Marks & Spencer gets real about customer-centricity

The cost of poor service and the value of customer engagement are top of mind for the current Marks & Spencer board, led by CEO Steve Rowe, asserts Jo Moran, Head of Customer Services at M&S.

Speaking at the Retail Bulletin’s Customer Engagement Conference in June 2019, Moran outlined the importance of linking customer engagement and employee engagement, and confirmed that M&S today has a new, realistic take on getting this right. “In the current climate where change is happening so fast, we recognise that communication is everything in keeping our colleagues aligned to customer care initiatives and the wider customer-centric culture,” she said. “We are looking closely at what the customer experience should be, and who ‘owns’ each part of the journey.”

Colleagues playing their part

Many customer engagement projects have been undertaken in recent years at M&S to ensure that customer care is reaching across channels. Each employee increasingly understands and acknowledges the part they play in the customer journey – where the importance of what they do kicks in. There is emphasis on the value and appreciation of how individual colleagues partake in ‘making M&S special’. “Across the departments we’re bedding in the notion of accountability and joint ownership of the customer experience,” said Moran.

Listening boosts engagement

In terms of working with employees to boost engagement, the most successful programme undertaken asked colleagues: ‘What are the dilemmas for you in your role? Where are you frustrated when you try and deliver great customer care?’ This is kept as a rolling programme, because it’s been so revealing and helpful in shaping customer care, said Moran.

In particular, she explained the outcomes of this has led to a realisation that you can’t please customers at every single juncture. “Everyone wants to go the extra mile in stores, but sometimes you simply can’t, it’s not commercially viable,” says Moran. “So we are working at being more open and honest about why we can’t do things. We have to think about costs and shareholder value too, so it’s about taking a more realistic approach to service at certain points of the customer journey.”

Honesty in communications

With store closures hitting the headlines, M&S has a big communications challenge when updating store teams on what’s happening now and in the near future across the company. “Actually we are opening as many stores as we are closing – albeit in different locations and different formats,” said  Moran, “and this often isn’t spelt out clearly in the press. We try and be honest and open when telling colleagues what is going on. I’m a great believer in the ‘why, how, what’ model and spelling out what this means to you personally.”

Personalisation M&S style

Marks & Spencer has a clear view on how it can deliver great personal service, but sees the challenges of ‘1:1 personalisation’.

“We’re not going to be designing and cutting bespoke jeans for customers as happens in Selfridges because this is just not commercially viable,” said Moran. “What we can do is ensure customers feel treated well on a personal level when they come in to use our bra fitting service, or need help with Back to School purchases, or order their wedding cake. This is where we think about the great services we do offer, and ensure the whole journey is catered for, and goes as smoothly as possible.”

Training, staff retention, engagement efforts all play into this she said. It also helps that technology is coming through to support colleagues. Every shop floor employee has access to a “palm device” on which they can look up product information, which should simplify the purchase journey and empower colleagues to deliver great service and progress sales, said Moran.

Incentivisation at store level

There is no M&S incentive/reward scheme at an individual level, because store team members often switch between departments, so it would be too difficult to measure and manage sales commission. However store teams are rated on their NPS (customer satisfaction measure) and weekly sales achievements so there is a healthy element of competition and acknowledgement of successes.

“We’re still learning, and of course not every colleague wants to talk to customers, but with on-going engagement programmes and training, and a realistic focus on customer-centricity we are progressing well,” said Moran.

At the conference, Jo Causon, CEO, Institute of Customer Service quoted a study that showed every 1% increase in employment engagement led to a 0.4% increase in customer service satisfaction. She said: “There’s a really clear link. Where organisations have high performing, empathetic employees, you get better customer service satisfaction.”

The Retail Bulletin’s 10th annual Customer Engagement Conference took place on 5 June 2019, at the Cavendish Conference Centre, London

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