Can You Improve The Customer Experience Without Spending A Fortune On Information Technology?

Does Customer Experience require information technology?  Allow me to rephrase this question, is it necessary to purchase-configure-operate an arsenal of information technologies to improve the Customer Experience?  Which is my way of asking, if it is necessary to turn Customer Experience as a business philosophy and/or value proposition into CRM: an information technology?

It occurs to me that it is mistake to collapse information technology and Customer Experience together – to make the kind of mistake that was made with CRM.  I say that your organisation can impact-improve the Customer Experience in many ways that do not require information technology.   Where is my proof? Let’s start with my recent experience.

Why Didn’t I Buy From Two Well Known Retail Brands?

I needed more trousers; my preference, some would call it addiction, is for Chinos. So my nephew drove me to a shopping centre outside of town. On his advice, I went to the first shop, found what I was looking for. And in the process I came across summer shorts. So with a handful of trousers and shorts I headed to the fitting rooms. Long queue. No movement for three minutes. No staff around to help out.  I put the goods back on the racks and left.

Onwards to the second retail brand, which just happened to be next to the first store. Within five minutes or less, I found myself exiting this story empty handed. Why?  One, they just didn’t stock trousers that fit me. Just about every trouser that caught my attention was regular length and regular is too short for me as I am tall and have long legs. Second, no staff members around to ask for help in finding longer length trousers. Third, the prices showed up as being too high; I remembered what I had paid for the Chinos I was wearing.

Why Did I Buy From The Gap Store?

Having had enough, I headed directly for the Gap store. Why? Because this is where I had purchased, some years ago, the Chinos I was wearing and happy with.  The store showed up as friendlier-easier as it was much smaller in size, I could clearly see two sales assistants, and they looked happy.  I spent over £150 pounds and walked out of the store with several Chino trousers and shorts.  Why did I end up buying from Gap?

  • They stocked the products that I was looking for – Chino trousers and a range of summer shorts;
  • I found the particular style I was looking for – Classic;
  • Each range of trousers came in a range of sizes including the size (34, 34) I was looking for;
  • I found it easy-quick to try on the trousers (and shorts) as there was no queue for the fitting rooms; and
  • The ‘checkout’ experience of paying for these items was quick-easy and delivered by a friendly sales assistant.

And there was a moment of delight. What delight? Upon checkout I found that I had been charged 30% less than I had expected to pay. Why so? Because Gap had a sales promotion that day and I had not noticed it as it had not been well signposted.

I draw your attention to this: no information technology was needed other than the POS till.  Gap ended up the winner simply because it did the basics of clothes retailing right: store design (size-layout-signposting), the right product, ability to trial the product, good customer service, and pricing that is in tune with product quality and customer expectations.

I also notice, that I have a stronger bond to Gap and Gap did not have to engage in any customer loyalty or outbound marketing programme to generate that bond. How has this strengthening of the bond come about? By stocking the kind of products that I am looking for, by asking the kind of price I am willing to pay, and by making it easy-pleasant to buy from them: not just once, but every time I have bought from them.

If Gap does want to do something other than get the basics right then here is my advice. Gap should consider storing my preferences in terms of the products that I have bought from them. And allow me to order those products from them. Why do I say that? Whilst I like their latest Chino trousers (the ones I brought from them recently) I prefer the ones that I bought several years ago.  The fact that those trousers are no longer available makes them that much more attractive to me. I wonder how many others are like me. If there are enough of us then there might be a market for listening to and catering to our needs. Back in the days when I was a consultant with Peppers & Rogers, we would put this idea into the mass customisation bucket.  This is where information technology would be useful, even essential, for improving the Customer Experience.

I wish you a great week, thanks for listening – your listening calls forth my speaking.  And if you have thoughts that which you wish to share then please engage in a conversation with me by commenting.


Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

5 thoughts on “Can You Improve The Customer Experience Without Spending A Fortune On Information Technology?”

  1. Maz

    A thought-provoking post as always. I am no retail expert, but I am pretty confident that there is a vast amount of IT involved in getting the right products in the right sizes, colours and quantities to Gap stores. They need to look at typical customer profiles and purchasing patterns which can vary greatly. A little more than providing a PoS terminal.

    As an aside, I have converted to the customisation options of Land’s End, especially as I have a 36″ inside leg which is very hard to find in retail stores.

    With very best wishes, John


    1. Hello John!
      I find myself delighted to hear from you. Thank you for showing up and sharing that which you have shared. And thus creating an opportunity for a conversation between us.

      You say that you are pretty confident that there is a vast amount of IT involved in getting the right products in the right sizes-colours-quantities to the Gap stores. I find myself in agreement with you: it is simply not possible to operate any significant business without IT – IT is the plumbing of business.

      So allow me to clarify what I am getting at. There is a set of technologies that companies have to get right to get the basics right. This has been the case long before CRM, Customer Experience, customer loyalty became fashionable. What technologies am I talking about? The kind that you mention – supply chain (logistics, warehousing…) and financial (ERP) systems.

      Perhaps, the best way to illustrate what I am getting at is to ask this question: why did I not buy from the first store and did buy from the Gap store given that I was happy with the products+prices in the first store? Simple: Gap provided instant access to the fitting rooms, the first store did not. So a vital component of the Customer Experience for a customer intent on buying clothes at a retail store is access to and the experience of the fitting rooms. Does that require buying-implementing any of a whole range of information technologies that are being touted under the Customer Experience or Engagement labels? I say no. And I have been known to be wrong.

      I intent to make this a series and so in follow up posts I will be making it clearer what it is that I am getting at when I say you can improve the Customer Experience without spending a fortune buying Customer Experience technologies pushed by opportunistic software vendors.

      I hope that you are being kind to yourself and finding your life to be an interesting one. And I thank you for the Lands End tip; I didn’t realise that you are that tall!

      At your service / with love


  2. Maz,

    The other day I had a conversation about Fraud in a financial services company.

    We had two options to reduce the amount of fraud we had.

    1. Train our staff in what Fraud looks like, get them to talk to each other about what they found, share best practice, celebrate success and let people feel good about stopping the “bad guys”.
    2. Invest heavily in a system solution.

    For me the answer was simple. Do 1. It was a cheap option and would give people some interest / pride in their work. See how well it worked and then if necessary invest in 2

    I was comprehensively over ruled, only the black box solution was appropriate.

    It is amazing how much faith we put in technology



    1. James, I wonder if there is not something more to it than that. Investment in stuff can be capitalised whilst getting people to talk to each other more often still has a cost but can’t be capitalised.



    2. Hello James,

      Thank you for sharing this. Yes, it is amazing how much we embrace technology for all the ‘problems, ills, issues’ we encounter. I also find it amazing how little confidence we have in people and how little we invest in people. It occurs to me the defining character of our age is the belittlement of the human being and elevation of technology to Olympus.

      I invite you (and me) to really grapple with the ubiquitous phenomena of our age and in particular in organisational worlds: looking down on people, the exclusion of that which makes us human, and the enslavement of the human to the technological. All this happening whilst speaking of relationships, engagement, experiences….

      All the best,


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