Barnes & Noble Tops Retail Customer Experience List

As a part of my effort to examine the industry results from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CxPi), I recently published a research report called Customer Experience Index 2008 Snapshot: Retail analyzing the 25 retailers in the rankings. Here are some of the findings:

  • Retailers did well. As a group, the retailers received a “good” rating of 81% and ended up taking 9 of the 10 top spots in the overall rankings. The industy had the second highest increase from last year’s rankings (behind only banks).
  • Books lead. Barnes & Noble replaced Costco at the top of the 2008 CxPi rankings, and the next two retailers near the top of the rankings were also booksellers: Borders and Amazon.com.
  • Electronics lag. The electronics retailers Best Buy, Circuit City, and Radio Shack ended up tied for next to last place in the retail list.
  • Depots disappoint. In many cases, retailers in the same sectors ended up with very similar CxPi scores. But there were a couple of notable exceptions: Staples ended up 9% higher than Office Depot, and Lowe’s ended up 5% higher than The Home Depot.
  • Barnes & Noble and Office Depot lead opposite trajectories. Comparing results from last year, Barnes & Noble showed the largest improvement while Office Depot had the largest decline.

The bottom line: Retailers are good, but could be much better.

Microsoft Takes A Giant Leap Into Retail

Microsoft has been contemplating a new frontier…

Retail.

Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has recognized that it needs to take a more active role in the retailing of it’s products. It can no longer leave in-person merchandising and selling to retailers. What’s driving the urgency in Redmond to get into stores?

Apple.

Apple has radically changed the paradigm for retailing in technology. Rather than relying on retailers to deliver in-person experiences, Apple stores have revolutionized both the sales model and the service model for technology retailing.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Microsoft just hired a former Walmart executive to open a chain of retail stores. This effort will report into Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO (and a former Walmart executive) who says the aim is to

Transform the PC and Microsoft buying experience at retail by improving the articulation and demonstration of the Microsoft innovation and value proposition so that it’s clear, simple and straightforward for consumers everywhere.

This follows Microsoft’s recent unveiling of its huge Retail Experience Center in Redmond. I actually visted the center last year while doing some work with Microsoft on its retail strategy; it’s quite impressive.

My take: The technology market is maturing. Mainstream consumers are now the largest market; not techies. There’s a broad base of customers who want to buy technology products (PCs, phones, MP3 players, TVs, etc) who don’t understand anything about the underlying technology. So the listing of speeds-and-feeds (along with other technical specs) is an outdated retail marketing approach.

Unfortunately, retailers have not kept up with this shift. If you look at the 25 retailers that we ranked in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, three of the bottom four were electronics retailers (Best Buy, Circuit City, and Radio Shack). This might also explain why stores like Circuit City and Tweeter are going bankrupt. So manufacturers like Sony, Apple, and now Microsoft are taking a lead in finding the right approach.

Here’s some of the things that mainstream technology users need:

  • Plain language about feature benefits to enable trade-offs (why should I care about 60 HZ or 120 HZ when buying an LCD TV?)
  • Products that are easy to setup and provide very simple interfaces for making common configuration changes
  • Easy-to-use decision making tools for narrowing potential products
  • Human advice (through trained employees and social media forums) for making product decisions
  • Access to help for setup, repair, and usage questions

The bottom line: The electronics retail experience is overdue for a makeover

A Look Back At My First Year Of Blogging

1st Year Aniversary For Customer Experience Matters

Today is a big day. It’s exactly one year after my first post “Lessons Learned From 1,001 Web Site Reviews.”

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been doing this for a whole year. Or as the song from Rent goes, for five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. But my measurement is not in daylight, sunsets, midnights, or cups of coffee. It’s in blog posts, 184 of them!

While blogging takes a ton of time (I’m constantly looking for interesting topics and drafting posts), it’s been a great experience. Why? Because of you! Readership continues to grow and this blog now has more than 10,000 visitors per month. So I want to say thank you to everyone who has been reading, linking to, writing about, and passing along my blog.

