Customer service is an increasingly important tool for brands seeking to gain an edge over their competitors. Given that more and more people are migrating online, a crucial part of retaining their interest is to offer them the best experience possible in a real-world setting.
This is why service design – planning and organising a service to ensure it meets customers’ needs – is a top priority for many marketers. Indeed, this year a number of brands are bringing in new retail concepts to redefine and improve the services they offer.
An interesting example is Adidas, which in February launched the HomeCourt initiative at its flagship store in Beijing.
The idea behind HomeCourt is to immerse shoppers in the brand with more depth than ever before. The store now has the look and feel of an arena, with the entrance resembling the tunnel players use to emerge on to a sports field. Elsewhere in the store, the shoe department is laid out like a changing room, giving shoppers a chance to socialise and to interact with the brand more freely.
The service is further enhanced by interactive touchscreens that enable shoppers to search online for items that meet their needs.
Last month, Adidas brought the concept to the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. It plans to open more HomeCourt stores around the world this year.
“HomeCourt gives consumers the opportunity to experience the entire breadth and depth of the Adidas brand,” says the company’s head of retail environment, Ted Mager. “We reference sport in every element in the store, from the materials selected to the inspirations for the designs to the tools we use for storytelling.”
Heathrow’s Terminal 2, due to open next week, highlights the service design principle on an even grander scale. The project – part of the same £11bn improvement programme that led to the opening of Terminal 5 in 2008 – aims to incorporate some of the most popular aspects of T5.
Consequently Terminal 2 feels light, airy and spacious, with a clear line of sight to the planes on the runway as Marketing Week found out during a previous visit. The airside section is designed around a huge central seating area, which passengers can look down on from an upper level as they pass through security.
We’re particularly interested in new, innovative tech. We really pushed our retailers hard
A ceiling-high glass wall provides a window on to the runway and additional natural light streams in through glass intersections in the roof.
“The layout of T2 is very intuitive,” says Heathrow’s head of retail strategy, Kim Gray. “We’ve only got one security entry and as soon as passengers come out, they can see there is a large amount of seating available.
“If they do choose to sit in that area, there’s a great visual connection to all the other parts of the terminal from within that space.”
Getting the retail strategy right is massively important for Heathrow. In Europe, income from shoppers makes up 34 per cent of an airport’s overall turnover on average, according to Airports Council International.
T2’s bright, open-plan layout is designed to help passengers navigate the terminal more easily. The shops on the upper level are clearly visible from the central seating area, and banks of tablet computers have been set up in different parts of the terminal so that people can search for airport and flight information. As Gray points out, this will ensure that passengers are never more than five metres away from a source of flight information.
The advanced technology theme extends to the terminal’s shopping, restaurant and currency facilities too.
As Heathrow encourages brands to experiment with new retail concepts, the fashion retailer Thomas Pink has set up a large touchscreen table in its shop, where customers can design their own bespoke shirts and have them made and delivered anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, food chain Yo! Sushi is trialling a mobile ordering system in its T2 outlet so that people can order their food on its smartphone app and have it brought to their table.
Heathrow is also seeking to offer a broader mix of retailers by opening the first John Lewis airport store in T2 and a personal shopping service to help people find what they are looking for.
“We really pushed our retailers hard,” says Gray. “We’re particularly interested in providing new and innovative tech solutions.”
Currency service Moneycorp has also risen to Heathrow’s challenge. According to the company’s head of retail marketing, Vanessa Schotes, its success in winning the pitch for T2’s new foreign exchange units was down to its ability to present an innovate retail concept and service design.
Heathrow liked Moneycorp’s idea to do away with the traditional wall and glass screen that separates tellers from customers. Instead of old-fashioned foreign exchange booths, T2 will have a Moneycorp store that passengers can enter, giving them an opportunity to interact with different elements of the service.
“The concept was to break down barriers,” says Schotes. “There is a general feeling that people don’t like the traditional experience of dealing with foreign exchange. We wanted to remove that us-and-them feeling that you get with the typical currency exchange counter.”
Working with branding and design agency BrandOpus, the company has created an airside store with multiple options for passengers, such as currency ATMs for people who want to make a quick withdrawal and a service desk for those seeking in-depth advice from an assistant (see below ).
Service design has also been the focus for Portugal’s eight major airports, as ANA’s deputy airport manager Francisco Pita explains. “Providing excellent service quality is becoming critical to ensure profitable and sustainable growth,” he says. Agency Engine Service Design built a service ‘brand’ including a children’s treasure hunt route through Lisbon airport.
“The concept opens up the opportunity for a completely different communication with the customer and a completely different style of service,” says Schotes. “We want to give people choices for how they can interact with us. It’s more of a hosted experience than a straight transactional one.”
While service design is often important in a functional sense, it can also afford premium brands the opportunity to accentuate their market-leading status and improve the experience they offer customers.
Harvey explains that the interior of the shop will feature a white marble-tiled floor, walnut and brass fixtures and sisal on the cash desk “to create a warmth and authenticity”. In addition, there will be an art installation paying homage to the construction and craftsmanship of Aquascutum’s famous trenchcoat.
“The aim of the store’s design concept is to make gentlemen feel at home and comfortable. Along with vintage lounge chairs, there will be an injection of fun with a vintage branded pool table,” adds Harvey.
“The iconic Jermyn Street will showcase the new product and will hopefully become a global destination store for the menswear world.”
Sound as a pound: Moneycorp
Moneycorp was the winner of a competitive pitch to be one of two foreign exchange firms operating at Heathrow Terminal 2. The company’s biggest innovation has been to turn currency exchange into a physical store experience that people can enter and explore, rather than a simple transactional one between a customer and a teller on opposite sides of a screen.
Moneycorp’s retail concept was designed by branding agency BrandOpus. It aims to create a ‘no-queue environment’ by providing customers with different ‘zones’ they can move between with ease. This includes a self-service ATM area where people can pick up their currency quickly.
This area runs alongside the customer service desk, where other customers can interact with staff and ask for further advice. The traditional barrier between staff and customers is removed by not having a screen in front of the desk.
Alongside the desk there is a small seating area for customers to relax and a bank of touchscreens where people can research Moneycorp’s products more thoroughly.
To make people feel at ease, the décor of the shop is light and simple, with a minimum of marketing messages. Walls and lines are curved to present a softer image and to encourage people to come in.
A separate Moneycorp desk in the centre of the terminal follows the same design and offers a similar experience by again incorporating ATMs and tablets.
Moneycorp’s work with BrandOpus seems to have had a positive impact on growth, with retail revenues rising 58 per cent last year.
Following the Terminal 2 win, it has developed its retail presence at airports such as Gatwick, Stansted, Bristol and Southampton.
The Big three challenges of service design
1. Careful planning
Service innovations work only when brands are able to execute them effectively. Trying to introduce too many in one go can lead to problems if a company becomes overstretched, or if stores are not equipped to meet the new demands. Marketers must avoid breaking their promises and disappointing consumers.
2. Getting staff onboard
It is vital that brands invest in staff training during and after any major service redesign. Staff are responsible for delivering services to consumers, so they must be kept up to speed with new systems and working practices. Staff can also help consumers to understand how to use the new services better, so training them to communicate the benefits is important.
3. Brand consistency
Marketers must ensure that service design is in keeping with a brand’s overall purpose and identity. New services that undermine or feel alien to the brand will confuse consumers and damage the brand as a whole. It is important that brands develop services that are relevant to their target consumers, rather than launching new services for the sake of it.