No brand, technology or ad spend can replace CX

"I want to ensure that in every customer journey, all customers are engaged"
No brand, technology or ad spend can replace CX
Kate Hardcastle

“It was reminiscent of a scene in a modern-day ‘Pretty Woman’ film. There I stood on Rodeo Drive at the beginning of this year, crestfallen at the way I had just been dismissed and made to feel, in the flagship store of one of the world’s biggest fashion luxury brands,” recollects Kate Hardcastle, UK TV Personality, honored with an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018, retail expert and founder of Insight with Passion.

“I was there to buy a very important gift, last minute and with neither time nor planning on my side. I was accompanied by my three children who had just been pulled out of a lovely pool on a sunny day to be part of my expedition. They were wearing a variety of warming all-in-ones with tousled hair and chlorine-reddened eyes.”

“We perhaps didn’t look ‘on brand’ and as glossy as the family in the advertising on the walls of a store with an average rental of $40,000-70,000 per month.”

Yet, 32 years after the classic film was premiered, history was in some ways repeating itself. The cost of getting potential customers through the door had been significant. That brand’s drip-feed of advertising, sponsorship deals, stylish store environments, and celebrity ambassadors are just some of the features of its eye-watering multi-million dollar spend. It can take years to gain a customer, minutes to lose them.

Service can be a very human experience, and we are not perfect. Things can go wrong, be misjudged. Am I being a little unfair to raise this because at a peak shopping period, something didn’t feel good?

Let me tell you what else was happening in-store that day


One of the blessings of spending over twenty years helping brands all over the globe to engage and delight customers is that, as a consumer, you are highly sensitized to the experiences happening around you at all times. It is an opportunity I relish, to listen and learn gaining real-life moments and zeitgeist. The conversations I overhear are more honest than in most focus groups, and the reality of how customers physically engage is more telling than any footfall counter.

Close to me was a glamorous lady trying to purchase a stunning bag that would cost as much as many people’s monthly rent. Once decided on color, she was swiftly given an iPad to fill in her details. It was painful to watch. The lady was clearly not au fait with this technology and struggled with what to do; she eventually found a colleague to assist. The customer was simply told that completing this form was the only way to make the purchase.

Another customer was simply struggling to get any service at all. We swapped a few smiles and I went to speak to her. She had worked all year in nursing, helping patients throughout the pandemic. Her husband had insisted that she went to buy the ‘bag of her dreams’ as a once-in-a-lifetime gift that he and other family members had clubbed together to buy. She simply said with a sigh: “I guess I am just not meant to be in a place like this” and my heart sank.

The store was at capacity and there was a queue with a colleague clutching an iPad. Customers seemed happy to wait but would often ask for an idea of how long the wait might take or if they could hold their place in the queue through an app or other technology. Sternly told that they would ‘just have to wait’ didn’t seem to summon up all the feelings of luxury and adventure that they may have been expecting.

Creating an engaging customer journey


It is true that aspiration and the desire for luxury can motivate many a purchase, and I am not doubting that was some of the driving force for so many people in that queue waiting so long to connect with one of the brand’s products. Yet I want brands to ensure that with every customer journey, all customers get engaged and feel positive even delighted by the interaction, building longer-term relationships with many becoming brand ambassadors. This store had the opportunity and the technology to make every transaction feel human where it mattered and swift when it needed to be.

As the world evolves and consumers are rapidly demanding more from organizations and their brands both online and in-store, it’s essential for organizations to deliver change at a reliable and engaging pace. Leaders should walk the floor, or experience the online checkout regularly in order to understand the real-life delivery of the brand’s vision. Technology should be embraced and developed, with the common sense approach that it has to work for both the customer and the brand alike.

So much of the work that I deliver with my team at Insight with Passion is about removing barriers and aligning communication so that it works for everyone. The key to everything we deliver is emotional intelligence and for all brands to put the customer truly at the heart; there has to be an authentic commitment at every level to do so.  Customers’ demands are increasing; the more they experience and see, the more they want.

As a brand, you need to understand what customers readily accept from you, what they see as the ‘must-haves,’ ‘very nice to haves,’ and indeed what is essential for every single interaction to be meaningful.  Colleagues must feel empowered to enact change, to make good, to evolve the customer experience. They need to be able to do this with fluidity and with the right tools, whilst delivering enough brand consistency to stay on message at all times. Achieving this can often mean investing time to engage colleagues to support one another with skills: some may be brilliant with technology, others more adept at creating magical moments for customers. The aim is to create a harmonious team dynamic where strengths are played to, and knowledge is regularly transferred.

Service improvement should never be seen as something that can be just delivered and done. This is an evolving and moving process that will see us forever evolve and forever improve. Yet starting with the desire to be authentic and respectful to customers each and every day is essential. Customers understand the power of their purse and want to engage with brands that deliver. Listening to them is the most essential place to start, not doing so would be…” a big mistake. Huge mistake….”