In honor of the 12 months of blogging, I’ve picked out 12 of my favorite posts (in no particular order):

  • Experience-Based Differentiation. This is the core idea which drives my research; it also  won the best research award at Forrester. Experience-Based Differentiation, or EBD as I fondly call it, is based on three principles: Obsess about customer needs, reinforce the brand with every interaction, and treat customer experience as a competency. This remains a powerful blueprint for customer experience excellence. If you’re interested in customer experience (who isn’t?!?), then you may want to use the EBD self-test as a starting point. You can also find many other posts about EBD on this blog.
  • My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free. This post summarizes my perspective on customer experience; it’s a lot like the quality problems of the 1980s. While customer experience is not an easy situation to deal with, it can DEFINITELY be improved with a systematic effort; it just takes discipline (see EBD above). There was also a follow-on to this post called Great Customer Experience Is Free, Part II.
  • Don’t Let Profits Replace Purpose. Companies need to make profits, but here’s the dilemma: if they just focus on making profits, then they lose sight of what makes them special. Firms that lack a strong raison d’être have a hard time aligning the efforts of their employees. In a related post, I discussed how Firms Need Some Soul Searching.
  • The Holy Grail: A Link Between Customer Experience And Loyalty. I’ve been hoping to do this for a while: use data to provide the connection between customer experience and loyalty. And I finally did it. My analysis shows a high degree of correlation across the 9 industries that I examined, with the the strongest linkage for banks. That finding fits nicely with an earlier post which said that banks need to prepare for customer experience wars.
  • Trend Watch 2008 Wrap-Up. I really enjoyed writing a series of posts over the New Years break that examined trends published in The Economist, The McKinsey Quarterly, Advertising Age, Business Week, and Trendswatch.com. While I discussed 52 trends across all of the posts, this wrap-up looked at 14 that covered 4 areas: Consumer needs, online opportunities, required skills, and strategy & culture. 
  • Learning From The Good Fortune Advice Of Others. Fortune Magazine published advice from 25 famous people, and I commented on 8 of them that I really liked. There was great advice from big names like HP’s CEO Mark Hurd, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger, and Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally. But my favorite person on the list is Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsico (who I found out about in a Time Magazine article). Her advice: “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent.”  
  • Discussing Zappos’ Culture With Tony Hsieh. As a researcher, I get to interview a lot of people. But my discussion with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos was really memorable. It started a few minutes before our call when Tony twittered that he was waking up early (7:00 AM on Memorial Day) and needed a Red Bull before he spoke with me. Tony was great and I’ve become an even bigger fan of Zappos after the call. I also wrotr about another CEO that really understands customer experience, Wachovia’s Ken Thompson.
  • JetBlue’s “Happy Jetting” Is More Than Empty Promises. After a series of posts that looked at companies trying to change their customer experience through advertising efforts (JP Morgan Chase, Circuit City, and John Hancock) it was great to see that JetBlue was engaging its employees in its Happy Jetting efforts. I also wrote about how Ford is starting to view employees as potential brand ambassadors
  • Forrester’s 2007 Customer Experience Rankings. We used responses from nearly 5,000 consumers to rate the customer experience of 112 US firms. Our customer experience index (CxPi) examined three areas:meeting customer needs, being easy to work with, and being enjoyable. The three organizations with the highest CxPi were Costco, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. The bottom three: Charter Communications, Medicaid, and Cablevision.  
  • Amex CEO Gains Insights From Napoleon. Kenneth Chenault, Amex CEO, used a quote from Napoleon that I really liked: “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.” This gave me an opportunity to discuss key leadership attributes: Deal with the reality of the world, engage your employees, provide a clear vision, and maintain a sense of purpose. While I’m discussing quotes, I really liked this one from Mackey McDonald, Chairman of VF Corp: “We realized we didn’t have to come up with brilliant ideas – we needed brilliant ways of executing good ideas.” 
  • Mashup: Halloween + Red Sox + CxP. This was a unique opportunity for me to combine three of my favorite things: my family, Red Sox, and customer experience. We had a great interaction with Jason Varitek on Halloween that ended up with my kids getting his autograph. You can see where he signed my son’s World Series ticket in this post. In another mashup of my interests, I my posted about how The Colorado Rockies Embraces Its Guests.
  • The Best Of CxP Matters: Volume #1Volume #2, and Volume #3. It’s amazing how quickly time (and many blog posts) just flies by. That’s why I’ve been writing “The Best Of Customer Experience Matters” to summarize every 50 posts; they also give me a reason to reflect on what I’ve written. So I decided to bundle all three of these as one of my favorites. 

In case you’re interested, here are the 10 posts that have been read the most:

  1. Experience-Based Differentiation
  2. My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience is free
  3. Forrester’s 2007 Customer Experience Rankings
  4. USAA: A Positive Example Of Customer Experience
  5. Trend Watch #5: Trendwatch.com “8 Important consumer trends for 2008”
  6. Webkinz: An example of a disruptive customer experience strategy
  7. Five Disruptive Customer Experience Strategies
  8. Are you listening to the voice of the customer?
  9. Apple’s Truly Genius Service
  10. Trend Watch #4: Business Week “Innovation Predictions 2008″

The bottom line: If you’d like to celebrate this anniversary, send a link to this blog to five of your friends.

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