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More than just shopping

Why we should focus on the customer experience

From initial impressions gathered in a shop to social media posts or a hassle-free payment process – what lies behind the term “customer experience” is the way a brand is perceived across all touchpoints. A smooth customer experience that, now more than ever, plays out digitally and, if all goes well, leads to a purchase, a recommendation and trust in a brand. Success is dependent on having a well-thought-out concept that recognises customers’ needs and always remains open to new technical possibilities. In our interview, Markus Haydl, Director of Customer Experience at the online marketing company hmmh AG , shares fascinating insights relating to the furniture industry, reveals the opportunities a good customer journey has to offer and gives advice on how interior design brands can remain relevant. Read the interview now.

Furniture shop with a lot of furnitures in a small space

What is the customer experience?

To some degree, the term itself is self-explanatory. In the past, it might have involved an insert in a magazine that would lead a potential customer to visit a shop. In an ideal scenario, the customer would receive good sales advice and this would result in a purchase. Nowadays, the number of touchpoints and thus the complexity of the customer journey is constantly growing. And a customer experience that’s satisfactory in every respect is more important than ever, especially given the influence of social media and review sites. As hmmh customer experience expert Markus Haydl comments, “Many things have been tried in the industry. From roadshow trucks to furnishing VIP areas at festivals.” He recommends starting a few steps before that: “The furniture retail trade per se is still busy pursuing digitalisation. Many retailers are still behind other industries; they need to catch up

The customer experience combines aspects of the user interface – i.e. what am I making available to my consumers?’ – and aspects of the user experience – i.e. how usable and accessible is it?

Markus Haydl

Why is a digital customer experience so important?

People shopping for a new sofa don’t want to have to rely on a few photos taken in a studio or navigate the long, soulless aisles of a warehouse. Even a somewhat higher purchase price becomes less significant when the shopping experience is smooth and all the information required is easily accessible. In this age of online interior design stores , the process is digital. Markus Haydl shares his thoughts on the subject: “Of course, there’s much more to experience physically in the furniture sector in particular, where there’s fabric, leather, or wood to touch or even smell. That’s very difficult to reproduce in a similar way in a digital form. But nevertheless, there’s much more that I, as a retailer, can do in terms of visualisation using digital technology, of course. I can put a far greater diversity of products on show, because I don’t have the limitations of a physical retail space.”

The main focus here is to show the prospective customer only what they’re actually looking for: “I can do that through search results pages, because many people input what they need into Google’s organic search function. These potential buyers are then taken to the relevant landing page or category overview page for the product they’re interested in. That’s where I can use all the options that aren’t available in bricks-and-mortar retail – from customer reviews, information videos and simple product content to a carousel of fabrics and patterns. In that respect, I’m not as limited digitally as I am physically. After all, I don’t have the option of displaying the bed or sofa in ten different colours or patterns in a shop. That’s the biggest advantage of a digital customer experience.”

How do I measure customer experience?

Now that you’ve analysed your target group and optimised your brand image at several touchpoints, there are more key figures than just growing sales volumes that you need to keep an eye on. In order to evaluate the success of the customer journey, you should make direct contact with your customers. KPIs that may be of interest include:

  • Net promoter score/net promoter system: how likely are customers to recommend you?
  • Customer effort score: how do customers rate the amount of effort involved in buying the product?
  • Customer satisfaction score: how satisfied are customers with the journey?

The results are drawn from surveys and reviews. These usually relate to specific aspects of the journey, such as the emotional response to a brand or how smoothly customers feel their transactions have gone.

Man and woman buying a chair

Unlike online shops, physical furniture stores allow customers to touch things and try them out. (Photo: Antoni Shkraba on Pexels)

Personalisation is everything

Especially since the coronavirus pandemic began, it has become even more important for brands to ask themselves how their products can be presented just as well or better digitally than in physical shops. Markus Haydl: “Generally speaking, brands can show customers only what they’re interested in – this is where digital shops have many more options, especially in terms of personalisation. The self-service concept also makes a difference. After all, there’s often a lack of trained staff on the sales floor. Brands can provide customers with much more additional content digitally. Think about sharing data that will add value to a product: a short video is all it takes. I can also incorporate reviews, i.e. the experiences of other customers, into a digital platform in order to provide the consumer with the best possible information content.” Haydl continues: “We know that, at the end of the day, price accounts for less than 25 per cent of the purchasing decision in this segment. Whether a wall unit costs 1,100 or 1,089 euros makes little difference to consumers if they get the right service. So, what proactive steps can I take to offer them added value? Additional services often play a very important role in a purchasing decision.”

There’s a so-called ROPO effect, where customers research online but purchase offline. It’s still the case that few purchases are made entirely online in the mid-range and premium segments. In other words, when I buy a bed, I want to lie on it and find out how the headrest or the fabric feels. Alongside managing shipping and returns, that’s the biggest aspect many brands are working on right now.

What does the future hold?

Virtual reality has been shaking up the digital furniture market for a while now, and the metaverse offers further opportunities for interior design brands. “The metaverse is a platform that should be taken seriously,” explains Haydl. “Analysts and forecasts tell us that, in the next three to five years, a lot of business will shift onto it. I think the time has come for people to turn their physical selves into digital selves and experience completely different things. In the metaverse, there’s a significant target group that’s now within my reach.”

The customer experience expert concludes by highlighting a strong example of a clear and focused digital journey: “Tesla has shown how it can be done. They offer a car for sale with two interior options and a choice of three different body colours – nothing more. And people buy it sight unseen; they order it online. They’ve never physically seen the car, but they buy it anyway. And it’s much more expensive than a piece of furniture. By contrast, reaching a decision is almost impossible when you’re faced with the vast array of fabric samples sometimes available in furniture stores. After all, sometimes less is more. Hopefully, that’s what the future holds.”

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