When it comes to nurturing brand loyalty, customer experience makes or breaks long-term relationships. Although there’s no such thing as a ‘perfectly designed’ customer experience, you’d have to go a long way today to find a retail brand that does it better than Apple.

The technology giant has built its empire not just on the slick and desirable design of its products, but by creating an exclusive community. How many of its customers have more than one Apple product in their homes and keep their eye on the ‘next big thing’ to be released?

However, community spirit is more than just owning the same gadgets; it’s about membership. Apple does a very good job at appreciating the value of its customers, and giving them special perks in gratitude – something that is highly evident in its stores.

Any Apple customer that has experienced an issue with their iPhone, laptop or other device will be familiar with the company’s genius bar; an opportunity to receive technical advice in an Apple store by a trained expert.

And it’s not just when you encounter a problem that Apple shines through. It makes a point of creating a customer-centric environment driven by people. The passion, motivation and knowledge of sales associates inspire faith in its technology, and turn customers into brand advocates.

Using people to put the customer first is a lesson that all retailers can learn from, and many are already finding ways to improve the customer experience in an associate-driven manner.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, want customer loyalty? Behave like a luxury brand, the most successful retailers are using staff-operated technology to attract shoppers. This not only blends the digital/physical divide, it creates new ways to capture and utilize customer data, and therefore tailor encounters to each shopper’s needs.

There’s another factor that also plays a critical retention role: customer engagement. Every retailer wants to know a shopper when they walk into a store – what they bought last month, how they like to buy, their loyalty and commitment to their brand – but that’s only half the battle won. Retailers then need to hold their attention long enough for that shopper to commit to a purchase.

Apple tends to do this by flooding the shop floor with enthusiastic experts, and by giving browsers the opportunity to test its technology, but there are countless further techniques for engaging shoppers.

Some of the more forward-thinking retail engagement techniques include mobile push marketing through Bluetooth or NFC beacons, which create messages and promotions specific to that shopper in the moment, and augmented reality changing rooms, which give consumers the opportunity to try on items without having to get changed.

There is no specific route to converting and retaining shoppers, but customer-centricity must remain at the heart of all business decisions. Increasingly, technology is becoming retail’s greatest ally for achieving this in the store environment.

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