How to Enhance Customer Insperience?

Dr. M J Xavier | June 09,2014 01:08 pm IST

Whirlpool opened Insperience November (2002) to address one of its key distribution problems: the "sea of white". Customers go into a store, and they see row upon row of white boxes.

They get confused, because everything looks alike. When they talk to a salesperson, they feel as if they end up buying what the salesperson got the best commission on or what was overstocked.

Insperience is Whirlpool's attempt to part the "sea of white" - a place where consumers, interior designers, and home builders can learn about the company's products without feeling pressured. It's also a boot camp for salespeople and a laboratory to help the company's product developers understand how consumers interact with appliances.

It's not a store, mind you, it's a studio. Whirlpool's Insperience Studio, situated in Atlanta's Buckhead area since last November, invites shoppers to "bring their chores with them." Some potential customers do their laundry there, while others try baking bread or cookies: Visitors are welcome to fry eggs on a high-BTU Whirlpool range or see for themselves if a KitchenAid convection oven can make fast food of a raw chicken. One man brought in a bag of trash to crunch in the compactor. Visitors to Walters' Insperience Studio, owned by Whirlpool Corp., can do just about anything they want there - except buy the appliances they test. For that they are referred to an appliance store, which Insperience Studio decidedly is not.

At Insperience Studio, the goal is to make the appliance-purchasing process something more than a search for the right color at the right price - something more like a lifestyle choice. The facility is designed to be a resource for consumers, a place to bring their builder or architect to help select the equipment that's just right for their lifestyles.

Insperience primarily is a branding effort that allows Whirlpool and its KitchenAid line to make direct contact with consumers. It's also a learning laboratory in which the company can study consumer wants and needs and a place to train the sales personal of retail partners in how appliances work.

Think of Insperience as a test track for white goods. Consumers take a test-drive before they buy a car but they don't get that opportunity when they go to the typical appliance dealer, where the products aren't even plugged in. That leaves Whirlpool relying on an appliance salesman to convince a prospective buyer that all those features that go into a premium range are worth the extra price.

The Viking Range Corp. in the US is taking a similar approach with its nine Viking Culinary Arts Centers, where high-end stoves, refrigerators and range hoods are shown off amid a busy schedule of cooking classes and demonstrations. As with Insperience, the big-ticket appliances aren't for sale on site, although many smaller cooking accessories used in demonstrations are sold.

Cookware manufacturer Calphalon is also going the experiential route with its Calphalon Culinary Center in Chicago. There, consumers can listen to chefs lecture on their craft or try their own hand at creating dishes - all in a setting that reinforces the value of the Calphalon brand.

Marketing goes way beyond the look and feel of printed materials and advertising campaigns. A new concept called "experience" marketing has been gaining momentum in recent years, in part through the popularity of the book, The Experience Economy, by B. Joseph Pine. What Whirlpool is attempting is experiential marketing, in which a "touch it, feel it, use it" approach creates a branded experience. It's a message that all retailers need to hear, says Pam Danziser, author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need. "Retailers are set up to sell things," she says. "But if that's the way they're looking at their business, they're missing the boat. Retailers need to reinvent their stores to offer experience."

Experiential marketing is more than an opportunity to show off all the bells and whistles of a product, however. "It's all about emotions and feelings, achieving some sort of feeling," says Danziger. "In effect, you're buying a thing, but that becomes a means to an end - a feeling you gain by owning this thing. Traditionally brands were seen as identifiers for customers that signify ownership and guarantee quality. When brands are seen as identifiers, brand equity is based on customers' awareness and knowledge of the brand. In this situation, strategy focuses on building brand associations before purchase.

But times have changed. Customers today seek out brands that deliver experiences that appeal to customers' senses, heart, and mind. When brands are seen as experience providers, equity is measured in their sensory stimulation, emotional bonding, and lifestyle value. Strategy focuses on creating and enhancing experiences for customers before, during, and after purchase. To build and sustain a great brand, companies need to ensure an integrated customer experience that is delivered through communications, products, service, personnel, and every customer contact. Insperience is an attempt to enhance the purchase experience and thereby build brand equity.

The situation in India is no different. Consumers are losing their ability to differentiate among brands. Technological advances have produced a sameness in many products - think of television sets, refrigerators and air-conditioners. Enter any of the appliances shop and the sales persons representing different brands will surround you in no time. Are we not entitled to better experience? When are the BPLs and Videocons going to set up their insperience studios?



Prof. MJ Xavier obtained his Doctorate in Management (1984) from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. He is basically an engineer with an M.Tech. (1979) in Chemical Plant Engineering from Regional Engineering College, Warangal and B.Tech. (1976) in Chemical Engineering from Coimbatore Institute of Technology...