During a recent conversation with Ruth Crowley, vice president of customer experience design at Lowe’s, I was struck by her statement that “to the customer, it is not an omnichannel experience. It is their experience.”
Crowley is responsible for leading her team’s efforts to create cohesive customer experiences that are emotionally and seasonally relevant and aligned with strategic company objectives. Prior to joining Lowe’s in 2016, she worked at Entertainment Retail Enterprises with clients including Nickelodeon and M&M’s World Stores, creating customized products, flagship stores, and experiences in global markets. Crowley also has diverse experience with other iconic companies, including Harley-Davidson, Universal Studios, and Host Marriott (Airports), with a focus on design, retail, product, and brand development.
She describes herself as a continuing student of business. Read on for our conversation.
1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?
Customer experience design is most important to me because it focuses on applying human-centered design methodology together with research and analytics to create solutions that are authentic to our commitment “to help people love where they live.” If you consider that the brain takes in 400 billion bytes of information per second but can consciously process only 2,000 bytes, we need to make every connection with customers count. The customer has other retail options and will abandon a bad experience. Industry estimates say abandonment cost the retail industry over $1.6 trillion last year.
2. How does Lowe’s make those important customer connections?
We have to cut through the noise in a meaningful way and give customers a reason to come into our stores and engage with us. Through journey mapping and developing authentic personas, we work to understand the customer journey so we can design experiences that minimize friction and reduce pain points while addressing their individual needs.
We must design with every touch point in mind. To the customer, it is not an omnichannel experience. It is their experience. We need to balance the equilibrium between digital minds and analog hearts--the digital space and the more emotional retail experience--to anticipate and respect the human needs and create moments that matter to customers, wherever they are. We must consider human factors to drive emotional attachment to the brand.
3. How will this improve the customer experience?
To be invited into the home improvement journey is both an honor and a great responsibility. Every day we must earn that trust and ensure the customer feels valued. We believe our associates are key to our success, and it is equally important to design experiences that ease friction for them. They are our front line and direct connection to the customer every day. If we consider and engage them in the co-creation of experiences, we achieve optimal benefits for the customer and the company. Impersonal transactions should become human connections and allow us to better serve customers.
4. How do we improve the effectiveness of marketing to customers?
There’s a lot of conversation currently about personalized [experiences]; it has almost become a conversational commodity. What if we were to instead think of it as more individualized, where the concept, campaign, or app is more specific to the individual needs of the customer we are trying to serve, where we design for the customer instead of fitting them into existing programs in place?
The experience cannot be personalized until we understand the individual first. We also hear a lot about the customer experience initiative. But customer experience is not an initiative. Customer experience is a promise, a change in mindset, and a conscious behavioral change with a commitment to designing optimal experiences that are value-added for the customer. Based on the pace of change in the retail industry, we must purposefully evolve with the business, and anticipate and reimagine solutions to serve the customer where they are.
Experience is a differentiator that requires collaborative design. Collaboration is a power source where we can leverage our best strengths: not to provide answers or to validate perspectives, but to ensure we are asking the right questions to move from transactional to transformational. At the end of the day, customer experience defines intentional connection points with the customer. It is not about what it does for them but how it makes them feel. We want them to feel valued and loved so we can share the home improvement journey together.
Here’s a recent example of how we implemented this: Prior to launching a new kitchen set recently, we questioned the layout. While it was a standard set in retail and what everyone was used to, we challenged ourselves to view it from a customer lens. In a collaborative effort with our merchant team, store environment experts, and vendor partners, we created a prototype of the set and then an alternate option that we believed might make the selection process easier and less stressful for the customer.
We invited customers in to see it and give their input. They selected the newer solution. We then engaged store associates, who gave us additional great feedback. We incorporated the feedback to create the new store solution, which is in over 100 stores right now and will be in a few hundred stores by year end. Together we’ll keep watching it to stay on track with the customer, anticipating their needs for an optimal experience.
Bonus: Here are Crowley’s six tips for designing an optimal customer experience:
- Be authentic. You can’t invest your heart and soul in a compromise.
- Keep the customer at the center of everything you do.
- Sometimes it’s OK to start with perfectly good enough versus perfect.
- Influence is way more important than authority.
- There is always more than one right answer. Go for the best one.
- Stand for something great. Prove it in everything you say and do.