The retail sector in the UK is highly competitive. The Debenhams’ customer experience that will deliver Mr. Bucher’s strategic vision could be a real differentiator
As I went for my Saturday morning run this week, I ran along the river in Guildford and passed the imposing building that has housed Debenhams for many years. We’ve seen the announcements about Debenhams this week in the news. Interim results were ‘unexceptional’ but in line with expectations, with UK like-for-like sales increasing by 0.5% and gross transactions up 2.9% to £1.7bn. Profit before tax fell by 6.4% to £87.8m.
On Thursday last week, Debenhams' new (since October) chief executive Sergio Bucher unveiled his strategic vision for the future growth of the department store group. It focuses on making Debenhams stores a more enjoyable destination for 'social shopping'. He also stressed the need for efficiency by 'simplifying and focusing' the business. Part of making the stores a more enjoyable destination includes creating more places to eat and adding ‘other experiences’. What that looks like for customers, isn’t yet clear. Redeploying 2,000 staff into customer-facing roles is a good first step in demonstrating their commitment as an organisation that is built around the customer; It begs the question what were these people doing previously.
Mr. Bucher said: "Our customers are changing the way they shop and we are changing too. Shopping with Debenhams should be effortless, reliable and fun, whichever channel our customers use. We will be a destination for 'social shopping' with mobile the unifying platform for interacting with our customers."
Mr. Bucher’s comments suggest there is an emphasis on delivering a better digital experience given the shift in customer buying behaviour. This makes sense and if anyone can achieve such a change, Mr. Bucher is well placed to with his previous online and offline retail experiences at Amazon and at Nike. Debenhams has a large physical estate of stores, many of which have long (20 years) leases remaining. So, the answer for Debenhams won’t just lie online; it will mean joining the virtual and physical into one unified customer experience.
A recent survey by Dimensions Data showed that 70% of businesses have few (or no) connected channels. I wonder how easy it is for Debenhams customers to move from one engagement channel to the next without having to start from scratch and being recognized as an individual.
According to Trust Pilot, Debenhams currently has a score of 1.9 out of 5 from 1106 reviews, so it is a far from perfect experience for customers. 72.5% of reviews are 1 star. The online and store customer experience certainly doesn’t appear to be ‘effortless, reliable and fun’ quite yet. The online experience is described as “shoddy” by one lady customer, the call centre is branded “ineffective” and other customers say they will not be shopping with Debenhams again. These are just a handful of reviews from March this year. Despite this, when you look hard there are some great reviews, so the experience may be negative overall but it’s also variable and inconsistent.
When you look at what it’s like to be a Debenhams employee and how they rate their experience, according to Glassdoor, it is given a score of 2.8 out of 5. Again, this appears to be an ‘average’ score as there are positive employee experiences, alongside many negative ones. Although Mr. Bucher’s reported hand delivery of 1700 Lindt bunnies to his London Head Office staff at Easter was a simple but personal touch. Who doesn’t love a Lindt bunny as a surprise.
The plans for change sound promising but Debenhams as a well recognised brand is not necessarily associated with innovation or known for its inspiring customer experience. Mr. Bucher’s ambition raises some immediate questions:
How well is Debenhams delivering its customer experience right now, irrespective of the channel?
How well is it positioned to design and execute a valuable customer journey of this order?
How aligned, integrated, seamless and consistent will the experience be for the customer?
Will the digital experience be as good as the bricks and mortar one in the absence of a real human touch?
Is Debenhams’ culture aligned around the customer?
Is the customer promise clear, is the leadership team committed and is there an owner of the (total) customer experience in place?
Will they be able to avoid the common pitfalls and barriers that we see, when this level of centric transformation is required?
The retail sector in the UK is highly competitive. The Debenhams’ customer experience that will deliver Mr. Bucher’s strategic vision could be a real differentiator, but it needs to beware of disconnected channels and have a clear customer experience strategy in place. Debenhams needs to ensure the organisation has the capability, systems and people to deliver. My fingers are crossed for them.
In 2018 will we see something new in CX or will it be more of the same? If it is more of the same, then the experience gap that has opened will only get bigger. 2018 needn’t be another year of unfulfilled promise. Using the 6 E’s will help your company succeed. Rethinking your CX around my 6 themes will help ensure a Smiling Company and Happy Customers.
2017 promised such a lot. There was the motivation and there were clear opportunities to really begin to make a significant difference for customers and close the recognised experience gap.Success in 2018 will come from a refocus. We have a huge opportunity to close the experience and expectation gap. If nothing else, to be successful in refocusing on the customer
A short-termist approach of ‘fixing’ what may not be working, but isn’t necessarily of value to the customer, of ignoring the customer’s emotional experience and of keeping responsibility for the customer confined to a small number of people within the organisation means we may not see the current disappointing situation change for some time.
There is a real and present risk to this movement towards greater customer centricity and ultimately better experiences for our customers.
Every day we hear more about how technology is changing the world for customers and employees alike. We live in a rapidly developing world where virtual meets reality. Even brands are investing heavily in IT not only to be able to more deliver efficiently their customer experience but also to interact with customers on a more personal (data led) level. The art is to blend digital and real-world together and present one consistent face of the brand.
Building brand value, customer life time value and winning sustainable loyalty need to be uppermost in retailers’ minds. Black Friday customer interactions need to maintain a brand’s story in an authentic way whilst engaging in the customer experience. Think of it as an opportunity to showcase and engage with customers – where the customer’s experience is positive, painless, seamless, and relevant to them.
I would suggest that companies should not focus exclusively on efficiency, simplicity and optimisation of the rational and functional elements of the customer journey; they alone do not make up the whole customer experience.
Sometimes, change and customer experience optimisation is about baby steps. Sometimes, small steps can result in bigger leaps, or compounded marginal gains. For some organisations, this is a more realistic and successful approach than the implementation of a big CX transformation programme with a well-constructed business case, where the results may be similar in the end.
first direct have recognised that what set them apart for many years – their superior customer service, is not enough to stay ahead. first direct are constantly seeking to improve the basics and at the same time invest in innovation centred on the customer. Customer work, at first direct, is never done.