation. It’s all about bringing the excitement back to Brick and Mortar and engaging the customer in new innovative ways.