Redefining Customer Interaction
You could argue it's just semantics, but sometimes rephrasing allows enough room to rethink a concept, a direction, or an expectation.
At Warren and Mahoney, we talk about Retail Transformation rather than retail design because where retail design limits the discussion to plans and finishes, Retail Transformation opens the conversation up to business strategies that consider all forms of retail and draw in various streams of the business.
Even the word Retail doesn’t get off scot free. The world has moved on from seeing retail as a black and white world of selling and buying. Retail, to us, is about an interaction. It is about a relationship between people, and how to create the best environment for that interaction.
Our approach to retail transformations is business-centric. We create physical solutions that enable staff to bring the desired customer experience to life. We spend a significant amount of time before putting pen to paper researching into what customers, staff and the business will need from the space. We do this by balancing customer experience principles against business foundation needs, immersing ourselves in future business trends and researching business stream delivery options. Without this background knowledge, it would be easy to create a slick 3D environment that doesn’t actually respond to business needs and customer requirements.
Retail, to us, is about an interaction. It is about a relationship between people, and how to create the best environment for that interaction.
What do customers want? This can be tricky to answer especially because people tend to fall back to things they know – change creates unease. An example of this thinking is new concept business space NAB is developing in Geelong, Australia. NAB saw the opportunity to foster a closer working relationship with their business customers; we started thinking of ways they could actively support those businesses, even beyond traditional banking services, and worked with us to develop that idea and design concept.
By conducting a series of discussions with their current clients about their ideas, expectations and apprehensions we discovered a trend thatmanufacturers were finding office costs were a expensive part of their operations, and many had moved their offices into their warehouses. This left a physical gap for where they could meet clients, hold seminars, training or internal meetings. We saw an opportunity for NAB to meet that need, and in addition to our documentation of spaces that took a similar approach, but within a different industry like airport lounges, we created a common space that operates as a co-share office as well as a banking environment.
For Australian company Tradelink, we have delved into a research project at the beginning of work to identify key requirements, who or what would be impacted by these decisions, and assigned priority. All of this was brought together in a series of Experience Principles and Objectives identifying Tradelink’s retail goals as being seen as Easy, Engaging and Expert. Having a distilled set of principles is important to guide the decision making once we do transition into planning and design work.
The physical retail environment doesn’t sit independently from the graphic branding, staff training, the website, or security in this new world of retail. It is a component of the total encounter which is why it is simplistic to separate out the retail design from the other elements of the experience. This is especially the case as the retail environment is changing from solely physical stores to both in-store and online. It is also not a situation of either/or; most customers will utilise both retail environments. It is then essential for the customer to be able to navigate between the two seamlessly, that both display the same messages, ease of use and atmosphere. To this end, we work alongside web developers, graphic designers, and company management to identify and create a hierarchy of aspects of the retail experience.
For both our BNZ and NAB banking projects some of these concepts were more brand-focussed like a sense that the bank supports one’s business and is easy to deal with. Other aspects have a more practical nature such as tellers dealing with money are secure and toilets are accessible.
In transforming the physical retail environment we also change expectations. For example, in a traditional BNZ branch tellers are positioned at the back of the space with promotions and messages elbowing for your attention as you walk to the back to do your transaction. We discovered that 75% of banking customers simply wanted to bank their cheque or transact business as quickly and painless as possible, and their perception of this spatial arrangement was that they would need to wait in a queue, they would be delayed, and that banking was a chore. This compelled us to design the fit out to move the tellers to the front of the space, with the plan fragmenting into more private spaces the further back from the doors. This allows the opportunity for those 25% of customers who have an additional business and banking need to talk to a banking advisors, or spend time with the promotions at their own leisure, but with more privacy and personal attention.
Perceptions can often be as important as the reality. As we conducted a series of focus groups with both staff and customers about this new forward-located teller positioning that also had fewer physical barriers between customers and tellers, we found that customers were concerned for the safety of the teller – perceiving the lack of barriers as a lack of security, while the staff, understanding more about new security technologies and having just been through best practice training, were not concerned about the lack of barriers.
While creating a space that supports customers is key, it is just as important to create a space tailored to the staff that will use the same environment. With a significant job to transform BNZ’s branches into a retail environment, we worked with many different streams of the bank from security to tellers to draw out the essential spatial and psychological requirements for those staff members to do their jobs well and efficiently.
Our approach prioritises the staff that use the space everyday, as it is their enthusiasm, ease of using the space and acceptance that will most dramatically affect customer dealings. By supporting the staff we also support the customer.
Because our Customer Experience Strategy for Retail Transformation is research-led, every project develops different design outcomes. The uniting factor is the focus on people. Because the key factor is this interaction, this communication between people, our strategy can be utilised for consumer shops, trade stores, government agencies and banks. We have worked with transforming the perception and experience of the New Zealand government’s agencies Work and Income and Child, Youth and Family to bring them together in a single space. This may not be the traditional understanding of a retail environment, but that idea of interaction and relationship allows us to design spaces that support the customers while also meeting business or government objectives.