Understanding the Evolution of Retail, Larry Rodgers, Verizon

On this episode of Conversation: CX, Larry E. Rodgers, Head of Retail Evolution and CX at Verizon gives his tried and true advice on building strong customer relationships at scale in the retail world: :
- Acceleration of digital capabilities gives consumers so many options to engage - it is crucial for brands to accurately understand how they position themselves and offer value to their customers
- Consumers are going to come to the physical store for one of four things: convenience, validation, personalization, and inspiration
- Before making your experience magical, you have to make sure it works: design is key
- Scaled empathy is the next major challenge for brands.

More info:

Larry E.Rodgers's LinkedIn profile

Interview's transcript:

Can you give us kind of your own self-assessment of today's customer experience and what you really think brands need to keep in mind when engaging with them?

I think the first step is to understand the context in which we're operating and the brands we're operating with today. There's a ton of pressure all over, and everything from the way we all are in cities. Our cities are behaved; people moving in and out of cities for various reasons and how we think about spaces with a lot of people versus personal space, safety, health etc. You start to think about things like how we take into consideration some of the ways that brands are thinking about themselves in terms of having a Monobrand presence or being affiliated with a multi-brand player like Amazon etc. You start to think about sort of the ways that the acceleration of digital capabilities has happened. So rapidly, especially over the last year and beyond, consumers have a ton of different choices and options with the ways that they're able to interact with brands. I think one of the most important things to consider is how all of these sorts of factors are shaping the ways that consumers experience your brand, and then also how it changes the competitive landscape. For example, there are a lot of brands that are sort of creeping into each other's space. That was traditionally a kind of industry with a certain number of players, is no longer that in today. Google is a great example of that, Amazon is a great example of that playing all over quite recently Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson over the weekend, just flew into outer space. Virgin started as a music company, and then they went into airlines, and they're now disrupting all kinds of industries. Now they're in commercial space travel. In a couple of weeks, Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team is set to do the same exact thing. There's so many options and so much sort of pressure and consideration of the ways that brands are coming or introducing themselves to consumers and how consumers are interacting with it. It's a fascinating time, also from a brand perspective. It's one to consider in terms of how you position yourself competitively and how consumers will receive you and the value that you bring to them.

How does this approach and way of thinking is actually special for Verizon for example, who's got a store on every corner? How do you really take advantage of this kind of crazy time for opportunity?

When you think about sort of how to create or an approach that we might think of in terms of how to create some differentiation between the experience that you see , and you receive at a Verizon store versus any other retailer that you would go visit, a couple of things come to mind, you can almost at a macro level think about the experience intent that brands have to deliver especially in the retail context. Now consumers are going to come to the door for one of four things, they're going to come there for convenience. It's right around the corner and I can get in and out fast. They're going to come in for validation, I'm not quite sure if this is the right thing for me, or I have questions. I want to get a little more competence and this is the right thing for me to buy and purchase. They're going to come in for personalization, like the experience I get here is better than anywhere else. The best example is a small business; mom-and-pop shops you go “hey same thing Charlie, like it's the cheers”. They know me everywhere I go. That's the best experience of that. And then, lastly inspiration and so when you think about inspiration that's where larger brands have advantage there of how can you show a person, like a glimpse into the future and what is the future going to be and for Verizon a technology company I think an opportunity we have is to think about. How to bring inspiration to customers and show them what the future of technology and connectivity means and how that can enable and empower their lives in a way that they never imagined. Those are some examples of ways that I think Verizon is starting to think about how to leverage our distribution. To get to consumers a quick and easy solution for their technology needs, but also to move into a space where we're starting to think about delivering deeper personalization and broader inspiration connecting worlds of people, communities, cultures, etc. In the context of a retail space, to really deliver, a glimpse of the future and how that can enable you.

Now that you’re here, will you cheer the innovative and constantly evolving experience in Verizon and have you had any particularly “magic” touches ?

