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Bridging the Physical and Digital to Create the Optimal Customer Experience

By Ruth Crowley, Vice President Customer Experience Design, Lowe's Companies, Inc.

Bridging the Physical and Digital to Create the Optimal Customer ExperienceRuth Crowley, Vice President Customer Experience Design, Lowe's Companies, Inc.

The retail landscape and how we serve the customer has changed. But there’s one thing that’s never wavered: the customer is at the center of all we do. Lowe’s has focused on simplifying the digital and physical space and making the experience seamless for customers. Our goal is to minimize friction so it is easier for the customer whenever and wherever they want to shop. In the industry, we call it “an omnichannel experience,” but for the customer, it is their experience, and even if channels are combined, it is one experience. Innovation in the digital sphere and evolving customer expectations require us to elevate efforts through technology, but we must also consider human factors, bridging the chasm between digital minds and analog hearts. Cross-functional collaboration and integration of efforts is critical.

I am fortunate to have great partners in the process. Together, we challenge the status quo because the pace of the industry is not slowing. Our goal is not just to provide the right answers but to make sure we are asking the right questions. Even in the last two years, the digital space has changed dramatically with more customers transacting on mobile devices and various forms of voice activation methodology becoming “standard.” The challenge is to stay current and maintain relevance to best serve the customer. 

Customers have more data at their fingertips than ever before—current mobile devices have more data than the astronauts had in their first mission to space—creating more complexity for our associates in stores, serving a more informed customer. Home improvement is especially unique because our customer is looking for expert advice on their next project, so we are focused on leveraging more digital technology to provide associates with the tools they need to better serve the customer. We are helping people help people. Sounds simple but it’s not easy.

"We are focused on leveraging more digital technology to provide associates with the tools they need to better serve their customers‚Äč"

The human brain takes in literally billions of bytes of data per second through the senses, but only has the capacity to process 2000 bytes—so retailers have the challenge of breaking through the clutter and finding new ways to resonate and connect with the customer on a human level and on their terms. Anything that competes for the customer’s attention is competition. Their expectations are not rooted just in the retail experiences but benchmarked against their experiences everywhere. The stakes are higher. Our associates are the connective tissue in Customer Experience and our biggest differentiator. We work purposefully to simplify and amplify the experiences for them too. Research from partners like Bain, BCP and Gallup indicates that improving the associate experience helps influence the customer experience positively by 10 to 25 percent.

Customer Experience is not an initiative, it is a key element of Lowe’s DNA because we see improving the customer experience as a differentiator. Gallup says fully engaged customers represent a premium of over 20 percent. 

With a proliferation of offers and options, customers are also willing to abandon a bad experience, costing retailers over $1.6 trillion last year. And the need to make the experience seamless across physical and digital spaces has never been more important—Bain and Co. estimate over 70 percent of purchases are influenced by online interaction, but more than 75 percent of purchases still occur in stores.

We have research underway studying and considering behavioral sciences (aka emotional economics) to better learn how emotions drive behavior in stores and online. We are examining the differentiating factors and how we can combine art with science to deliver a better experience. Data is the new fuel, digital is the engine, but the customer is in the driver’s seat. What we already know is that the experience is not always about what it does for the customer, but how it makes them feel.  We leverage Human Centered Design methodology to better understand the customer journey. We test and learn to validate the hypothesis and make sure it is desirable, feasible and viable. We must be agile. We are driven to finding the optimal solution for customers and associates.

Our research tells us that when a customer comes into the store they don’t want to start over, so it is imperative to ensure the systems are connected and the associates are equipped to serve in real time. Our innovation must enable them to have a seamless experience online and in stores, on their mobile device while in store or whenever they want to engage. Forrester research also shows that omnichannel customers have a 30% higher lifetime value and a differentiating experience can increase spend 18 percent. We are customer focused and data driven.

We have to earn the customers’ trust and loyalty every day. For us, to be invited into the home experience is both an honor and a great responsibility. We take that seriously and strive to deliver on expectations. The customer is at the heart of everything we do.

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