What Marks & Spencer did to boost customer satisfaction globally

Retailer's head of international operations shares the voice of customer program

Marks & Spencer has seen overall satisfaction across its stores increase by an average of 23 per cent after rolling out a global customer service listening and insights program internationally.

The UK-based retail chain’s international operations manager, John Heatherington, is in charge of the global customer experience efforts and quest to bring consistent customer service to its operations. It’s no mean task: The retailer operates about 400 stores in 31 countries, some of which are owned properties, others operated on a franchise model. These also encompass some 20 different languages.

The decision to invest into a fresh voice of customer (VOC) approach and software application was driven by a desire to get customer insights into the business faster and more comprehensively. Historically, Marks & Spencer had been using a mystery shopper program, sending one mystery shopper to visit each store once per month to ascertain the level of service provided.

“While serving its purpose, it only gave HQ a snapshot of what was going on, and left plenty of room for manipulation,” Heatherington told CMO.

The decision was made to deploy a new program and InMoment’s VoC tool on a trial basis in 2015 across three wholly-owned country operations: India, Greece, and the Czech Republic. The process of rollout was straightforward, with all data and capability residing in the cloud and outside of M&S’s internal IT systems. Some training was also required to give staff an ability to understand what was being derived through the new platform.

Access and reporting was given to area and store managers plus M&S’s head office team. Heatherington’s team then worked to put basic customer satisfaction messaging and questions onto customer receipts in-store in order to start generating feedback that could be analysed. To encourage customers, M&S offered discounts, vouchers and gifts in return for completing the survey.

“The platform uses a feed to our point-of-sale system, then uploads into the tills, and we have a discount code so the next time a customer shops, they can access the discount. This closed the loop,” Heatherington explained.  

Initially, the Web-based survey asked customers to rate their overall satisfaction with the shopping experience from 0-5, as well if they would recommend the brand to family and friends. This survey has since evolved into a mix of structured and open-ended prompts and both multiple choice and verbatim feedback. InMoment’s Active Listening tool also encourages customers for more detail in real time, with comments processed through the vendor’s analytics engine.

In its first year, the company received more than 300,000 pieces of customer feedback.  Where a market has struggled to collect enough customer feedback, process changes have also been made. In one instance, this resulted in a 5200 per cent increase in feedback in one market. Importantly, data is captured and analysed in the location’s preferred language.

Weekly reports known as ‘coach’ reports with key touchpoints, action plans and recommendations are  generated and sent to stores and managers. If a customer has agreed to be contacted in response to negative feedback, that information is directly emailed to the store manager and there is an expectation that it’s followed up in 48 hours to recover the situation, Heatherington said. Similarly, highly positive feedback is also shared.

Other areas of service, such as availability of staff, friendliness, fitting rooms, and time at checkout are all discretely measured.

“That enables us to see at store and country level what we need to attack,” Heatherington said.  

M&S has since deployed the technology across 24 international locations and will break the 400-store barrier in February. The company claims an average of 23 per cent overall satisfaction since launching the program, with one key market seeing a 27 per cent rise. M&S also knows that repeat customers in that market spend 83 per cent more when they return, leading to £284,000 in new revenue annually.

Heatherington had plenty of learnings. One has been realising that womenswear brands targeted at a 45-50 year old demographic in the UK are perceived as younger brands in India. “That’s seen us merchandise stores in certain areas and changed ranges because of the feedback we are getting,” he said.

In another instance, feedback led the team straight to a problem with fitting rooms in its six stores in Hungary, triggering a refurbishment program.

“The feedback was clear – these were not good stores, there were cold tiles on the floor and the fitting room experience was not adequate. That information was put through as part of our property pack on why we needed to invest in the property and refurbish,” Heatherington said.

In addition, based on customers wanting more fashion advice in the fitting room, M&S has created ‘design guides’ on how staff recommend outfits to customers and has hung up suggested outfits in the fitting room areas. As a result, the company claims to have seen a 7 per cent lift in scores on fitting room experiences year-on-year.

The insights gleaned also helped M&S identify 16 elements of the payment experience at the checkout and tips for saving several seconds on each.

These examples also show how Heatherington and his team have focused on key touchpoints along the customer journey that need special attention to ensure action is being taken.

Ultimately, the program is about action being taken more quickly to improve service and having data-driven information on the customer “that’s undeniable”, he said.

Read more: The do’s and don'ts of voice of customer programs

The challenges + next steps

One challenge Heatherington highlighted along the way is ensuring staff are engaging with the insights dashboard.

“We’ve had to educate that it’s not just relying on reports; if you are going to be engaged, you need to go into the dashboard and read comments regularly,” he said.

The next step for Heatherington is to look at how to adapt question sets within the platform for unique store set-ups. This could be M&S’s growing Simply Food store network, for example, versus stores with both food and fashion SKUs. This will help in ensuring products in each country and region are best suited to what customers want.

“Taking food stuffs into Hong Kong is not easy, but if there’s a constant stream of requests, we would adjust our ordering to suit,” he used by way of example.  

“We’re also thinking about turning off surveys for three weeks out of four per month so we just have one week and a bigger sample size, which we can then measure against the next month.”

Closing the loop on feedback to ensure stores have contacted customers and the resulting insights and conclusions are captured alongside the feedback data is another consideration.

“This would help us produce updates based on speaking to the customer and give us feedback on what the issue was and how it was addressed,” Heatherington concluded. “We could then see across regions that if it’s a consistent problem, or something by region, and we can work to address it.”  

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