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Motivation is Key: A Q&A on Digital Strategy and Retail

Kimberly Williams-Czopek recently joined Perficient Digital as a director within our Digital Strategy group, bringing decades of retail and digital strategy experience with her. We sat down with Kim to talk about her experiences in the retail industry, her advice for shaping an effective digital strategy, and her reaction to being named “Retail Innovator of the Year” at the 2018 Retail Innovation Conference and as one of Chain Store Age’s “Top Ten Women in Tech.”

Can you tell us about your background and experience in the retail space?

I started my career in digital on the agency side, working primarily with B2C and B2B brands on devising their digital transformation and ecommerce strategies. So in addition to deep and broad technical strategies, I’ve had a heavy dose of user experience design, cross-channel customer experience design, and consumer research in my background. I’ve always tried to root everything I’ve done in consumer-centric and design thinking practices. Working closely with brands across industries through dozens of implementations, I ended up learning the entire supply chain and how digital transformation can be used to drive growth and efficiencies in the business; ultimately leading to superior customer experiences.
I then joined Hybris (now SAP Customer Experience) as the head of their Product Design team, leading the transformation of their software interface framework and design approach focusing on making it possible for marketers, content editors, merchandisers, etc. to create rich, personalized, cross-channel customer experiences without IT intervention.
My most recent position was on the brand side as VP of Digital Commerce with Lilly Pulitzer, a women’s luxury apparel brand. In this role, I was able to bring together the full range of my experience to develop and execute the company’s digital commerce strategy to drive business across web, mobile, and in-store digital experiences. I think that role was representative of where retail organizations are headed now. There was a marketing group and there was an IT group, but this was a new digital commerce group that was charged with driving business through digital across channels.
I’ve come to know the retail space very well throughout my career, which is why I was excited to join Perficient Digital and get back into consulting and agency work, so I could bring all of that experience back to clients like those I had been working with at the beginning of my career.

Why do you think a CX strategy so important for retailers?

In the retail space today, customers are entering into a different social contract with retailers in order to do business. It’s made up of what I call the Five Customer Commandments:

  1. You will not make me work hard to be a customer
  2. You will reward me for my loyalty
  3. You will listen to me and personalize my experience
  4. You will protect my personal information and my privacy
  5. You will practice good corporate social responsibility.

Those are all important pieces of a CX strategy. Retailers need an integrated customer experience strategy in order to deliver on this contract. Those that are successful in this will acquire new customers and retain existing customers at higher rates than those that are not.

How does emotion relate to customer experience? Is it the same across industries?

A positive emotional connection is an outcome of doing a good job addressing the Five Commandments, but what I think that we’re really talking about here understanding customer motivation. What is the motivation for the interaction a customer is trying to have with a brand? Can the brand recognize it and deliver on it? That is key to a strong CX strategy and it doesn’t differ across industries. If you can understand motivation, you can deliver the right experience, which in turn will trigger an emotional reaction like surprise, delight, loyalty, and happiness, and will keep a customer coming back.

What are some questions retailers should be asking as they develop their customer experience strategies?

Do I really know my customer, what motivates them, and what their needs and expectations are from the brand?
A lot of brands will say, “Yeah, we have these personas and we have these segments – we know our customers.” When we start to dig in, however, we find that they actually don’t know their customers or what motivates them at all. It usually just comes down to talking to customers and a lot of brands are very reticent to do that, for whatever reason. If you have a good program or approach to talking with your customers and getting feedback, it really helps you understand nuances in their motivations and deliver a better customer experience.
Do I have the right team and org structure in place to deliver on my strategy? Do I have the hard and soft skillsets I need, and enough diversity in thinking?
If you only have one type of person in your team and in your organization, you’re not going to be able to deliver the best customer experience. You need a lot of diversity in your team and ideas. A lot of brands are dealing with with this right now and asking themselves, “What does that broad organizational  structure look like?” “What does that skillset look like?”
There was a shift a couple of years ago to have people act more as generalists and there’s definitely a rising trend in organizations to organize more around individuals and their skillsets, letting the people who are really good at certain things do those and then use internal hires or external support to  fill in the gaps around them.
If I were starting this brand today, what would I do? How would I do it? With what people, processes, and systems?
We work with brands to push on this point and the need to break free from traditional retail thinking.  It’s incredibly hard for traditional retailers. It doesn’t mean you should immediately turn the business on its head, but just try to get out of the “We’ve always done it this way” mindset. Most brands are really rooted in that kind of thinking and that’s part of why transformation is so difficult. It’s also why you see direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands doing so well – they’re not mired in the inertia of legacy people, processes, or systems.

You mentioned brands are hesitant to reach out to their customers. Why do you think that is?

They think they already know about their customers and don’t want to take the time to go deeper. Segments and programs may be working fine and they don’t want to take the risk and possibly miss a quota.
That is where working with an outside firm like Perficient Digital can be a catalyst for change. We can help brands put together a voice-of-the-customer program that does not have to be time-intensive or expensive. It’s really about getting a baseline of who your customers are today and what motivates them, and then determining how you make sure you understand how those motivations are changing.
One example I see all the time is that a brand has established personas, but they are years old. They haven’t done anything to confirm whether the personas are still valid. It’s often a budget issue, or they think, “Well, these segments are working.” What they’re not seeing, however, is the growth potential of new segment definition based on an updated understanding of the customer needs.

What role should customer feedback play in retail strategy?

