What's driving The PAS Group's customer engagement success

Mobile apps and voice of customer insights are just some of the ways the fashion brand retailer is building customer loyalty

It’s been some years since every brand on earth decided it desperately needed an app to a forge a ‘meaningful’ connection with its loyal consumers.

But with many of those apps now neglected or forgotten in the back folders of consumers’ phones, can apps still create a connection between the brand and its consumers?

For Anna Samkova, head of digital and loyalty at the multi-brand retailing company, The PAS Group, a good starting point has been to simply to understand and remove the things that customers don’t like.

When The PAS group launched its first loyalty app for its Review apparel brand in 2016, Samkova realised she faced a difficult challenge in cutting through the forest of zombie apps many consumers have collected.

“Traditionally and currently, retail apps are not super popular, unless you are Sephora,” she told CMO. “Otherwise you get lost among the 35 or more apps people have. So how do you get them to actually check it every now and then?

“The way we approached this was to take all the painful moments our customers have had with us, such as checking the balance and what they spend, the ease of them logging into their profile, or whatever it might be, and create that convenience and ease-of-use, so everything is available on tap.”

Anna Samkova
Anna Samkova


Samkova said usage of the Review app has beaten expectations, with 15,000 active users signing up in the 2016 financial year. Most importantly, she said it quickly become apparent that the people who have downloaded the app also tend to be the brand’s most valuable and engaged customers.

“They are absolutely not interested in sales and markdowns on products,” Samkova said. “They want to be served with exclusive content, with ‘newness’, and any exclusive offers. “We have started to service that channel very differently when we communicate via email and push notifications, and in stores as well. So that has been very powerful for us, and gives us a very unexpected positive outcome.

“So listening to customers and identifying the painful moments and how you can address them quickly, that is why it is so successful.”

Getting the lowdown on customer expectations

Samkova spent weeks researching what customers wanted before putting together the business case for the app, but is also willing take risks where appropriate.

“You can’t be too comfortable all the time and too vanilla, sometimes you have to take risks,” she claimed. “I would rather do something, and if it doesn’t work, say sorry. But if it does it can make the company a lot of money.”

The next stage of development will be to deploy iBeacons in retail stores, allowing Review to identify users when they first come onsite. Trials of the technology will launch in July.

A key tool in the PAS Group’s customer listening program is the Zendesk customer service platform, introduced three years ago. Samkova described it as a ‘customer service inbox on steroids’.

“At that point in time, I had three agents dealing with customer service enquiries by different channels, and they had no visibility of who was doing what,” she said. “I wanted to create a unified experience.”

Zendesk was implemented first across Review and Metalicus (since sold out of the group) and then Black Pepper, and is now being implemented for swimwear retailer, JETS. It has also been integrated into the company’s live chat functionality.

“It has been incredibly successful for us,” Samkova continued. “Before it was mainly just the agents talking to each other, and now they have full visibility of who is doing what.

“It has just taken the whole experience for how we serve our customers to the next level.”

Building a continuous feedback loop

Samkova originally joined The PAS Group six years ago as a consultant to drive its loyalty initiatives, but soon also took on responsibility for the launch and growth of its ecommerce platform. Since then overall loyalty across The PAS Group’s multiple brands has grown to more than 534,000 members as of June 2016, and now represents approximately 72 per cent of sales.

A critical factor has been her willingness to absorb customer commentary, including live chat transcripts and NPS comments.

“I want to create an environment where I feel like I service our customers every day, so for me that feedback is extremely important,” Samkova said. “I sit down with our customer service team at least twice or three times a week and I ask them to give me the top enquiries they have got in the last few days – the best and the worst.

“In most cases, there is very positive feedback, but there will always be something that is a sticky issue that the customer service team didn’t could be fixed. But when I look at it, I ask what I can do about that. Sometimes we address their problems in real time, and that is what drives a successful engagement. This is how powerful that is.

Samkova also distributes NPS reports to all departments every Monday morning. “There are a lot of comments about our staff in retail stores,” she said.

“Eighty per cent will be positive, but there are always some people who say they were ignored. We contact that customer or that store staff, and address it in the best way possible.

“With NPS comments, some people just think it goes into cyberspace and nothing ever happens, so they pour their hearts out sometimes. And when we rely to them and help them out, it gives a very personalised experience. It is very basic, but we have to go back to basics if that is how they want to communicate with us.

“This is what I focus on every single day, and ignore the fluff. For me, focusing on our customers in the best way possible is very important. This is why we have Zendesk, and why we have integrated live chat.”

For, Samkova, this pragmatic and uncompromising approach to customer service will ultimately shield The PAS Group’s brands from the rising onslaught of foreign retailers, and particularly the imminent arrival of US behemoth, Amazon.

“Amazon is not a threat - we are a threat to ourselves,” Samkova said. “We are the ones who can kill retail, not Amazon, and we can kill it through bad customer service.

“Everyone chases ecommerce growth, but it is just one of many stores that we have. And you will never replace the physical experience, especially for females. They want to experience it. They will search online and look at what is in stock, but they still want to go and interact. Maybe not all of them, but for those who do, we want to serve them well.”

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