What can we Learn from Verizon’s Next Gen Retail Experiences?

We were really excited to have recently been invited to see Verizon’s Next-Gen retail store and experience a VR demonstration they currently have at their SF location on Market Street. We got to have some great conversations with the people behind the new design concepts and took away several insights that can serve as great reminders.

1: Learn from other industries

Speaking with Kambiz Hemati, Head of Design, he told us how much they had learned from other industries when they were designing the new experience. Cross-industry learning can elevate your experience design for several reasons. For starters, it can open your eyes to new interactions, and more importantly, it enables convergence by supporting the ability to solve for multiple problems from multiple audiences who all have different needs.

Some examples that we saw in the store included:

  • Stock kept behind the product, with one of each product displayed – this concept has long been used at makeup counters. It enables the customers to interact with the product and allows a salesperson to quickly access the stock to smoothly move the customer along the purchase journey, without having to go to the stock room, or keep the customer waiting, in which time they may change their mind.
  • “A What We Love” section - just like in a bookstore where they highlight what the employees of the store love for recommendations, adding that personal touch.
  • “A Suggested Items” section next to complementary products - just like online purchasing.
  • An interchangeable product feature board - Like a billboard, as you enter the store it simply highlights a featured or trending product.
  • Collaboration or social zones – like a coffee shop, in the center of the store where people can gather, try out and talk about tech, “bringing good energy right to the center of the store,” says Hemati.

So, when designing your next experience, take a moment to look around and see what other industries are doing. If you are working on a fast-food ordering experience, what can you learn from a bank’s service model? For example, McDonald’s revolutionary Speedee System was inspired by the efficiency and speed of car factory assembly lines!

2: Engage the senses

When designing experience it is critical to engage the senses. After all, experiences are based on emotions – what someone sees, hears, feels, and interacts with will evoke certain emotions and either drive the desired behavior or not. It can be the subtle design elements that together evoke positive emotions.

There were several elements of the new store that were designed to engage the customer senses, including:

  • The phones on display were angled so that a customer could easily see them from the moment they enter the store. This, complimented by the pleasing mix of natural feeling material beside these man-made devices evoked a feeling of approachability.
  • Precise lighting angles were used from the subtle branding of Verizon checkmarks – all which gave a sense of cohesion. When things are designed slightly off, you feel it, you are not sure why, but something feels not right. By having the subtlest of elements being designed cohesively, the feeling of comfort, and therefore trust, can be evoked.
  • The materials felt specifically chosen to compliment the modern and streamlined aesthetic of the store, such as sleek steel, and the inclusion of durable material such as real wood which evoked a visual feeling of quality that is meant to last.

The touch experience was also a key focus area. For many, when we say the touch experience people immediately think of touch screens. Here, the touch experience was about the products. They were all out of the boxes so that they were approachable and encouraged customers to interact directly with the product. We have all been there, eyeing up and down the aisle, making sure that the coast is clear as you try peeling back the corner of the box just to get a peek inside at the product, or even getting a chance to cop a feel before someone catches you. By displaying the actual product, Verizon welcomes the interaction, providing a sense of comfort as you allow your fingers to explore every button and corner of the product, freely and without worry. It feels natural to touch as well as to interact with, which in turn enables a customer to really envision the product as a part of their life, something they can have. The impact of this is clear, the ability to touch has “led to increased accessory sales,” says Hemati.

While touch is great, we would even go one step further, for example engage more senses that give the customer an indication of what the experience is in their life and in their context. One example would be using the headphones to plug in and listen to their favorite playlist from their own device.

When designing your experiences, even if it is digital only, ask yourself how you can engage the senses and what emotions do you want to evoke?

3: Don’t blindly follow the latest tech buzz, think about the application

So many organizations follow the latest buzz trend. They see a buzz and quickly ask themselves, how can we use this? Not in this case. As many of the leaders in CX do, Verizon ensured that each decision was rolled up to if it was delivering the desired experience vision.

Through their research they found that many shoppers, tend to know what they want, they have done some research and come in with an idea. Therefore, the goal is to enable them to see the products, keep it clean, to simply enable sight and focus. “The flow of the experience design was simple: attract, engage, connect,” Hemati told us.

While you can see many examples of this, 3 of them included:

  • Making the retail space about the product, so that the product is what is noticed: while many in retail experience design go more for architecture and achieve their experience through a more “designed space”, Verizon went with less of this, providing a more open space where the architecture importantly delivers the experience, but ensures that the products are at the center. This is not to say that designing the space is not important, quite the contrary, it means that for them and their experience vision the design of the space was not what they wanted noticed. The space was simple and consistent: 3 colors, 3 materials – allowing focus on the product in a self-service friendly way.
  • While many have gone to the “slap-a-screen-on-it” mode with the intent of providing interactive and engaging experiences, Verizon made sure the design decisions aligned to their core vision and principles. As Hemati put it, “we are a device store, we do not need another one. People can touch screens at home, so why would they come here for that?” Verizon, in fact, went away from screens with screens being used for limited displays located in one area. There were less posters, less screens and less adverts. This limited visual clutter kept focus on the products and reduced customer distractions.
  • While many have gone bot-crazy, Hemati refreshingly put it that in their experience vision, “humans are incredibly important, the customers are coming in for that experience, not for a robot. They are not coming in for a transaction, they are coming in for that human expertise”. He went on to explain that bots certainly have their place, as they can make the mechanics easier for things like contracts and admin, allowing the humans to have more time to provide an exceptional customer experience.

