Customer Experience Lessons From Marks And Spencer

Last week, I was in London to lead a panel discussion for Tealeaf at the MarketingWeek Customer Retention Conference. The opening speaker was Jo Moran, Head Of Customer Service/Experience at Marks & Spencer. She presented a lot of great ideas that other companies can learn from.

Moran outlined a number of steps that the retailer uses to infuse service into its traditionally “product-centric” culture:

  • Define the service proposition. Marks & Spencer defined what it calls “Our Service Style” which has four elements:
    • Be positive
    • Be determined
    • Take ownership and responsibility
    • Be respectful
  • Embed in the structure. Moran described a new position, Coach, that acts as a role model and also as a trainer on the floor to teach employees how to deliver the service style.
  • Support with training. The retailer has a full spectrum of training from one-off events to a fully developed career path. She said that there are three key words for all of their training:
    • Simple
    • Memorable
    • Do-able
  • Keep up the momentum.They do audits of the customer experience, have champions across the organization, and a cross-organization steering committee. She said that you need to figure out if you are on a “journey or separate chapters in a  book that aren’t linked.” [editorial note: you need to be on a customer experience journey].
  • Look at what’s getting in the way. The retailer looks at tasks and red tape that either keeps employees from spending more time with customers or wastes the customers’ time.
  • Improve or remove. Moran talked of very coordinated recognition programs (daily, weekly, monthly, and annual customer service awards), but they also use the “stick” to get rid of employees that can’t deliver the service style.
  • Measurement to drive continuous improvement. M & S uses mystery shoppers (which Moran said she “loves and hates”) as well as a voice of the customer program that explores new ways to get feedback through mechanisms like Twitter, Facebook, and Fizzback.

Moran also discussed the company’s “service circle” which had at its center: “SERVICE: Doing what’s right for customers” and was surrounded by five circles:

  • Understand your business
  • Understand what customers want
  • Make a connection
  • Be flexible
  • Be commercial

One of the final things that Moran presented was this model (which I’ve recreated, so it’s not exactly the same as her slide):

The bottom line: There’s a lot of good stuff here.

Marks & Spencer Bitten By Brassiere Battle

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is facing an onslaught of negative responses from women who are outraged by its decision to charge an extra 2 pounds ($3) for large brassieres. The attack it being led by a group called Busts 4 Justice that has grown to several thousand members via Facebook.Here’s what Busts 4 Justice co-founder Beckie Williams had to say:

People think it would be great to have big boobs, but it’s an emotional issue, it can make you feel isolated, and shopping at Marks & Spencer can make you feel like a freak when they charge you extra.

Here’s what a spokesperson for M&S had to say:

At DD and above, the weight of a woman’s breast requires additional support, fabric and structure in a bra and from our years of experience we know it’s critical not to cut corners on this… it would be impossible to cut prices on large-size bras without reducing quality.

My take: The decision by M&S seems reasonable (passing the extra cost to consumers) and so does the outrage from a segment of customers that is negatively impacted by the decision. Social media makes it easier for a dispersed set of customers to connect and generate a louder collective voice.

Does that mean that companies need to succumb to every protest? No. As I’ve said before, customers are not always right. But there are some lessons that companies can learn:

  • Get proactive. Whenever a company makes a decision like changing prices, they need to understand what the impact is on different customer constituents. If possible, proactively reach out to the negatively impacted customers. In case of M&S bra pricing, why not phase in the price changes to give customers a chance to make purchases before the increase. Or have one week a year where you roll back the price increase.
  • Choose your message carefully. In this world of social media, words and messages are even more important — because they become so highly scrutinized. Companies need to be transparent about “why” they are doing things. In the case of M&S, the retailer could have said that they were forced to increase prices for the brassiere category and felt like this was a fairer way to do it then to raise prices for everyone (given that the larger bras cost considerably more to manufacture).
  • Make sure to listen. As more customer groups use social media as a meeting ground for sharing their opinions, companies need to build up their listening skills — starting with an understanding of how to analyze unstructured, unsolicited feedback. But listening is only the first step in a good voice of the customer program, as companies also need to interpret, react, and monitor.
  • Be empathetic. As the number of groups that come together and complain continues to rise, companies need to get better at dealing with these issues. While they can’t give in to every request (if M&S raised prices on all bras, then they’d likely hear complaints from a group of women who buy smaller bras), firms need to develop communications that reflect an empathy for the affected customers.

The bottom line: Get ready to deal with unexpected customer segments

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