As a digital leader or a retail leader charged with learning more about customer needs, customer feedback needs to play a large role with the caveat that you’re still in charge – you’re the one identifying what the right experiences are for both the customer and the business. It’s easy to fall into a trap where you build a strategy around what customers tell you they want and then it turns out they didn’t want that at all.
It reminds me of a quote often attributed to Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he really said that or not, the sentiment is dead-on. The voice of the customer is critical in getting to know their needs better, but it shouldn’t be construed as marching orders for implementation. It’s really up to the brand’s digital leaders to strike the right balance there and still drive business value. To do that, you have to dig deeper and understand the motivation behind what they say they want.

Can you tell us about an experience you’ve had combining customer feedback with your own knowledge to improve an experience?

Over the course of my career, there have been fewer and fewer “aha” moments in customer feedback. When UX design was still an emerging practice, you could leave a usability test with three or four big things to fix. Now those kinds of findings and insights are more nuanced and subtle, and may be very specific to a particular use case. Feedback you get from one segment might be in contradiction with what you get from another segment. Again, you have to understand where to strike the right balance. Luckily, modern customer experience platforms allow you to improve experiences for all customers, not just one.
I was once doing mobile navigation testing for a client and we were testing a traditional hamburger menu against a newer hub and spoke menu, like the one Pinterest uses. The test group of loyal customers preferred the traditional menu, while the group of potential customers loved the new style.
The impulse was to say, “Our existing customers are really important. We can’t disrupt their experience, so let’s just stick with the hamburger menu.” As the digital leader, I said, “I hear what you’re saying. Change is hard, but I think you’re going to see the future of menu navigation to be this new type of design. I think we should go for it, but roll it out slowly, do some A/B testing, provide the right training, and support our existing customers.” There were a lot of hard discussions around that, but at the end of the day, we eventually rolled out the new menu and it was much more successful than the traditional one.
That’s a good example of existing customers saying, “We want this,” but we didn’t play to the lowest common denominator. You have to take some calculated risks, which means having room in the budget for experimentation and iteration. Don’t build a roadmap that inflexible; “We’re doing A, B, and C.” Build a roadmap that has at least a 10% budget contingency and a funded testing and experimentation workstream so that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, whether it’s a new design, a new platform, a new hosting facility, or any other new experience.

How can companies stand out when competitors are also fighting for relevance?

The three questions I listed earlier should trigger some actions, whether it’s a customer survey, customer research, team reorganization, or brainstorming on what you would and wouldn’t do if you were starting the brand anew. Beyond working to truly deliver on those Five Customer Commandments in an authentic, on-brand way, effective methods are really going to vary across brands and verticals.
In retail, a lot of brands are panicking over the market share being taken by D2C brands, but I think the consumer response to the D2C brands is, generally speaking, rooted in a more authentic brand story and an overall better product. Retail brands that already had that authentic brand story and superior products aren’t losing customers. I always point to REI as a good example of this. They’ve posted years of double-digit year-over-year growth, they are authentic to their messaging, they have superior products, they are not losing foot traffic into their stores, and they are growing online.

How should retailers be measuring the success of their customer experiences?

One of the first things we work to understand and define with our clients is why they are doing X, Y, Z. What are the business goals? What are the metrics and KPIs they are trying to hit? Saying “We’re trying to increase conversion,” is very different from saying, “We’re trying to increase conversions by 5%.” We always push to get more specific in identifying an increment we can measure against to determine success.
Also, a lot of brands think those kinds of goals and objectives apply to all their customer segments equally, but it’s really important to look at each of your segments and define different goals and objectives where necessary.
I also really like the CX maturity assessment Perficient Digital has developed, which calculates an organization’s maturity by examining customer and financial metrics, but also includes internal metrics like employee satisfaction. It’s really difficult to deliver great experiences if your teams are unhappy or don’t have the right skillsets to deliver on the customer experiences envisioned.

Last year you were recognized as one of Chain Store Age’s “Top Ten Women in Tech” and as “Retail Innovator of the Year” during the Retail Innovation Conference. What does recognition like that mean to you?

It’s always an honor to get an award and to be recognized, especially within the Top 10 Women in Tech. That peer group was amazing. I have been in the industry for a long time and have seen how rapidly it shifts and changes. It’s part of the reason I love it. Every day there is something new – a new technology or a new brand or a new interaction design – and it’s just so fun to keep up. Honestly, I wish the title was more like “the Top 10 People in Tech.” It just shows how the technology industry still has a bit of work to do in that area. That said, it’s great to see so many more women joining the top technology ranks across industries in addition to retail.

How does your background and experience in retail help Perficient Digital clients improve their customer experiences?

A good customer experience is not industry specific. People are people. If you can understand their intent and motivations in interacting with a brand, you can develop a successful and agile customer experience strategy. That being said, I really love working in the retail space. I love looking at how consumer behavior and expectations continuously evolve and change with new digital capabilities.
I think our commerce and consumer markets clients really appreciate that I can hit the ground running, having been in their shoes and having been charged with the same types of goals and objectives. A lot of other potential partners haven’t been in a brand’s shoes and don’t quite get it, and that’s what I love about our Digital Strategy group. Everyone has been on that side of the fence and there’s deep, practical, hands-on knowledge behind the strategies we develop with our clients. That really allows us to move the needle for them much faster than a generalized consultant might.

Check out more thought leadership from Kim and our other digital strategy experts.

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