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The Rise of the Grocery CX Officer & Implications for the Industry

Frustration in aisle 7? A recent CB4 survey of more than 1,000 U.S. grocery shoppers found that when these consumers can’t find an item they want, more than half will ask a sales associate. But nearly as many shoppers (49%) admit they’ve headed to a local competitor instead.

In recent years, the retail industry has seen a rise in the presence of customer experience officers—as well as media coverage of those in such positions. These executives are tasked with far more than having the products those shoppers want. They’re also focused on helping retailers create memorable and relevant encounters for shoppers. The latest crop of customer experience officers (also called CXOs, chief customer officers, or CCOs), however, speaks of positions beginning to infiltrate the grocery sector.

Grocery Dive notes that these executives are growing increasingly vital as retailers seek to deliver streamlined experiences across all channels. Also driving the trend: the increasingly competitive nature of the grocery sector and the continued thinning of margins.

Walmart, Sprouts, Publix Super Markets and Raley’s had all hired their of version of a customer experience officer by late 2018, and Grocery Dive expects more to pop up this year. In addition, Vision Critical shared how a CXO can help clarify the company’s vision for customer experience, accelerate company-wide transformation, and unite the leadership team around customer-driven growth. As this continues to catch on, the grocery industry may never be the same. Read on for three ways customer experiences officers are transforming grocery.


Empowering Employees

As it turns out, customer experience (CX) isn’t just about the experience of the customer. Innovative customer experience officers see happy, mission-aligned employees as the key to elevating CX.

Dierdre Zimmermann, the first-ever chief customer experience officer for Raley’s, is tasked with better integrating customer and employee experiences both online and in-store. In a prepared statement, Zimmermann states that the organization strives to put both team members and customers “at the center of our vision to deliver a differentiated experience that transcends price and product offering.”

How exactly is Zimmermann contributing to this vision? Progressive Grocer did note in December that Raley’s had employed a variety of initiatives to “help create a more convenient, enjoyable shopping experience for its customers.” On Raley’s list this year are a new website, a YouTube series aimed at helping shoppers make better dietary decisions, an app that allows customers to use mobile to manage their prescriptions, and more. It will be worth watching to see how Zimmermann helps move these initiatives forward.

Beyond these plans, there’s not a ton of information available yet on Zimmermann’s plan to  bolster employees. Savvy grocers determined to improve employee retention and provide exceptional service will keep a close eye. It will be interesting to see how Zimmermann, previously Raley’s senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce, updates her strategy to meet these needs.


Making Shopping Fun & Engaging

One way that CXOs are striving to increase customer engagement is by making shopping fun. Publix is one of the grocers leading the way. Grocery Dive describes how recent shifts in Publix’s C-suite include bringing a CX executive on board.

The position, according to Grocery Dive, highlights both the importance of customer service and the idea of making shopping trips “fun and engaging.” Publix already strives to do just that. KPMG’s 2018 US Customer Experience Excellence Analysis lauds Publix for using in-store demonstrations as an added touch to showcase the the meal of the day and highlight its ingredients.

Online initiatives are further helping Publix deepen connections with customers. The grocer has begun airing free YouTube cooking classes, encouraging participation and community through live chats and distributing the recipes in advance. We’ll have to wait to see how Publix’s new customer experience officer innovates on this, and the role technology will play in adding fun to Publix’s in-store experience.


Seamless Bricks-and-Clicks Shopping

While on the topic of online and offline convergence, these new customer experience officers can help lead the charge as the path to purchase becomes increasingly complex. Innovating retailers are reaching into outside industries for fresh perspectives on how to reach omnichannel shoppers.

Walmart, for example, garnered buzz for hiring Janey Whiteside as chief customer officer in 2018. An out of the box hire, Whiteside previously oversaw benefits, services and customer engagement for American Express. The new CCO will reportedly be in charge of Walmart’s efforts to attract new shoppers and expand e-commerce without creating additional friction for customers. Forbes notes that the hire is part of “culture revamp” for Walmart.

From a strategic point of view, the installation of Whiteside is part of a larger trend. According to Fortune, retailers have long held platitudes that customers that customers are at the epicenter of their strategies. The demands of omnichannel and the densely competitive retail landscape mean that you now must deliver on those promises. And as digital technology continues to inform customers’ paths to purchase, more retailers will be “shaking up senior ranks to meet the still-unfurling demands of a changed shopping landscape,” says Forbes. It will be interesting to see whether retail outsiders hold the keys to the future of retail.


What’s Down the Road for Convenience Retail

You can see from the above examples that grocery retailers are hiring customer experience officers to achieve three distinct missions: 1) to empower and engage employees; 2) to make shopping fun; 3) to achieve a seamless bricks-and-clicks experience.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all grocers need to hire customer experience officers. It’s worth mentioning that (for now) grocers without customer experience officers are successfully endearing themselves to shoppers. Wegmans Food Markets topped the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings for the highest score among supermarkets and landed the top spot in the entire Ratings, beating out more than 300 companies across 20 industries. Trader Joe’s also did well, at 81% compared to a 79% supermarket industry average.

If you’re not going to add a customer experience officer to your roster, you might study these examples and employ their strategies, or reframe the way you think about CX overall. Consider that our previously mentioned grocery shopper survey shows that customers don’t typically choose a supermarket based on the presence of friendly and knowledgeable staff. Far more important are the ability to find and buy what they want; low prices; location; and the ability to get in and out quickly. Perhaps, however, these shoppers—and the grocers—don’t yet know what’s possible with a greater emphasis on CX.

No matter the industry, CB4 helps brick-and-mortar retailers deepen their connections with consumers. We empower store teams by providing them with specific, actionable insights to correct in-store operational issues and drive sales. When you’re ready to make headway in these areas, we’re ready to help.


Related:  The Future of Grocery Technology: Level Up or Get Left Behind


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