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Crate & Barrel on experience gaps: why they occur and how to close them

Experience gaps occur when a brand fails to meet expectations at any point along the customer journey.

It could be a big brand disaster: “I didn’t expect the shop assistant to kick me in the shins - but they did”. A pretty huge experience gap, but thankfully for retail brands a rare occurrence.

More frequent however are the small, repeated service failures that usually exist without a brand’s knowledge - or, at least, they exist for way too long before a brand discovers them. For Crate & Barrel’s Joan King, VP E-Commerce, she uncovered gaps in her company’s service when she stepped into her customers’ shoes and set out to buy a new sofa.

At the X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, she described a few things:

  • Different confirmation messages on the website and in emails, with conflicting information about delivery dates
  • Order tracking unavailable on the website if you bought in-store
  • Delivery choices differed by channel - and no reasons were given for why

Why do experience gaps open up?

For Joan, it was a surprise to find out the channel she owned had these issues. The brand’s digital experience is industry-leading: you can shop the entire catalog online, and also use a 3D room design tool to see how furniture will look in your house.

And, for the most part, digital experiences joined up nicely with in-store experiences. Crate & Barrel runs hugely popular events, and its customers love to post about them on the brand’s extremely busy social channels.

 But still - the experience gaps opened up. Why?

The curse of knowledge

Crate & Barrel’s tech team could tell you why you get a different message in your email and on the website, or why you can’t track in-store purchases online. Its product team could give a thorough rundown of why delivery options differed by region and channel.

But none of this makes a difference for the customer experience.

Gaps appear when companies think what it knows about processes is known and understood by customers as well.

Omnichannel journeys breaking down

Omnichannel customer journeys are the reality for many brands. But too many brands still think of their channels as distinct entities - the stores team don’t talk to the digital team; services don’t talk to product development.

This lack of communication results in gaps occurring when a customer moves from one channel to another. For Joan at Crate & Barrel, it was when she bought her sofa online and then got different information in an email.

Lack of feedback mechanisms

 Gaps remain undiscovered if customers have no way of telling you about them.

And even worse, they continue to frustrate customers if their feedback isn’t channeled to the right team. For example, they might tell their in-store assistant how the website is broken, but that feedback doesn’t go anywhere, because a brand’s siloed structure means there’s nothing that shop assistant can do.

How do you close experience gaps?

Think customer-first - imagine you’ve never heard of your brand before

The first step for Crate & Barrel was getting its people to think like a customer, to imagine they had no idea of the historic reasons for why processes or platforms were set up a certain way.

Once they did that, their minds were freed up to think about what would frustrate a customer and what needed to be fixed.

Pay attention to personal frustrations

On the X4 Summit main stage, Sir Richard Branson told the story of how he started Virgin Atlantic after his flight to Puerto Rico was canceled. Annoyed by this inconvenience, he chartered a plane and offered to take other stranded passengers for a small fee.

Just like Sir Richard, Joan set about transforming Crate & Barrel’s customer experience because of her experience of buying a sofa.

However, with AI-powered text analysis, you don’t have to wait until your senior team have the same experiences as your customers - you can keep your ears open to when your customers tell you about them. It’s about gathering these insights at scale, not waiting for the rare customer anecdote that makes its way through the silos.

Map out customer journeys and identify weaknesses

Once you’re ready to think like a customer, it’s easier to map out the journey they’ll go through. First, create a set of user personas, then illustrate how they interact with your brand from awareness to post-purchase.

Read more about customer journey mapping

Break down silos by inviting a cross-functional team to create these maps. You don’t want to compound issues with omnichannel breakdown by only having your digital team in the room, for example. And with different perspectives in the room, it’s easier to identify weaknesses or where your business isn’t joined up.

When done correctly, journey mapping reveals what Joan termed “unconscious incompetence”.

Listen to customers at every point of a journey

If you’re only surveying customers after they’ve completed a purchase, you’re getting a very narrow view of your customer experience. You’re completely ignoring customers who couldn’t find what they want, or maybe abandoned their cart halfway through a purchase.

Instead, allow your customers to give feedback at every point they interact with you, giving you extremely valuable in-the-moment feedback that helps you identify weaknesses.

Equip everyone in your company to improve CX

From top to bottom, everyone in your organization needs to buy into your CX vision.

It requires a committed leadership team, and well-trained frontline staff. Crate & Barrel, for example, puts its sales associates through 20 hours of training to make sure they’re ready to talk to customers. And leadership monitor CX metrics and set targets related to them.

Read more about creating a CX culture

Channel feedback correctly

Make it easy for your customers to give feedback at any point, and don’t rely on them to send it to the right team. Do the hard work for them - take any comments, gathered anywhere, and channel it to the team that can fix the issue.

Celebrate customer wins

Closing experience gaps leads to higher revenues, greater customer loyalty and employees having to deal with fewer unhappy customers. All three merit celebration. And a company that does CX well has ways to highlight employees’ hard work and reward it.

Catch up on other great sessions from the X4 Summit