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If you work in retail or any kind of service sector, chances are you will be familiar with the popular phrase 'the customer is always right.' The quote "Le client n'a jamais tort," is attributed to Swiss hotelier César Ritz, famous for the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London, and loosely translates to 'the customer is never wrong'.

This idea was revolutionary at the time Ritz coined it in the late 1800s when consumer protection was scant and the caveat, 'buyer beware' seems to have been the prevailing retail-consumer philosophy. Thankfully, the retail standard has transformed over the last 150 years and consumer rights and protections are now one of the principal factors of retail in the 21st century.

What's changed

While customer experience is still central to modern retail success, many people today misinterpret the slogan, taking it to mean 'do whatever the customer asks.' However, in the increasingly opaque, blended world of physical and digital commerce, the phrase is maybe, more about going the extra mile to understand each customer's underlying points of friction and providing a unique brand experience at every touch point.

Knowing that customer service is the ultimate goal, unpicking the strategy to deliver a unique, white-glove service is maybe the more challenging piece of the retail puzzle, as it incorporates everything from sourcing and procurement, warehouse and supply chain strategies all the way through to customer communications, and point-of-sale experience.

While a frictionless, phygital experience across all retail touch points is the modern-day equivalent of the shop windows of the past for brands, a fundamental (and often overlooked) element of delivering top customer experience lies squarely with store associates, ergo, the happier and more engaged your store associates are, the better the customer experience they'll provide and the happier the customer will ultimately be.

The role of the associate

As the numbers of shoppers returning to physical stores rebound to pre-pandemic levels, often its store associates that make the difference between an unremarkable or an unforgettable brand experience, so providing them with the tools, software and accurate customer (and inventory) data to deliver that 'A1' customer experience has never been more vital than in today's hyper-competitive retail environment.

Here are four key areas that retailers can focus on when it comes to creating unique customer experiences through happier, more engaged store associates and unified retail systems.

1. The checkout remains a vital area for retailers and understanding the changeable demographic and regional preferences of customers by providing choice in both payment and checkout options is certainly important. Offering ultra-fast transactions with optimized checkout flows and rapid scanning with locally cached item and price data allows customers to get on their way quickly once they're ready to checkout, making the store associate's more efficient and frictionless too.

2. There's nothing more frustrating as a store associate than having to navigate a 'clunky' point-of-sale application. A modern and refined user interface with intuitive navigation, clear information, and a familiar cart and checkout option that allows the associate to focus on the customer rather than the application they're using is a win every time.

3. Rock solid stability through native offline support is so important in an age when downtime is simply not tolerated by consumers. With this edgeless approach to servers store associates won't miss a beat and can continue to serve customers even if the store network experiences an outage or periods of system 'choppiness.'

4. When it comes to customer interactions, there's no such thing as knowing too much. By using powerful customer engagement tools to gain insights into a customer's cross channel purchase history and preferences, store associates can personalize every in-store interaction and make each customer feel unique, at the same time making their role more satisfying and smoother too.