I've been part of Verizon for just over 170 plus days, and I'll say that we've got a lot of work to do. There's no 1 within the organization that you would say that you wouldn't agree that we have a lot of opportunity, which is actually great because Verizon thinks about itself as a company that can poise itself and for growth. The opportunity that Verizon has, is actually quite massive. 

And so I'll talk about a couple of things that we have had that we've launched in the recent times that are really interesting and I think bring magic to retail. But before that I just want to say that the work ahead of us is first before we bring first we get thrown you have to make it work. Let's make it work, but we have to make sure that the experience you have day to day out is consistent and that it meets expectations once we do that. Then we can make it easier and improve our journeys, start to iterate and evolve the journey so that the experience that you have is seamless. We can get to the part where we start to make it magical and we can start to bring in some flavor and throw a little bit extra spice in, but I'll say some of the things that we're starting to do from a capability perspective and that you have seen over the last couple of years I think are hints of some of the direction we start to go in terms of how we can think about a future of a physical retail environment that is new and unique. 

We introduced in late 2019, and actually over 2020 we launched six of the total 8 of our express concepts and really that express concept is a completely different model than the traditional Verizon store which has a very predictable and traditional sort of operating model in terms of how you think about staffing the space and how the role of the representative in the store, and what they do and how they interact with you as a customer it has a different footprint and even has different sort of capabilities from fixtures to digital capabilities. This express store has a flexible model, it exists in the west side of the country. In cities like Denver or Colorado cities like Portland, Oregon, consumers have a really strong desire and appetite for digital but also places where there are interesting foot traffic patterns and ways where you can start to serve consumers both through a distribution model that provides convenience but also gives a glimpse of just a new way of working and operating a store. That we haven't thrown before, so we're learning a ton through that concept in terms of ways of optimizing flexible operating models and pointing us to a future store format. So we're really excited about that second thing that I'll call out; we started to test in the near term of different capabilities that will be really interesting. As we move forward, many of those capabilities have to do with models that combine sort of the power of what it means to be in physical and how you amplify the human-human interaction and then others are taking into consideration how you can transform a physical space into another that can completely show you a new way to interact with a brand and a new way to think about fulfillment. So, there are some things that we have in the works and some things that we've launched, that are MVP stage. Right now what I won't go too much to father into but are very exciting in terms of thinking about how to leverage AI, how to leverage automation and how to leverage digital capabilities to really power up our human offense.

How do you recommend a company to materialize something internally? How do you possibly get all the teams floating in the same direction ?

I have a lot of work to do at Verizon specifically in that case: when you're especially considering large organizations like Verizon or Nike that are “matrixed” in nature. By definition and especially when you're in a CX a position, the work that you do requires that you take a cross-functional approach to bring to life a vision and so the first thing I would say is realize that your team is not just your direct line, the team is the fully encompassed cross-functional team around the organization and so when you think about the team in that context, you have a clear vision. Then you can bring the right team together to build the strategy together and if you build the strategy together and not in a silo box, you’ll have energy. You have momentum and so the first thing is that your team is not your direct line, it's the full., it's the team with a capital T. I think that's that's number one, the second thing I would say is essentially ensure that you have a clear vision and when you have that clear vision that you're making and ensuring that,  your team that's hoping to power that your job is to know, help, set that vision and make sure you have the right team in place and then remove Roblox for them. If you can do that effectively, it will be sort of a formula that at least I've used.

And Larry, tell me about another topic, so swaying: tell me a little bit about user-centered design and how you've actually incorporated that into building an optimal customer experience.

