Successful independent ECPs and optical retailers are always looking at ways to differentiate their practices and stores from competitors. The approach many take is to offer a distinctive product selection, or specialized services such as low vision or pediatric care. But for today’s consumers, service may be the most important differentiator of all.

An e-book recently published by salesforce.com called “7 Ways to Transform Customer Service into a Competitive Advantage,” explains why providing top-notch service has become a must for retailers. As the book’s authors point out, “Before the age of digital disruption, retailers could compete on the traditional four Ps of marketing: product, price, promotion and place. Now that the shopper experience is one of the primary ways to differentiate a retail brand, however, retailers must adopt a new mantra: Service is the new marketing.”

Customer expectations of service are changing though. It’s no longer enough to simply provide fast, efficient and friendly service. Consumers—all of us—want personalized service. We seek brands that know our buying habits and personal preferences, and can deliver products and services we want, where and when we want them, whether in-store, online or a combination of the two.

In some ways, ECPs and optical retailers are ideally suited to provide personalized products and services, because eyecare and eyewear are inherently personal in nature. And successful ECPs and retailers have always relied on the personal touch to attract and retain customers.

But deeper levels of personalization can be reached using more detailed data provided by customers and then analyzing it with sophisticated data analysis tools. As salesforce.com notes, “With a rich shopper profile connecting behavioral history and preferences, retailers can use data science and predictive intelligence to personalize every journey for every shopper.”

Although big retailers already use artificial intelligence technologies such as those developed by IBM Watson to help them understand and predict customer needs, high-tech data analysis tools are increasingly available to smaller companies too. The retailers and practitioners who access these tools and learn to use them will be able to effectively differentiate themselves as they move forward.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology
akarp@jobson.com