What drives consumer engagement on a lifestyle purchase?

Have you guys ever noticed how important it is, that people actually get knowledgeable answers to a query in a lifestyle purchase?

I heard about this retail brand in the shoes category, who stand for style being more than just a state of dress… it’s a frame of mind.

Or a sports gear store, which excites and introduces people into the world of sports

How do you translate these into a store experience? When you visited a shoe store last, what was the sequence of events?

You walk in, browse, see something you like and then ask the nearest salesman details.

Now is where the problem starts. Variables that he is now grappling with… include your size and usage, the technical specs behind the shoe, reasons for the tech specs being formulated that way, the availability of the product in your size/specs, the availability in your preferred color, etc.

But this particular salesman (unabated admiration) handled it beautifully.

Firstly the need analysis -

1) What are you going to use the shoe for? Could be office, running, tennis, squash, hiking, riding, so on.

2) Your size is a completely different experience. Once you tell him that you are a size 10, wonder of wonders, he tells you “Can I double check it for you?” And then he explains how it is not just the length, but also the width of your leg that is important… because widths are different across manufacturers.

3) Next he asks you “Sir can I check your pronation?” and then you are asked to do squats while he observes your movement. For those who came in late, Pronation is the way the foot rolls inward when you walk and run. It is part of the natural movement that helps the lower leg deal with shock. Some people pronate more (overpronation) or less (underpronation) than others.

And now suddenly you realize you know crap about shoes. Size and look does not make all. There is more to it. And then you humbly listen to the “expert”, because you know HE knows more than you.

Did you notice the subtle shift in the consumers mind when the salesman became the expert? What brought it on? It was the salesman’s way of ensuring that the consumer is manipulated into asking the right questions… the questions that the salesman has the answers to…

Not very different from a really good interview where the candidate manipulates the questions to reflect his “strengths”. Lets look at a instance of this.

Interviewer — So you have been in manufacturing?

Interviewee — Yes Sir. I have particularly been useful in the field of automation.

Interviewer — Oh really, tell me something about your experience in that…

You see? The flow of questions is now being manipulated by the interviewee. And he can take it infinitely around his knowledge area to keep the interviewer riveted.

Engagement at retail is a function of Knowledge, Deployment of the same and Attitudinal skills of the salesman. Period.

It is not the only variable, but it is one of the key variables.

Other variables on engagement are product fitment with the consumers personality, affinity to the brand that they are considering, references/ Word of mouth from near and dear ones.

But to get serious engagement going on your brand, product or service, I suggest that

1) You look far and wide to ensure that you “source” your resources from the right place (and I don’t necessarily mean “recruitment agencies”). It could be from communities that have affinity towards your brand, people who are deploying the kind of engagement that you want from a totally different industry… Different strokes for different folks

2) You recruit for attitude, not aptitude. Devise methodologies to decipher the attitude that you require for the job and primary among these could be affinity towards your brand / outlook towards consumer service/engagement. You can always teach the right things to the right guys… much better than trying to teach the right things to the wrong guy and that brings me to the third point

3) Invest in learning and development. These could be a of a learning management system, gamification of content, classroom led training, web based tutorials, etc. Get them to “want to” up their knowledge and delivery quotients and brings me to point 4

4) Incentivize the right behavior across the front line on process, overlay the brand tone on the process so that you are able to differentiate using your brand’s strengths rather than on a category benefit. How is it fiercely unique to your brand?

5) Facilitate the right behavior. It is impossible to deliver an objective if your leader is at cross purposes to your objective. Food for thought — If you incentivize the front line to deliver customer satisfaction while putting a revenue target on their boss, who do you think is going to deliver?