Naeem ArifNaeem ArifMay 13, 2019
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10min954

A recent PWC report highlighted that 2018 saw the largest ‘net loss of retail stores’ on the high street.

We are consistently hearing about a retail ‘crisis’, and how difficult trading conditions suggest the high street is in demise. Our high streets and town centres are often the core of our communities and so we have invested a lot of resources investigating this issue.

However, we still see more than 500 new businesses form each week in the UK, so are we really seeing the demise of the high street or is something else happening?

Research by the Midlands Retail Forum (MRF) indicates that it is not all doom and gloom – there are many great examples of retailers and town centres getting it right. Experts say it’s about creating a great experience, but what does that mean in practical terms?

I recently visited the Touchwood Centre in Solihull and spent some time with their General Manager, Tony Elvin, to see how they were approaching this challenge.

Tony has an impressive CV as a former health club and hotel manager, which led to him being head-hunted to take on the challenge of managing this prestigious shopping outlet in one of the most affluent regions in the country. While many people talk about creating a great experience for their guests, a walk around the centre showed me exactly how his team were living and breathing this concept.

His approach can be summarised in a single sentence: “We are always thinking about how we can create a compelling reason for people to visit Touchwood.”

Where he could have said “important” or “unique”, he uses the word “compelling”, and that tells me the exact emotion that he is trying to create in his target customer. He has two customers in mind – businesses that can become tenants, and visitors to the centre.

Most shopping centres offer free Wi-Fi, coffee shops and easy parking. What else is needed?

“We are constantly looking at finding different ways to increase the number of people who will visit and once here, we want them to stay longer. We know that the longer they stay, the more money they are likely to spend,” Tony tells me.

Visiting somewhere like Touchwood means different things for different people; an avid shopper may want to walk down aisles of stores, browsing way more than they are buying. A focused shopper may need to come in for a specific item, pick it up and leave.

What about the ‘passengers’ – the husband/wife or kids who come along for the ride? The challenge is that a visiting family may have a mix of shoppers, who all need to be entertained. The answer is not to simply have more shops – you have to satisfy all these needs.

Most centres have some form of leisure activity, and in Touchwood’s case it has a cinema, restaurants, bars, and on top of that they also run theme-based activities. Recently they held an Easter egg hunt and a chocolate-themed escape room as a way of keeping kids entertained whilst their parents were shopping.

Some upcoming projects include concept restaurants that combine casual dining with a form of leisure activity. Food is an important part of the Touchwood experience and they are actively looking to strike a balance between trusted brands and new independent eateries to keep what’s on offer fresh and exciting. Tony himself recently helped to secure the arrival of two new independent dining concepts, with the launch of Carribbean eatery Jamaya and Asha’s restaurant in the centre.

“There is a lack of leisure activities available in Solihull and we are looking at more ways to increase those opportunities within Touchwood,” continues Tony.

“If we could get a gym, mini-golf, or bowling here, then it’s another reason for someone to visit and combine some shopping with leisure activities. We were delighted that we were able to entice Jamaya and Asha’s to join the Touchwood family. I knew the owners of each concept and knew that they would offer something different, but also deliver it at the appropriate quality for Touchwood’s visitors.”

The Touchwood team look to market trends as well as conducting their own research to keep updated on what their customers want. Social trends are monitored online, while feedback and comments are seen as opportunities to learn and improve. In addition, they also take feedback from their tenants and visitors and email out surveys.

The things they want to know include:

·      Who is visiting?

·      What triggers a visit?

·      What are the habits when they are in Touchwood?

This research has allowed them to understand that customers who use a click & collect service often go on to spend more when they come to collect. If a visitor is already here, it is more convenient for them to buy additional items in person than  to do so online.

Something Tony learned from his previous experience was how reaching out into the local community can help strengthen relations. Community projects are invited into Touchwood when possible. Recently this has seen them earn a national award by working with local college students to showcase their artwork as well as hosting a Young Enterprise marketplace.

“If we are making money from the local community, then it is imperative that we get involved with that community and ensure we are doing our bit to give back as well,” Tony adds.

“As such we work with local schools, colleges, charities, and businesses as an active participant in Solihull life. Since taking on this role, I have been appointed Vice President of the Solihull Chamber of Commerce and also Deputy Chair of the Solihull BID. By working with the BID, the Chamber, and other local stakeholders there is a far better chance of delivering sustainable success for Solihull and Touchwood.”

The enthusiasm and approach of Touchwood is refreshing and it’s clear they are looking towards partnering up with their tenants and the local community for mutual benefit. While they continue with this approach, will see further success ahead, and there are definitely lessons here to be learned for other shopping centres and high street retailers.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMay 7, 2019
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4min750

With Customer Experience firmly cemented in the consumer consciousness, and the key differentiator for brands in the modern retail landscape, a raft of new titles are hitting bookshelves in a bid help businesses craft their CX offering according to the advice of experts.

Following in the footsteps of established authors such as CX Masterclass leader Ian Golding (whose Customer What? The honest and practical guide to customer experience is now required reading for any customer-focussed professional), is a new league of writers keen to share their secrets, and guide readers towards a better understanding of what they should – and shouldn’t – do when it comes to being customer-centric.

Among these is Naeem Arif, who having joined United Carpets Group in Birmingham back in 2006, knows a thing or two about rolling out the red carpet for customers. Puns aside, his new book, Customer First, sees Arif pack his two decades-plus experience in management consultation, and his own razor-sharp retail acumen, into a concise tome that offers digestible insight using case studies, exercises, and good old-fashioned expertise.

The book guides us through the various stages of the Customer First transformation journey, while also offering a portal into the mind of a customer – how they think, feel, and react to your engagement. Readers are walked through techniques used to create advocates out of consumers, but as any CX professional will tell you – it isn’t going to be easy, and many fall by the wayside before getting close to the level of customer centricity they need to survive.

As Arif states: “It’s not a short route; it needs planning, persistence, and professionalism”.

Thankfully, Customer First has professionalism in spades, and your planning and persistence will enjoy a boost after the inspiring author takes you through key levels such as understanding your customer through methods such as profiling and creating customer ‘avatars’.

The whole journey is here: from customer loyalty programmes, utilising social media platforms in a meaningful way, and dealing with the difficulties caused by complaints, while an outstanding later chapter looks at how a business can create its own unique Customer Service Strategy using simple steps.

Arif also encourages the reader to remember something that is all too-often forgotten: “Your objective is to keep customers on the journey – there is no end.”

CX texts that offer fast, practical help are always a favourite here at Customer Experience Magazine, and Customer First is one of the best we have read in terms of providing the kind of immediate advice regularly sought by brands, big and small.

So don’t be fooled by its slim spine – Customer First punches above its weight, and will no doubt be well-thumbed in boardrooms around the UK and beyond before too long.

Customer First, by Naeem Arif, is available now from Writing matters Publishing.

 

 

 




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