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  • NETMEDIA International

The customer experience across the world is multi-cultural and colorful

If customer experience is an increasingly shared concern, it is expressed differently on each continent or geographic zone. Here's a look at the standards applicable to each country and the innovations that could extend beyond their original borders.

The customer experience is not only a key element of business performance. It is also a strong cultural indicator, expressing the consideration a brand has for its customers and the means it uses to satisfy them. In the United States, the commercial relationship is based on trust and quality of service. Japan invented the concept of Omotenashi, which is difficult to translate, and which expresses the extreme hospitality and politeness owed to the customer, who is welcomed as a distinguished guest during his shopping experiences, for a trip or in his administrative procedures. China never ceases to surprise us with its appetite for technology. French or Italian restaurants leave memorable impressions on tourists from all over the world...

The latest edition of BETC Fullsix's X Index study, carried out with OpinionWay and whose results were revealed in March 2021, highlights some national characteristics: 14% of the French and 15% of the Americans are particularly concerned that brands keep their commitments, to the point of making it one of the three most discriminating criteria of their customer experience. Perhaps as a side effect of the health crisis and the distancing that has often been inserted into the commercial relationship, the attention and efficiency of salespeople have in contrast ceased to be discriminating criteria in China and the United States. "The crisis has reoriented the fundamentals around values and not just financial or marketing elements. In a world that is increasingly digital, we need to rethink design, content and interactions to be able to surprise the customer," says Stéphanie Lafontaine, Lead Experience Designer at Accenture Interactive.

The XXL experience works in Asia

Asian retail spaces already reflect this ambition. In the Ginza Six Department Store, opened in Tokyo in 2017, the visitor's eye is drawn to gigantic hangings of contemporary artists in the atrium or exhibitions of digital artworks, the Noh theater in the basement and the hanging garden on the top floor, or the gigantic cultural space offered by Tsutaya Books and Starbucks. Miyashita Park has an open-air space at the top for practicing various urban sports, while luxury boutiques rub shoulders with streetwear brands on the street level. The Toranoman Azabudai project, still under construction, will spread out over an entire neighborhood with luxury apartments with commercial strolls that will create a sort of contemporary Babylonian garden.

This opening to other sectors such as hotels, office real estate, sports and entertainment is also being explored in the United States, where malls are seeking to reinvent themselves in hybrid forms. In many cities, these symbols of the American lifestyle and mass consumption began to decline after the financial crisis of 2008, competing with e-commerce, but probably also due to a poor or outdated customer experience. To make it easier for customers to find their way around its stores - and to avoid wasting too much time there - Walmart has designed an application with Fitch that guides them to the product they are looking for, allows them to check its price and then to check out by presenting their smartphone.

The U.S. remains at the center of dynamic experiences

American consumers remain committed to innovation, and major brands continue to roll out their most jarring and now phygital experiences in this country. In the "House of Innovation" connected store concept, which Nike inaugurated in 2019 on 5th Avenue in New York before rolling it out in Shanghai and then Paris, customers are invited to use the Nike App mobile app to request the products they will pick up in the fitting room, can design custom models, pay on touch tablets...

This country is also more advanced than others on personalization. Before a global launch in September 2021, Yves Saint Laurent has launched pre-bookings of its Rouge sur mesure offer on its American e-shop, based on the Perso connected box from L'Oréal's Tech Incubator. By combining three cartridges of the YSL color chart, users can create thousands of personalized lipstick shades and test them in selfie on their smartphone via the associated app.

Northern Europe goes back to basics

The Scandinavians are experts in recycling, ecology and the fight against waste. Leboncoin was inspired by the Swedish website Blocket, which allowed people in the Skåne region in the south of the country to buy and sell items to their neighbors back in 1996. In the same vein of the circular economy, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria claims to be the first shopping mall dedicated to recycling, opened in 2015 and backed by the municipality of a small town an hour outside Stockholm. Everything sold there comes from a warehouse where discarded, donated or abandoned products are collected, which are then recycled or refurbished before being released for sale in the fifteen stores of the shopping center. The latter also organizes events, workshops and conferences to raise public awareness of the circular economy and environmental issues. A center almost like any other that also hosts an organic restaurant and pop-up stores. Ikea will take up residence there to offer second-hand furniture from a nearby store.