In thinking about automation and other technology that can remove some of the tactical efforts in your experience ecosystem, ask yourself, what are humans now enabled to achieve?

4: Think about the impact to employees

Another aspect we spoke to Hemati about was the employees, as they play a critical role in delivering on the Experience agenda. He talked to several examples of employee enablement through design:

  • They can shift merchandise quickly and easily through flexible furnishings.
  • They were kept in mind as the new experience is being rolled out, with training and conversations throughout the organization at every level.
  • The design concept itself was built around making it easier for employees to tell stories.
  • The products being out of the box made it easier for them to learn, as they too can touch and feel the products, and therefore describe it better to customers. Think of a waiter that has tried the menu items versus one that has only read the description.

No shocker here, it seems the focus on employees has paid off, “they are super energized by seeing the company move in this direction. Not only can they understand where we are going, but they are seeing us take the steps to get there,” Hemati told us.

As you design, remember to design with your employees and their needs in mind from the start – not as an afterthought or simply as a delivery aspect.

5: Connect the organizational dots to bring value from the intersections

Of course, we had to talk to the organizational aspect of such a focus on CX. As we all know, the organizations underlying mechanisms, will either expedite the success of the CX agenda, or be it’s greatest barrier.

Hemati spoke to a key organizational element: driving a focus on inclusion, telling us that “there is synergy from all parts of Verizon. There is cool stuff that people do not know about, so we are looking at how can we bring this into the experience”.

Newly appointed Chief Customer Experience Officer, Scott Zimmer, who was about 4 months in when we spoke with him, told us about how the experience strategy was formulated given the collide of physical and digital experiences. He spoke to how they had, “looked at online shopping and the patterns that they saw there – for example, browsing for a phone, then a data plan.” He mentioned that they wanted it to “feel natural, regardless of the channel the customer chose to use.” One application of their findings was in language, bringing the devices into the human dimension – with devices for living, playing, and business. This fluidity across the experience is critical and requires organizational fluidity to bring together the right components and cohesion.

Naturally, we had to ask him about his experience with organizational culture and his advice for CX leaders: “work on partnerships, they are super important” he simply put it. He spoke to the many parts of Verizon which have a long history of excellence and caring about the customer experience – for him, it was how to connect the dots for the experience, across the organization, and across channels. He spoke to the importance of a connected mission that everyone can stand behind. For them, where connectivity is the center of daily life – they are aligned in wanting to find, “ways to matter more and more to real humans.”

6: Remember measures have scope

Measuring the right things is critical to CX, and it happens at various levels of granularity, for different purposes. One level is in design – measuring the experience at the interaction level and iterating. In Verizon’s case, they had conducted a lot of upfront research to enable their design, and as Hemati informed us, they had tested the concepts back in November 2016, and had iterated to what you see today. They found things to improve from fixtures, to merchandise, lighting, and tech issues – all of which would have likely been missed without this critical testing.

When looking strategically, we asked Zimmer, how their organizational measures has had to change given the new experience. He had some good words of advice for anyone looking to measure CX, “there are key metrics, such as NPS which is a summary metric, then there are specific metrics, how do customers interact with different parts of the experience, we look at different levels of what we call zoom.”

We also like to add one more layer that has been finding its way into the industry spotlight lately: proactive measures – understanding what is important so that you can understand impacts before making decisions.

And, what about the VR?

A large amount of floor space was dedicated to a VR experience. It was “a nod to San Francisco, it was the experience from a local viewpoint” says Bryn Mooser, RYOT co-founder. The experience had a distinct museum vibe to it, evoking the desire to interact.

We spoke to Mooser about where we are with AR, VR, and mixed reality. As Mooser told us, “it is hard to see a future where some area is not affected. Think of retail, transport, or travel.” The future applications of this technology are indeed numerous – for example, in retail trying products or in travel experiencing locations. When it comes to the retail experience, Mooser spoke to the use cases for demonstrations, product explanations, and the ability to create better stories. This is key, the opportunity exists to not just tell stories, but to experience them.

For Verizon, from the next-gen store perspective, the focus is the roll out and bringing consistency to the customer experience be it a pop-up, fixed retail, or indirect and then looking at how to incorporate the tech – such as AR and VR – in the right way.

From our perspective – it was a trip! It was truly an immersive feeling. That same pang and stomach flutter you feel with being in the tallest tower in Shanghai, there it was, while you soared above the clouds all the the while your feet are firmly planted on the ground. It really served as a reminder for the impact of emotions, and, with this technology at play, the possibilities are endless. If you get the chance, check it out!

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