The optimal customer experience should be be frictionless. Frictionless technology and design is in essence about reducing the energy required by an experience. In other words, the customer experience would be improved without the customer having to do anything more (not repeat anything they’re already said, or press extra buttons on a screen, etc.).

I read recently that McDonald’s had acquired a company called Dynamic Yield. So far so ‘not very interesting’. Don’t worry, I had no idea who Dynamic Yield were either. Turns out that they are a software company who are leaders in personalisation and decision logic technology. Where it gets really interesting is that this technology can allow McDonald’s to provide an even more personalised experience to its customers. The software will mean that they can vary their outdoor digital drive-through menu displays in real-time based on a raft on continuous data points – think things like the time of day, current wait times for specific items, which menu items are popular or not at that moment and even the weather.  So, for example, if the sun is out, everyone might be ordering McFlurry’s but the wait time is long, so it would suggest to try a milkshake instead.

McDonald's drive through with a man receiving an order through his car windows from the member of staff
McDonalds’ drive through

The decision technology can also instantly suggest and display additional items to a customer’s order based on their current selections. Sound familiar? This sort of technology is common place in the online world, however this acquisition means that McDonald’s are putting the foundations in place to take the uber-personalised online experience through into their bricks-and-mortar stores.

What this means for the future of retail is anyone’s guess, however what it continues to show is that the most forward-thinking companies are thinking about technology, not in isolation, but as solutions to solve the continued quest of improving customer experience. Being an online solution or an offline solution, or both, it doesn’t really matter – any business that has customers needs to constantly strive to ensure that the experience these customers receive is the best in can be, and better than your competitors – for that is the only true way to win consistent, long-term, customer loyalty.

There was a nice little video doing the rounds on LinkedIn the other day of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, speaking in 1999 about the future for his Amazon business. It was during the inflation of the internet bubble and clearly the interviewer is obsessed about the online v offline paradox – the lesson here, is that Jeff Bezos wasn’t. He was obsessed about improving the customer experience as best he good.

If you’ve got the time have a watch for yourself here: Jeff Bezos 1999 CNN interview

It still strikes me that many retailers still obsess about price – how much can I buy it for and how much can I sell it for. A fine strategy, if the business operates in a vacuum. When you ask the majority of shoppers they will also say that price is the most important thing for them. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll only find a small percentage of people who know the difference in price of products from one store to another or even know the exact amount they’ve just spent on something straight after they’ve walked out of a store. Think about the last time you bought a soft drink or a chocolate bar – how much was it? Was it more expensive than the last time you bought it from somewhere else?

Furthermore, scan through the millions of comments on Trip Advisor and other such websites and you won’t find a lot of people talking about prices on there. They are, however, talking about customer service (good and bad), the experience they had (good or bad) and whether they would go back/use again and whether they would recommend to their friends and family. Simply this is because it’s customer service and the customer experience that resonates at the deepest level – it’s what people talk about and ultimately is how we truly judge a retailer, operator or brand.

Are you as laser-focussed on delivering the best customer experience as you possibly can? McDonald’s have deep pockets, that much is obvious, so can invest in the latest technology to improve the experience for their customers. However, it’s rooted in that fundamental purpose. Earlier this week, I saw something similar, but on a much smaller scale, in the Pret outside Victoria station in central London.

Pret-a-manger in Victoria Station, touchscreen device
Pret Victoria Station, touchscreen device

A small tablet on the wall that allowed shoppers to search the menu of items in-store, e.g. for key ingredients (either because they wanted something with that in, or because they wanted to avoid it).  Clearly the recent allergen scandal has had some impact on this innovation, but it’s also a tool for good – helping customers quickly scan the range for what they like or don’t like – as quickly as you could online, but within the in-store environment.

Apply this to even the most traditional of retail stores on your high street. How easy is it to find the products you’re looking for? How relevant are the products on display (and on the most prominent displays)? How quickly can you pick your items and pay for them? If you have a question will there be a way for it to be answered – either through staff or other means? Machine learning and website optimisation means the online experience that many of us encounter, intuitively bends to our will. The same cannot be said of the offline experience – however, the customer in many ways sees no difference. All they want, from both mediums, is a good experience.

As Jeff Bezos says – “If there’s one thing that we’re about is obsessive attention to the customer experience”. He may be someone who knows what they’re talking about…

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