The U.S. is ahead of the curve in commercial or service use of drones, which are meeting growing customer demand for fast service, even beyond city centers. Wing (an Alphabet subsidiary) has opened up drone delivery in rural Virginia. UPS, which has been testing these solutions since 2019, launched a service in January 2021 with telecom operator Verizon that relies on 5G and has provided 3,800 deliveries to 77,000 isolated retirees in Florida villages. Amazon Prime Air has also been authorized to launch tests of package delivery using drones.

China, a test area for new proposals

The Chinese frenzy for consumption is almost a routine at each 11.11 organized by Alibaba. China is also one of the most advanced countries in terms of consumer experience: "Co-creation and open innovation are driven to the extreme. Customers are invited to express their needs or ideas about the functionality of a product. As soon as there are enough requests, the brands launch a prototype, which renews the offer. Except in the luxury world, the Chinese prefer Chinese brands first and foremost and, for the moment, the domestic market is sufficient for them to develop. As soon as this country needs or wants to open its doors, we will see a whole series of brands with new functionalities", predicts Brice Auckenthaler, co-founder and partner at Tilt ideas by Kéa, a strategic innovation consulting firm.

Meeting the expectations of Chinese consumers is not easy, even for the Western luxury brands they are so fond of. "They expect the brand to be able to personalize a product, a service or a communication and to echo their culture. It is therefore important to integrate the key dates of the market and to adapt the messages to this calendar, but also to work with local personalities alongside international muses", reminded Pablo Mauron, CEO of Digital Luxury Group China, during a workshop on "China and luxury", organized in spring by Tmall Luxury (Alibaba).

Chinese consumers often prefer to trust their peers and rely on Key Opinion Customers (KOCs), who share their feedback on social platforms. Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are very important in highlighting products during live streaming sessions, which have become as important as the physical shopping experience for many Chinese. When they manage to find the right relays, the right activation on the different social platforms and the right influencers, the big luxury brands find in this country a (necessarily) numerous clientele and an essential growth relay.

With its aptitude for testing and adopting innovations, this country is a great playground for customer or employee experience solutions, and for new business concepts. Many of them are based on innovations that are difficult to transpose outside China, especially when they are based on facial recognition, but technology is not the only lever that brands are testing in the Middle Kingdom. Last January, L'Occitane opened its first #MEGA (Make Earth Green Again) concept store in Hong Kong. The concept of a 100% sustainable store is reflected in the store's layout, which favors cardboard and wood, the presentation of products with several types of packaging, and a proposal to recycle used bottles, which is also the basis of the loyalty program.

"Contactless" is spreading everywhere

Despite cultural differences, the relationship with brands, needs and behaviors of consumers around the world are slowly becoming smoother. Boosted by digital technology, immediacy is a widely shared demand around the world. "This expectation of customers has created a kind of hysteria. Technology helps to go faster but is never an end in itself. In some cases, for example during a claim, the speed with which the insurer responds to an irritant or a moment of truth can make all the difference for the customer and on the market," notes Brice Auckenthaler. The French start-up Luko already promised to manage simple claims in two hours, thanks to an assessment carried out on video or via photo submissions. The partnership with mobile payment player Lydia has taken this a step further, as reimbursement is now instantaneous, something no traditional insurer is able to offer.

Contactless payment is also gaining ground everywhere, and not just because of the pandemic. In many countries, using your cell phone to pay is a way to get around the lack of a bank card. Some governments promote it to avoid corruption with cash... All sorts of experiments are being developed: Nestlé has launched smartphone-controlled coffee machines in Russia and China to anticipate the return to the office. In Japan, where vending machines are ubiquitous, Coca Cola has launched a new loyalty program Coke ON, in which the customer pays by flashing his mobile on the machine. With the cell phone linked to a loyalty card, the customer gets quite high rewards and the company gets "in-house" data to better know its consumers.

More innovative technologies are also being tested. For example, L'Oréal has worked with Ircam, a research institute for acoustics and music associated with the Centre Pompidou, on a project combining artificial intelligence and neuroscience to translate the sensuality of Viktor&Rolf's Spicebomb Infrared fragrance into sound, whose spicy notes promise to raise body temperature. In a way, feel the effects of the perfume without ever smelling it... "An e-commerce platform can perfectly integrate sound. Having a color chart or a sound grammar that expresses the nuances of a product can help the buyer to realize its qualities or characteristics and give a new dimension to the online purchase", underlines Stéphanie Lafontaine.

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