Branding, Robin’s Blog

An App For Hugging? Never, Ever at Mitchells

RR Jack mitchellThere should be a Master’s degree in customer engagement (MCE) obtainable from Harvard or any of the other top-tiered universities. It should be as revered and valued as an MBA, including comparable compensation.  And every retail associate or associate wannabe, for both online and off, should be required to obtain that degree. Why? Because it is the most critically important job in retail, even more important than all the hotshot jobs in the C-suite. I use the word engagement, rather than service, because readers’ eyes tend to glaze over upon reading about customer service, a term they have become desensitized to because of its redundant over-use. Plus it has become a “paying-lip-service” term for too many retailers.

In fact, the MCE curriculum could be copied right out of Jack Mitchell’s revised and updated book: “Hug Your Customers,” published by Hachette Books, on sale today. For readers who are not aware of Mitchells Family of Stores, they are a group of five upscale designer and luxury goods stores (Mitchells, Richards, Marshs and two Wilkes Bashford stores) that have total annual revenues north of $125 million and growing. While there are a few other retailers with notably high levels of customer engagement (Nordstrom for sure), Mitchells is legendary for their over-the-top personalized connectivity with each and every customer, starting from day one in 1958 when they were founded.

The reason for the book update is to describe how Mitchells Family of Stores not only navigated through the Great Recession, but also actually grew its business during those years. And in my opinion, more significantly, Mitchell tells us how technology and the Internet have impacted their businesses, in particular its positive effect on engaging with their connected-at-the-hip customers and how it enhances the associates’ ability to personalize their customers’ shopping experiences.

Technology Doesn’t Hug People, People Do.

Technology, the Internet, smartphones, apps, big data, omnichannel, virtual fashion mirrors, bar-scanned videos, fit solutions, touchscreen interactive shopping devices, digital wallets, LED screens, and more, are all cool and in some cases awesome shopping enhancers and enablers. And that’s all they are: enhancers and enablers. If you are not up to date on all of these tech marvels, with, more rolling out daily, you’re stuck in the starting gate. By the time you get out, the race will be over.

This is the brutal truth of our tech/digital age. However, and more importantly, there’s a larger truth that will kill retailers faster than not embracing technology. That is embracing technology for technology’s sake, obsessing over it, believing that if you don’t grab each new tech concept as it appears, you will fall behind. Adopting technology for the sake of being able to brag about it, whether on a seminar panel or in a keynote speech, declaring about how hip and cool your tech-enabled business is, you will end up where you belong — on panels.

Marketing 101 has not changed. The human touch at point of sale, online and off is still imperative. Technology is but a tool to augment a “higher touch” experience. The most indelible, unchanging truth since the dawn of trade thousands of years ago, is that the last, but most important link in the value chain, where the trade is made, is a human being. This is true even when the trade is made online. In fact, Mitchells figured out how to connect their online shoppers with the same personal associates who engage, guide and personalize the customer experience in their physical stores. This came out of their early commitment to design their technology systems focusing on their customers as opposed to internal operations (inventory optimization and allocation, banking and financial issues), which most retailers focus on. Essentially, each customer becomes an “SKU” and an associate can download a personal profile of each, including not only product preferences, but also where they work, family names, the pet’s name, birthdays, graduation dates, and on and on. And by the way, this information is obtained only by the associates politely requesting it, and Mitchells’ extended family of customers give it with the implicit trust that it will be used for personalizing their shopping experience. So the associate can send a “hug” out to them on their birthday and when the customer logs on to Mitchells’ site. Customers can always connect with their personal associates online to guide them through the merchandise, just as they would in the physical store.

Indeed, Jack Mitchell specifically uses the “hug your customer” metaphor to extend to wherever they are — on the Internet, on their smartphone, in their living rooms, in the coffee shop, on the beach, or in the store. The book is full of hundreds of stories about how the Mitchell family and their extended family of hugging associates, all with MCE degrees, have made those personal connections.

For those readers who love taking tests, the book’s Appendix is a “Hugging Achievement Test” or “HAT, which could be synonymous with a GMAT. So if a Mitchells’ associate wannabe (or any senior management reader of The Robin Report) can pass the HAT, then they qualify for admission into Harvard business school to earn their MCE, (when Harvard adopts Mitchell’s curriculum).

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