By Caley Iandiorio

Delivering a unique, differentiated and effective customer experience is the Mount Everest of retail. Retailers operate in a highly competitive industry where a wealth of choice gives consumers ultimate control over the buyer-seller relationship. This control has led to a consistent increase in expectations when it comes to the optimal customer experience, putting significant pressure on retailers to deliver.

So how can retailers maintain their discipline in delivering a relevant and quality experience?

According to customer experience guru Harley Manning, Vice President and Analyst at Forrester Research, retailers must be willing to disrupt their business. During a presentation at the Demandware 2014 XChange Conference last month, Manning referenced his recent book, Outside In, talking about the critical juncture in a customer’s shopping journey, where a retailer can provide a strong customer experience that encourages a customer to re-engage instead of seeking an alternative place to shop.

To be most successful in establishing loyal customers, Manning introduced six disciplines to help retailers establish a strong and enduring customer experience program.

  1. Strategy
  2. Customer Understanding
  3. Design
  4. Measurement
  5. Governance
  6. Culture

Manning focused on the first three disciplines:

  • Strategy—this first and critical step requires leaders to evaluate their business and brand strategy to effectively guide the customers’ experience. What type of experience is promised by the brand, and what are customers’ expectations?
  • Customer Understanding—this encompasses building a thorough understanding of consumers’ needs and desires as they relate to your products or services. It is impossible to service a customer’s needs successfully if you don’t truly understand what’s influencing their decision. Are they buying something for work? An interview? A date? How does that affect how they shop and how retailers need to service them?
  • Design—leveraging the brand strategy and customer insight, retailers should design and execute a shopping experience that aligns with the company’s brand and meets the customer’s needs in a simple and enjoyable way.

Following these three disciplines will help retailers create a loyal customer base.

So here’s your challenge. Think about how your customers view the experience you provide, and what you want that customer experience to look like. Do they align? If not, think through your strategy for customer engagement and be sure it aligns to your brand. These two things should always be unified and consistent.