Thinking Outside the Store

8 Sep 2017
Carl Ottersen
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Some weeks ago my colleagues and I were talking to two different companies about the value of suggestions and how our service, which is best described as a socialized digital suggestion box, could help them.

“Yes of course I know how valuable customer suggestions can be”, the owners of both companies said.  “I am always on the look-out to do better and I am really happy when the people I know come up with ideas about how I can do better, introduce a new service, and things like that.  Since I have a business that really only runs from one location, I get a good share of suggestions when my customers pass by, and when they send me e-mails.  I feel quite close to my customers already, and I know they feel close to me.  Why would I need an additional service like yours?”

Perfectly valid points, and let me say the owners of both companies have invested serious quality time engaging with their customers over many years.  They are both happily successful in their different lines of business. In fact we are probably going to become clients of theirs.  Why indeed should they add more ways of engaging with consumers at this point in time, considering they only have one location, and their local markets know them well?  Here’s why.

As Jack Ma of Alibaba fame says, “Even though you are local, if you have digital presence, you must think global.”  Which basically means there are no time zones, you can’t be awake 24/7, you can’t know all of your customers personally, and what plays in Peoria doesn’t play in Pretoria.  If you are selling on-line regionally or globally, you need to know about local preferences, or risk losing opportunities or, even worse, the investment made to date.

If you have a digital presence (even if you don’t sell on-line) then the experience must be as if the customer has just walked in to your real store. If you don’t do that, you won’t easily get them to come back through the ‘door’ – and that will lose you the long term business you really want.  Basically, this means you need a digital substitute for every human activity you would normally have in the physical store – that’s why you see all those digital ‘assistants’ popping up when you go e-shopping.  Just like you would happily receive a suggestion from a customer in your physical store, you should have a suggestion box in your digital store.

Something really important comes with a digital suggestion box: the ability to recognize and reward the contributor.  Yes of course you can do this personally, and in the physical store you might even put up a “suggestion of the month” type plaque.  What you do in the physical world you should replicate in the digital world.  Having a web page where you publicly recognize people who make suggestions (even if you don’t necessarily act on them) can only do good.  Recognition is a powerful motivator that binds your customers to you for a long time.  Not only that, they become boosters for your business, praising your good name and deflecting any complaints you may receive.  Enable all that with social media and you create a powerful, positive reinforcing effect which benefits your business, however big or small it may be.

A suggestion, given personally in the store or sent in by email, is just that: personal. Interesting to the power of one.  A socialized digital suggestion box adds real value, because the suggestion is shared through social media and voted on by others – who can be in your community, the suggestor’s community and potentially the world at large.  What does that give you?  It gives you a suggestion with weight, the weight of popular interest and opinion.  That creates for you ideas of what to do, make and offer, and the priority in which you could plan and action them.  Regardless of the inherent value of the suggestion itself, it gives you greater exposure and awareness to a wider world, which potentially leads to more business coming in through your door.

And if your business is not at all ‘digital’?  Well, you know when and where all the best ideas come from, don’t you?  It isn’t in the shop during opening hours, right?  So doesn’t it make sense to have a simple, tailored service your customer can send their personally crafted suggestion out straight after that famous moment of inspiration, that others can see and give their opinion on its value, as it gets delivered direct to you?

There is no downside in knowing more of what to offer more of.

Carl Ottersen

 Carl Ottersen

More articles by Carl Ottersen
Who doesn’t want to hear from their customers?
A bigger bang for your merchandising buck
All about suggestions

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