I'm on the board of a nonprofit called Design Museum Everywhere and design museum is an amazing group and I'll say there's this concept and idea. The reason I love that so much is that I am not a traditional designer; I didn't go to school for graphic design or even industrial design but literally my entire career has been creating, crafting, designing experiences for consumers and in fact as design Museum let’s talk about this idea of sort of design is really a creative problem-solving process. That's really what it is at the core, and so if you can think about design with a capital D in that way, you can start to broaden your scope and identify that there is design in many types of forms. So, what we do in CX and what we do in retail design is about a sort of user centered design. We look to creatively solve problems for customers. There is a company called Ideos you, very famous design company and they sort of talk about their design philosophy as empathy for the end-user, the primary tenant having empathy for the end-user and they talk about like you do two things one, you observe them doing things like go watch them, go do the things and then put yourself in the situation and go do those things yourself and I think that's so simple and brilliant in terms of process, to think about in terms of building empathy for the end-user and the step further. One of my design mentors, Sean Madden, referenced years ago, said “Hey Larry, go read this book, it's called Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman''. Design of everyday things has been written and rewritten a couple times but one of the things that Don Norman talks about the idea a step further. This idea of sort of design was one of his principles which is sort of design for error and he essentially says like if you run into a problem like you mess up as an individual, it's not your fault, it's bad design, but so it's never the user's fault: it's always design's fault and the reason the tenity talks about there is like we are inherently flawed as humans and so we have to, as designers, build for the inherent flaw that we have which is we're going to not read things. We're not going to follow instructions like we're just not going to do those things that like rational people or rational engineers might even think about so as designers we have to build for that irrationality and sort of that flaw that we have as humans and I love that I think that's a really important, kind of tenant to think through.

Let's actually talk through emotion and cognition and why you believe they're important in the Retail Evolution space.

I find that so powerful, it's something I talk to people about all the time. I like to think of if I can be almost cheesy for a second like I'll call it like the value chain kind of, I'll be a little cheesy like let's think about this concept of value chain. If you believe that value, and you go on Google and look up the definition of value, and you'll read something to this effect of value equals the importance worth or usefulness of something and even beyond that you can think of it as almost understanding or judging of the importance of a thing or something in life and that's what value is. Then you can say “great I Understand what value is then you need to understand what the motion is emotion. There's another really great sort of author, a speaker named Rene Brown, she talks about this idea that empathy is connecting the emotions that underpin an experience. So, when you can think about empathy as sort of connecting the emotions and getting to emotions, you understand that value is the key to emotion then you have this idea of this value chain. The path to value is emotion, and the way to understanding emotion is empathy. And so then you can understand why companies like Ideo focus on empathy because they understand that if I can be empathetic and understand the emotions of customers then I can understand sort of what really meet what was really valuable to them and we know that emotion is what's driving our value because just in our language we have things like “what do you think about X Y and Z” and “I'm not really sure but my gut tells me when we say things like my gut tells me that” because our mind, our cognition, our frontal lobe doesn't have actually the language to describe the emotion. But we have a feeling about it, and we've assigned a value to it and so if you can understand that the path to values emotion and the way to understanding emotion is empathy, now you have this concept that is but to be cheesy. I'll call it the value chain, that really talks about why emotion is so important and why companies like Ideo focus on empathy as sort of a key tenant of their design Principles. So I think that's a really important thing to consider. Lastly, the thing I'll say about that is really what brands and companies are doing is when they talk about loyalty programs and membership and build relationships with customers. What they're really talking about is scaled empathy like how to take what is done on a 1 to 1 basis very easily and how to scale that across the entire organization, to represent that organization, through the brand. And they connect to millions of customers. So anyway, that's the challenge we have and I think it's super hard. It's very messy because humans are messy, but that's why it's fun.

You might have for the rest of the group about things to be aware of or things down the road and not to put you on the spot but anything that you think is particularly exciting or anything else. You want to stress the group.

I'll say this because I was actually just speaking a little bit earlier today to a group of new leaders at Verizon and one of the questions was for general advice for new leaders and one of the things I've talked about is the importance for individuals as it is for brands to invest and spend the time in understanding yourself to understand who you are your value set, why you exist in this World. Everything else will fall from that, and I think the same principle. Um, you know you can assign to a brand if you as an organization know deeply and truly what your values are and why you exist in this world and the value you bring to others, your decision-making and how you come to market, how you deliver that becomes a lot all of that becomes a much simpler process. So anyway, invest in yourself, spend the time. It's hard but it's worth it.

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